Taken as a whole, the Moon agenda of these three states portrays a continuing deep space policy. All these years, the space agendas of these three states have largely been application-driven programmes. The major thrust was found towards usage of space technologies for the overall growth. In regard to states like China, the covert agenda of using space technologies as a tool for security has also been obvious. Now, with investments in deep space missions, these states have succeeded in articulating their long-term ambitions for space exploration for strategic purposes. Here, the term strategic should not be viewed with narrow military vision. It could also mean long term too. In the twenty-first century, the term ‘strategic’ has additional meanings associated with diplomacy/international relations as well as economic propositions.
Human exploration of solar system, starting with the Moon could be said to be a definitive open-ended programme. It is often opinioned that the Moon-Mars exploration could be viewed as a long-term, say, 30-year effort, but in reality it should be viewed as an open-ended project . For these three states, it looks that they have clear-cut roadmaps developed at least for their Moon programmes. These states missed the first round of lunar exploration (Apollo era) but with their successful launches have given them a lead (in global context) in the second round of lunar exploration. Competition could be said to be the part of this new Moon race, although it lacks the drama of first Cold War fueled context [20, p. 727].
Overall, the ‘strategic’ interests need to be viewed from the technological, military, international cooperation/competition and economic point of view. The Moon mission which is considered as a major technological marvel will always have the subtext of ‘nationalism’ at the backdrop, and states would exploit it both for tactical as well as strategic political benefits. It is premature to look for direct military applicability of this mission when the overall Moon programme is still in initial stage. Also, to argue that Moon missions of these states are with hidden military agenda would also be incorrect. What is important is that space technology is inherently dual-use technology and Moon missions also need to be analysed from that perspective. Hence, broadly the growth of technology itself could be viewed from a point of view that there could be direct or indirect benefits for military too.
Moon Missions have purposes beyond scientific explorations too. The basic advantage with such ambitious projects is that they help in the development of frontier technologies. Such technologies could in turn find applicability in various other facets of life too including the armed forces. One major aspect for research and development in regard to Moon mission is the development of Deep Space Networks (DSN). Most of the scientific developments undertaken for this are expected to find major applicability in regard to various aspects of data handling.
Additional investments in regard to development of DSN technology would be essential to enable and enhance the next wave of space exploration. This is expected to lead towards development of new types of high-level information services, enabled by high-capacity connectivity . DSN developments are also expected to lead towards increased emphasis on data networking and data processing applications.
First and foremost, the ongoing missions are going to help to increase the world’s digital knowledge about the Moon manifold. It is expected that the state-of-the-art sensors onboard of these three crafts would help to generate huge data sets giving new knowledge about the Moon’s surface (stored in digitised form). This knowledge is going to be of immense importance for further research. Moon missions at this point in time could be said to have undertaken for two primary reasons. One, to check the viability of access to helium-3 that is available in abundance over Moon. Here the purpose is not only restricted to helium-3 but to recognise the overall mineral resources availability on the Moon. Second, to make a permanent base over the Moon.
The strategic issues related to Moon and Mars surface bases will be centred on development of enabling technologies, cost of missions and international cooperation. The obvious path for tackling such issues will be through innovative and new means of international cooperation . However, these three missions do not give any indication that a substantial international cooperation is being envisaged. Chandrayan-1 mission could be said to be a mission with some amount of international cooperation. In this mission, half of the sensors onboard Indian craft are from other states.
Now the issue is ‘is the lack of Asian cooperation in this field by default or by design?’ Observers feel that largely the technical and political motivations behind most of the planned missions leave little room for the international scientific community to team up on joint projects [20, p. 724]. It is also important to factor in the dynamics of overall India-China and China-Japan relationship too. It could be too naive to expect these states to shed the histological baggage and j oin hands in this field when otherwise the relationship is not so harmonious. Interestingly, this may not be the case in regard to missions on Mars. There are indications that the states are interested in bilateral or multilateral collaboration in regard to missions to Mars, but not within the region. There are proposals like China collaborating with Russia for the Mars mission. States may have their own rationale behind this. It could be that states feel that ‘race for resources’ in regard to Mars is not a financially and technologically viable proposal. Also, Moon is being viewed as a gateway to Mars, so if Moon is within a reach, then activities for Mars could be controlled. On the other hand, joint collaborations for Mars missions could help transfer of technology which could be used for Moon missions.
Most of the solar system is inhospitable to humans. States will probably never attempt to visit Mercury and Venus or venture to Jupiter and beyond. The ‘welcome mat’ is out only with Moon, Mars and the asteroids . If mankind has to choose another planet to live on, the best choice is Mars because of its natural environment, which is similar to that of Earth . Hence, at some point of time, states are likely to factor in the Mars missions in their overall security calculus. It needs to be remembered that having human colonies on Mars may take another 100-200 years, and hence presently states are not in a hurry to contextualise Mars in their strategic planning. Since reaching Moon is viewed as the first step for the Mars, probably at this point of time, states are self-centred in their Moon agenda but are keeping an open mind in regard to Mars.
Currently, the major military benefits states could get from the deep space agenda are expected to come from the DSN technology and the robotic technology. The composition of future missions depicts that states would be operating robots on the Moon’s surface for the purpose of mineral analysis. The entire mission would be controlled from the Earth. Already, missions on similar lines have been undertaken successfully particularly over the Mars by the USA. The military logic emerging from experimentation is simple—if you can operate a robot on the Moon, you can always operate it in the enemy state or on the battlefield. The issue could only be that of the size and role of the robot. Future warfare is expected to see significant usage of robotic technology in various forms, and the robots developed for Moon mission could get modified for the purposes of military usage. The radar networks developed for Moon/Mars missions could help the states in their intelligence gathering mechanisms. C4ISR capabilities of the states could undergo a revolution with the availability of high-speed data networking and data processing facilities. The strategic materials being developed for these missions could change the face of platform technology and future military platforms like aircrafts, tanks, ships and submarines are expected to be more robust but extremely lightweight.
Once the Moon is conquered and the resources fall in the hands of these limited few states, then the world could get divided into two groups: one the state with Moon presence and other without. At that point of time, these three states would be approached by the have-nots for getting an access to the Moon’s wealth. This could bestow on them international collaborations on their terms and larger economic benefits would follow. Also, the technological leadership of the world (in few areas) could go in the hands of these states.
Asia’s overall considered judgment for deep space should not be viewed in isolation. It is also important to factor in the USA’s position in this discussion, it being the only state to have successfully undertaken manned Moon flights, have programmes for Mars and have various plans for future in deep space region.
Space exploration in the twenty-first century may not hold the same strategic logic of the 1960s, but this does not mean that the strategic significance evaporates totally. However, the USA probably is trying to downplay the strategic significance of Moon/Mars in the present era. In 1961, the then defence secretary had mentioned that the Apollo programme was ‘part of the battle along the fluid front of the Cold
War’. But, now in his January 14, 2004, speech the then President George Bush argued that the current Moon exploration initiative should be seen as a ‘part of a journey and not a race’.
The USA is generally of the view that they have already achieved much in this field almost four decades back and the new players are just trying to imitate them only now. But, this appears to be their official position. They fully understand that the purpose behind their Moon missions during the 1960s and the missions of the day are entirely different.
Few in the USA view that their state cannot lag behind in this new Moon race. As per NASA’s Chief Mr Michael Griffin (Apr 2005 to Jan 2009), ‘If China were to achieve this before the return of a manned American spacecraft to the Moon for the first time since 1972, the bare fact of accomplishment will have enormous, and not fully predictable, effects on global perceptions on the US leadership in the world’. As per Washington Post, this comment was part of the draft of the statement prepared by Mr Griffin to submit to congress but was subsequently deleted.
Generally, it has been observed that NASA’s opinion on Moon and Mars programme does have a nationalistic character. The October 2006 announcement of the new national US space policy and the USAF’s ‘Strategic Master Plan for FY 2006 and Beyond’ designates space as an ‘ultimate high ground of US Military operations’.32 The overall US policies all these years indicate that they give substantial importance to space technologies in their strategic planning and same would be the case with their deep space thinking.
Moon has potential to various ‘utilities’: a base for geological study, a platform for astronomy, a laboratory to study the long-term effects of reduced gravity on humans, a test bed for future manned missions to Mars, or even a launch pad for unmanned craft on their way to the outer reaches of solar system . More importantly, Moon offers achievable options in regard to energy security and replenishment of minerals on the Earth’s surface. Naturally, the USA would not like to miss the Moon bus and would make all efforts to be the first in every related field. Japan, China and India understand the US dilemma in regard to the Moon. Japan and India may engage them in their Moon journey, at least in token form. On the other hand, China feels that they should catch the opportunity before the global programme of returning to the Moon take-offs in full swing [20, p. 726]. The USA was part of India’s first Moon mission and credit for finding the water on the Moon’s surface goes jointly to the Indo-US team. States like the USA and Russia could take advantage of the Asian states developing the platforms to reach to the Moon/Mars. They could simply cooperate with them and send their sensors on such platforms to gather the information for future use.
Japan, China and India’s drive to explore the Moon (and to a certain extent Mars) depicts the case of deep space ambition supported by sound technological investments. These states are no novice in the space field, and their entry into the deep space area looks a logical progression of their space agenda. They all have successfully finished their first Moon missions, and their overall planning for the future demonstrates that the construction of lunar base is probably not too far (may be another two to three decades) beyond their technological capabilities. Today, they have successfully put together strategic, technological and commercial aspects of their space agenda in furthering their deep space agenda. Their Moon and other deep space ambitions signify that they propose to transform the unipolar world with multiple power centres and are using space technology (particularly deep space missions) as one of the components to do so.
In the post Cold War era, national security is seen more in terms of technological and economic strengths. Military capability in many cases is a by-product of technological and economic strengths of a state. For rapidly growing economies like India and China, access to cheap energy is vital. Strategically, it’s incorrect to depend on any single source of energy, and also the energy sources are finite. Hence, these states are looking for multiple answers to resolve the issue of energy security, and one of the basic purposes behind Moon mission is to examine the possibility of the usage of helium-3 as an energy source.
The end of Cold War and particularly after September 11, 2001, WTC attacks, it is articulated that conflicts amongst nation-states are on decline and in future interstate wars would be a rarity. However, the geostrategic realities of the region indicate that India would continue to face threat from Pakistan (both overt and covert). China and India have fought a war just four decades back, and Japan is concerned about the activities of North Korea which has also tactic support of China in some respect. Also, Japan-China relationship is less than cordial. Naturally, the security apprehensions with South Asia and East Asia will keep these states involved towards continuously upgrading their defence infrastructure (may not be true in real sense in respect of Japan). Moon mission could allow them to enhance their overall power status.
The resources on Earth are insufficient, and Moon could become a source for their accumulation in future. Today, these states are investing in the Moon with full understanding that the Moon has merits beyond scientific realm. They understand that the development of frontier technologies for their Moon missions will lead to huge developments in science, and these developments would have significant strategic utility. The world is gaining considerably through its multinational internationalf space station project. These states understand the value of such joint collaborations but at least for now are going ‘solo’. Probably, they are attempting to evaluate the exact strategic relevance of such missions and think that international collaborations can always wait.
Conversely, these states cannot remain divorced from the effects of global events. In this era of global economic recession, it may be difficult for them to sustain funding for such high-value projects. But, looking at the long-term benefits of such missions and the status associated, it looks unlikely that the rulers from these states would meddle with such missions. They would attempt to develop various mechanisms for fund raising. Prevailing economic conditions could delay few projects but in totality the political support from the projects is not expected to diminish. Presently, the USA is developing an agenda of leaving the Moon mission completely to the privet industry. President Obama is not keen to continue to support the US Mars mission. As per his plans revealed during Feb 2012, his government is expected to reduce the funding to NASA. This in turn could hamper the deal between the USA and ESA to cooperate on Mars robotic rover missions in 2016 and 2018. Asian states could sense an opportunity over here and may decide to cooperate with the ESA to carry forward their Mars agenda.
Overall, the debate on Mars appears to be bit ambiguous. In somewhat contrast to the Moon, the approach towards conquering Mars appears to be somewhat diffused at present, both in global context and to certain extend in Asian context with probably the exception of China. Both technological challenges and financial challenges could be the key impediment towards this. Also, there is less amount of clarity about exactly what the expectations from Mars should be. In general, apart from scientific achievements, the states understand the importance of Mars mission for the development of space industrial base and capabilities. Also, various new technologies developed for the purposes of Mars mission could become part of revolution in military affairs (RMA) architecture. Based on the current trend, there is a general global perception about manned missions to Mars becoming a reality by 2030/2040. In Asia, the current trends denote that China could achieve such feet provided various other related issues working in its favour. It is expected that the geopolitical discourse of tomorrow would involve ‘mission to Mars’ as major component to judge the national prestige as well as a paradigm for international collaboration.
The investments made by Japan, China and India towards Moon programme have also raised global interests in the Moon. It is likely that in future, the Americans and the European Union could also make significant investments towards exploring Moon and Mars, and already some of their plans have started taking shape. In short, Asia would compel the West to revive the deep space agenda.