India’s scientific and strategic community must be in seventh heaven with the playbook launch of Radar Imaging Satellite 1 or RISAT-1 on April 26, exactly a week after the successful launch of the Agni-V long range ballistic missile. Though RISAT-1 is a remote sensing satellite built and operated by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), its strategic significance isn’t lost on the government.
The satellite, which took ISRO a decade to build, is a potential game changer. (Interestingly, RISAT 2 was launched before RISAT 1 after the original was delayed following the Mumbai attacks in 2008). Officially, it’s intended for natural resources management, agriculture planning, forestry surveys, flood forecasts, assessing glacial mass, monitoring paddy plantation and yields and generally assisting with India’s food security planning. Pictures from RISAT-1 will be used to estimate the number of hectares being farmed in India, to assess crop health and predict total yield.
But these are largely non-strategic, non-military applications. The question is why, when a satellite can spot the wreckage of a plane or count the number of trees in a given area, wouldn’t it be used to spot intruders entering Indian territory – especially when it will be able to track objects on the ground both day and night. It is, when all is said and done, a satellite with spy potential.
No government is expected to go on record saying that a remote sensing satellite can or does have military applications. But for the next five years – the anticipated lifespan of RISAT-1 – Indian territory will be better prepared for possible incursions.