For more than five decades, space technologies are being used for the purposes of earth observation, remote sensing, space photography, surveillance and reconnaissance, navigation, communication, broadcasting, meteorology, education, astronomy and scientific experimentation. Such usage falls in the realm of ‘civilian uses of space technologies’. All such activities have become possible because of the rapid growth in the technology. The nature of data collected in twenty-first century is far more accurate than the earlier period because of the progress made in satellite resolution and contrast-matching technologies. Also, improvements in various sensor technologies have taken place over the last few years. This more accurate data availability has widened the client base. The dual-use nature of these technologies is allowing nation-states to consume them for military purposes too.
Along with the rocket science and sensor technologies, the simultaneous progress made in information technologies and information sciences has significantly helped the satellites to improve their performance. Along with this, the process of data management and interpretation has improved largely, owing to the developments in information technology. With the advent in revolution in military affairs (RMA), the importance of technologies has increased multifold for the militaries. Command, Control, Communication, Computers and Intelligence, Reconnaissance, Surveillance (C4ISR) systems have become central to various armed forces and have brought in various doctrinal changes. The C4ISR strategies and policies are heavily technology dependent. Such command and control systems operate on various transformative principles essentially focusing on the use of space technology for communication services and military information networking and for purposes of reconnaissance and intelligence gathering.
Major technology development programmes for various nation-states would mostly have a military DNA, and the same should be the case with space programmes. However, normally it has been observed that like nuclear weapons programme, the (military) space programmes are also developed typically away from public eye. In recent years, few states are found openly discussing about the military utility of the space assets. In Asian context, various states are dependent on the major powers outside the region for technology assistance. Most of them are found abiding by various international regimes in regard to technology acquisition and transfer. They are found cooperating with the major powers in respect to the international arms control or disarmament provisions. In regard to the strategic utilisation of the space assets, various non-spacefaring states from Asia are found noncommittal. They fully understand the importance of space utilisation for influencing the warfare on earth but, because of their technological and geopolitical limitations, are not found taking any hard positions. Also, since the space security domain is still in an embryonic stage, these states are probably reluctant to take any firm positions. By doing this, they are also keeping their potential enemies guessing.
South Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam are found investing in satellite resources for the purposes of communication services, television broadcasting, resource management and education. Other small states in the region also have more or less similar interests. All these states are depending on spacefaring nations to help them to provide technological assistance to manufacture satellites and also to launch them. Some of them are not making any significant investments in satellite technology but probably are directly depending on outside agencies for supply of information based on various satellite-derived products. Under such circumstances, a significant reliance of these powers on space inputs for the purposes of military use looks distant. They could receive the inputs which are openly available in the market for the military purposes. Their dependence on their own assets could be minimal mainly because their systems have been manufactured by outside powers for specific civilian purposes. They could exploit the duel-use nature of this technology like others. The threat index to these regions and investments made by them into state-of-art military hardware which is mostly dependent on satellite technology indicates that particularly states like South Korea and Pakistan must be feeling the pinch of non-availably of indigenous space architecture to operate such systems to their fullest potential.