Space Commerce

India Has Signed the Artemis Accords – The Strategic Leap’s Impact on Military Space Ambitions and Global Positioning

By Omkar Nikam
June 27, 2023
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India Has Signed the Artemis Accords – The Strategic Leap’s Impact on Military Space Ambitions and Global Positioning
Indian Ambassador Taranjit Sandhu signs the Artemis Accords, as US Deputy Assistant Secretary for India, Nancy Jackson, left, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, and Indian Space Research Organization, Space Counsellor, Krunal Joshi, right, look on, Wednesday, June 21, 2023, at the Willard InterContinental Hotel in Washington. Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

India has finally taken a leap of faith by signing the Artemis Accords. The reaction to this news, though not completely mixed, has pushed the international community to think about India’s future role in close cooperation with the US, given the fact that India has historically been in close cooperation with Russia, especially in the defense sector.

Nevertheless, in this landscape of space, now fueled by geopolitics, India’s role is going to be crucial in international space cooperation. Regardless of the fact whether India remains in close cooperation with the US and its allies in the future, the signing of the Artemis Accords sends the message that the West’s perspective has changed over time, and it is not only looking to pursue its national interests in favor of India but also to utilize the country’s regional influence to create nexus of the allied nations in the Pacific.

While these developments are solely concentrated on international relations and geopolitics, it is to be noted carefully that space science and technology are playing a major role in bringing nations together in the pursuit of common interests.

National interest versus space cooperation

The world needs to accept the fact that India has never been the ally of the West, and its current movements in international space cooperation must be put in the context of its increasing friction towards China and Pakistan. On the other hand, India’s longtime partner Russia is currently engaged in the Ukraine conflict, which has pushed the country to expand its international cooperation sphere.

This has put India at an intersection point to be independent, as it always has been, or to align at least at some levels with the West and strengthen its position in the regional security sphere. The Artemis Accords provide this opportunity for India to enhance its international partnerships as well as develop strong allies to counter its adversaries in South Asia and the Pacific.

India and the United States have been involved in several scientific space missions but have hardly cooperated in the defense sector, except military exercises. But this scenario is about to change with the signing of the Artemis Accords. Now, both India’s domestic market and the international community might observe the country’s advancement in military space applications. These defense agreements will also directly impact the way India interacts with Russia.

Indo-Pacific military space ambitions

The important thing here to note is that India’s national interests are still not fully aligned with those of the other countries that have signed Artemis Accords. But the country has showcased interest in accommodating the partnerships even with nonaligned partners, through initiatives like Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD).

As a matter of fact, QUAD has been an important benchmark to bring Australia, India, Japan, and the United States closer than ever before. Moreover, the Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI), a trilateral agreement between Australia, India, and Japan meant to reduce the Chinese economic influence in the Pacific, will also have a significant impact on India’s space supply chain in the near future. It will be also interesting to observe how China will react to the success of SCRI and the kind of impact it will have on the Pacific region.

This will also impact the way India has scaled its military space assets over the years. Though slowly, India is gradually managing to ramp up its military space capabilities and the Artemis Accords might be one of the potential ways to educate and scale the military space markets. Some pointers on these lines that can be considered are as follows:

  • Knowledge transfer and education: India’s armed forces are capable of withstanding harsh environmental conditions and have proven that its physical human capabilities are some of the best in the world. But India’s defense sector has been slow in adapting to the latest technologies. Partly this can be related to the previous governments who were not so much in favor of advancing technological developments in India’s defense sector. Therefore, the current landscape of space technology provides India with a pathway to educate its existing and future defense leadership about space technologies as well as their applications in modern warfare.
  • NewSpace technologies and capacity building: In 2022, India approved three large Geosynchronous Equatorial Orbit (GEO) military satellites for each of its armed forces: its Army, Air Force, and Navy. Looking at the appreciable capacity of India’s private commercial space companies and its overall growth, this military satellite could have been an opportunity to test new satellite technologies on micro- or small satellite platforms, which could have also paved the way for private entities to participate and learn the dynamic demand of military space applications. But somewhere the lack of knowledge and sustainable capacity building within the Indian ecosystem pushed the country to prefer the traditional GEO satellites as opposed to experimenting on new technologies. With increased cooperation through the Artemis program, the knowledge gap is expected to be bridged, and the Indian agencies are also expected to embrace active collaborations.
  • Understanding supply and demand: The space industry has gradually figured out its particular demands and how the supply can be managed effectively, especially due to the commercialization of satellite communication technology. Therefore, several nations have benefited through this streamlining of the supply chain and the results have been impactful as the satellite communication market continues to flourish. On the other hand, military space applications — though consisting of similar technology to commercial ones — need a much more strategic approach to tap, explore, and deploy the appropriate amount of funds, as it primarily utilizes taxpayer money. Therefore, governments must spend these funds carefully and ensure success or at least push the boundaries of innovation in the process. Unlike the US, India is still trying to figure out a way to streamline its military space asset development process. As the cooperation between these two countries grows stronger, we can expect the Indian market to flourish with military space technologies in the next few years.

The future outlook

As per the latest developments, it is anticipated that regional security dynamics and peak political influence will shift, with India leading the way in Asia alongside its QUAD partner nations. This will also impact India’s pursuit of national interests.

The Artemis Accords also signify that India is changing the way it pursues its national interests with the West, demonstrating that it and other emerging space nations can highly benefit from this collaboration, both in terms of commercial and military aspects.

Omkar Nikam

Omkar Nikam spearheads Access Hub, a research and analysis platform covering global space applications for military agencies, espionage, counterterrorism, and international security issues.