Pakistan was among the earliest states in the world and the first in the region to initiate a space program in 1962 under the genius of Dr. Abdul Salam. Started ambitiously with collaboration of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of United States, the space program of Pakistan lags years behind from the technology advancement and development, that world has achieved. Regionally, Pakistan stands much behind in space race from its counterparts China and India whose space programs succeeded that of Pakistan and who are now accounted as space powers with both having Anti-Satellite capability. Pakistan and India have shared a hostile relation ever since the independence over various disputes and Kashmir is the flashpoint of their belligerence. Over the time, the states of Pakistan and India have made little to no efforts in resolving the disputes. They have rather only amplified enmity through the increased military prowess and stockpiles of conventional and unconventional. Such military built-up has led to increased strategic instability in the region. The near equal military expertise and nuclear built up has sustained deterrence in the past seven. However, the imbalance of space capabilities between both countries account for an effective space policy directed to enrich the space program of Pakistan. It must be aligned with strategic space assets capable of performing Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) for the armed forces.
The Pulwama-Balakot incident that occurred in February 2019 evidently directs to the emergence of electronic warfare. It emphasizes in the modern era of warfare victory belongs to the technical sound side. Pakistan’s ISR capabilities lag in the space technology, which weakens the defence of state and the handful of spatial assets owned by the country. The incident unveiled Pakistan’s high reliance on international spatial assets, analysts to decipher the satellite data and images. These reports evidently nullified the false Indian claims of destroying a terrorist madrassa in Balakot, Khyber PakhtunKhwa Pakistan. Indigenous ISR capable spatial assets increase the defensive measures by providing early interception of adversarial aircraft movements, and speed up the follow-up analysis. The said incident is evidentiary that the ISR capable satellites play a vital role in protection of state and territorial sovereignty. The adversary, India, has progressed further since the incident with the development of Anti-Satellite weapon and various intelligence, surveillance and navigation satellite. Along with that, the Basic Exchange Cooperation Agreement (BECA) with United States will ensure the real-time geospatial information sharing between the two. It will enable both the states of India and US to eye the naval and ground activities of Pakistan and China at Gwadar Port and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project unhindered. These acts from the adversaries signifies the incorporation of enhanced spatial defensive measures so to avoid any mishap in future.
Pakistan Air Force is determined to upgrade the fighter aircrafts at par with the suit of electronic warfare where it will be able to configure its surroundings automatically, the additional linkage of space communication and information will enhance the interception and networking properties with the ground system. This combination will provide the intelligent combat property to the fighting aircraft. The satellites operating as the eyes in the sky will increase the functionality of the combat machines and provide amplified battlefield situational awareness.
For Pakistan, a strategic and defensive approach to the space policy entails the security to space assets, ground systems, control and command centre, strategic assets and their movements and the terrestrial humans. Spatial defense measures are enhanced through the thrust areas of intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and navigation. Exploitation of space for real-time military utilization has significant advantages. It gives an upper edge over the adversary in the communication aspect and the reconnaissance missions. Real-time spatial information used efficiently can be significantly employed for early-warning missile attacks, deliverance of precision guided munitions through satellite signals, or jamming enemy networks.
The direction of the space policy currently can be estimated through the budget of 2020-2021 and budget 2021-2022 for SUPARCO. Pakistan is determined to enhance its research and development in the field of space sciences and space technology. However, the lack of dedicated research centers and satellite development institutes are a hurdle in realization of the Pakistan Space Vision. In the year 2021, SUPARCO was authorized for the establishment of Space Application Research Center in Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan Space Center. These centers will be responsible to undertake the feasibility study and research for various satellite programs to be launched in future. These future projects under the research and development include the Pakistan Remote Sensing Synthetic Aperture Radar Satellite and Pakistan Satellite Navigation Program, Pakistan Multi-Mission Satellite (PAKsat-MM1), Pakistan Optical Remote Sensing Satellite (PRSS-02), advance system for PAKSat-1R Ground control segment and the development of Online Satellite Image Service. The Radar Satellite will develop Pakistan’s reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities assisting the military in detection of friendly and adversary objects approaching. PRSS-1 is already employed as country’s only strategic satellite and an Optical Remote Sensing Satellite PRSS-2 will enhance will strategic capabilities further, whereas, the navigation satellite will be able to provide ISR services to the armed forces.
The defensive and strategic satellite and services will act as a force multiplier for the armed forces. The space assets work as eyes and ears in the sky and provide a round the clock intelligence and surveillance. Additionally, the real-time information sharing must be a compulsory element of the space program and space policy with the latest development of satellites. Pakistan’s strategic approach to the space assets requires a defensive path rather than the offensive one. India’s offensive account as a space power threatens regional stability and security of Pakistan. The current research and development requires a speedy process, which will enable the country to defend against offensive adversarial actions. The changing International security situation has once again increased Pakistan’s geostrategic significance and hence the need of defensive spatial measures for the country.