Pentagon, the headquarters of the US Department of Defence in Virginia’s Arlington County, is likely to use the services of an Indian satellite in Afghanistan in order to get quicker weather information.
Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, Director (Weather) and Deputy Chief (Staff for Operations) of the US Air Force Ralph Stoffler said that weather-related information is crucial for the movement of American military assets in the war-torn South Asian country. Earlier, the US had planned to use Chinese satellite after European weather satellites were moved to cover military operations in Iraq and Syria. However, Pentagon dropped the idea because of hacking apprehensions by the Chinese. Now, the US Defence Department has decided to avail the services of Indian satellite, as it is already operational and data, collected by the Indian satellites, are easily available at different American universities.
Stoffler told the press: “Europe’s Meteosat 8 is going to cover the critical components of our operations in Syria and Iraq. We will experience a short gap over eastern Afghanistan and our plan there is to work co-operatively with India to use Indian data to close that gap.” He said: “The Indian satellite is already operational. It’s already there. The data is already available here in the US at a variety of universities. It’s a matter of getting it here quicker and more efficiently so we can use it operationally.”
Stoffler informed the media that Pentagon would soon ask the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to discuss the issue with the Indian government. He explained that although Russia and China could provide the US the capabilities over the Indian Ocean, Indian satellites have better geostationary capabilities over the region.
However, it is still not clear whether the Narendra Modi administration in New Delhi will accept the US’ proposal. According to sources close to the Modi government, India may not allow the US to use its satellite, as Washington has imposed some restrictions on India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). In the past, India had tried hard to convince the Barrack Obama government to remove the restrictions on the PSLV. But, the US refused to do so in order to protect its own satellite industry. In recent times, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has thrown a challenge to the American satellite industry by successfully placing into orbit a number of foreign commercial small satellites at a lower cost. To keep the low cost strategy intact, this industry requires low-cost launch vehicles to deploy satellites in the orbit. India, unlike the US, has managed to build low-cost PSLV.
With the PSLV emerging as the most reliable, cost effective option even to the American small satellite industry, Washington has imposed restrictions on flying American commercial satellites onboard the PSLV. The US government has made clear that American small satellite developers will have to obtain waivers before launching their satellites through PSLV. Washington has defended its move by arguing that India’s reluctance to sign a Commercial Space Launch Agreement (CSLA), which ensures free-market principles and fair pricing, prompted Washington to impose restrictions on PSLV.