Theatre commands and interoperability—the latest catchwords at the Ministry of Defence (MoD)—represent India’s effort to reorganise its armed forces and synergise the combat potential of the Indian Army, the Indian Navy (IN) and the Indian Air Force (IAF).
The MoD plans to replace the separate commands of the three arms with unified theatre commands based on the geographical fronts the forces operate in. The existing assets of all three services in a particular theatre would then be controlled by a single operational commander. One of the many positives of integrating personnel in theatre commands in this manner would be the diversion of funds to the modernisation of weapon systems and capabilities.
Integrated theatre commands, part of the country’s long-delayed military reforms, were fleshed out last year when General Bipin Rawat became India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) with a separate Department of Military Affairs (DMA) in the MoD under him. Rawat is tasked with establishing the new command structures by the end of next year when the army’s seven single service commands are to be merged with the seven air force commands and three navy commands to form six or seven joint-service commands.
The Army commands, which will have elements of the other services, include the northern command headquartered in Lucknow (guarding the 3,500 kilometres of the Line of Actual Control with China), the western command based out of Jaipur (whose area of responsibility runs from the Siachen Glacier region to the tip of Gujarat) and the peninsular command headquartered in Thiruvanantapuram. A National Air Defence Command (ADC) managed by the IAF will be based in Allahabad and a Maritime Theatre Command (MTC) —formed by merging the Navy’s eastern and western commands—will operate out of Karwar, in Karnataka.
From all accounts, policymakers expect teething troubles for ‘theorising the subcontinent. There are so many grey areas in the concept—not the least of which is the usual inter-services rivalry and clash of doctrines of the three services.
For instance, the pecking order could be tricky as generals, admirals and air marshals vie for senior joint command roles in the new scheme of things, making the hierarchy of commands for managing staff and equipment contentious. Among the three forces, the army has always assumed dominance and the generals would be reluctant to cede operational control in an integrated command configuration.
It is probably to allay such fears that the MoD is thinking aloud about the army not necessarily having a pivotal role in the planned integration. As Rawat said recently in an address to the Vivekananda Foundation in Delhi, “There is a feeling that the Army being the large service compared to the Navy and the Air Force, will possibly usurp the two entities and possibly everything will become Army-centric. This is a misnomer.”
Actually, it makes a lot more sense for the Air Force to take the lead in implementing Theaterisation, since an IAF-helmed ADC is a good model for the Army and Navy to emulate. The three wings of the armed forces currently have separate air defence assets, such as surface-to-air missiles and unarmed aerial vehicles, to deal with specific threats. The IAF could synergise these discrete resources to integrate command control structures and weapon systems for the ADC. Provided the planners reckon with the fact that platforms such as airborne warning and control systems, mid-air re-fuelling aircraft and advanced radars are essentially forced multipliers and their deployment through integration would not only stretch them thin but possibly adversely affect their performance.
The special task force comprising representatives of all three services, set up by the MoD to address these issues, will also need to consider the IAF’s fast depleting fleet strength: 31 operational squadrons against the optimal figure of at least 42 squadrons. The Air Force is struggling to overcome this numerical disadvantage as it gamely tries to maintain air supremacy simultaneously on its two flanks. This means it cannot afford to divert aircraft exclusively to a theatre command and, instead, may have to make do with switching aircraft between fronts depending on the need.
Another major sticking point is the involvement of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in the ADC. A robust ADC would depend on the space agency for the use of military satellites and space-based assets and that would call for establishing an exclusive aerospace command in itself—currently beyond the brief of the proposed reforms.
The ISRO has so far confined itself to providing imagery data support to the armed forces and, therefore, would need a doctrinal shift away from its wonted ‘civilian’ role to help the ADC. For this new responsibility, the ISRO must ramp up infrastructure (like building a second launch pad at Sriharikota for increased frequency in satellite launches) and develop interface mechanisms along with India’s Defence Space Agency which functions as a full-fledged tri-service military command.
Voyager acquires majority control of XO Markets
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Voyager Space has completed the purchase of a majority interest in commercial space holding company XO Markets.
Revealed in December 2020, the transaction also includes XO Markets subsidiary Nanoracks. It involves the infusion of significant growth capital into the business.
The financial details of the deal remain undisclosed.
Nanoracks provides low-cost, high-quality solutions required for satellite deployment, along with basic and educational research in over 30 countries.
The company has already launched more than 1,000 projects to the International Space Station, as well as the Bishop Airlock on the SpaceX CRS-21 mission on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.
Nanoracks is also working on its long-term Space Outpost Program for private space platforms.
Voyager chairman and CEO Dylan Taylor said: “In the last year, the space industry has undergone a rapid evolution with demand for commercial space services reaching record highs.
“Innovative companies like Nanoracks are continuing to drive this transformation forward with first-of-their-kind technologies like the Bishop Airlock.
“We look forward to working with Jeffrey and his team as Nanoracks continues to push the envelope of what’s possible in the years to come while benefiting from the full support of our integrated model.”
Last month, Voyager completed the acquisition of The Launch Company, which specialises in the development of the systems, hardware, and processes to accelerate NewSpace companies to orbit.
In line with the NewSpace mission, Voyager recently inducted former Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine to chair its advisory board.
After Chinese rocket reentry, DoD calls for countries to ‘behave responsibly’
DoD spokesman: Countries that conduct activities in space should share information about those activities, especially when they put people at risk.
WASHINGTON — Less than two days after parts of an uncontrolled Chinese rocket fell into the Indian Ocean, the Pentagon said allowing a large booster to free fall toward Earth is “irresponsible behavior.”
“We want to see everybody who are actors in space do so in a responsible, deliberate way that’s mindful of the safety of all our citizens here on Earth,” Defense Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters May 10.
Debris from the roughly 30-meter-long, five-meter-wide empty core stage of China’s Long March 5B fell into the Indian Ocean May 8. The uncontrolled reentry prompted international concern over whether it might land in a populated area.
Kirby said countries that conduct activities in space should share information about those activities, especially when they put people at risk. “It important, for the safety of everybody who uses the space domain to communicate, and to improve situational awareness,” he said. “We want everybody to behave responsibly and to ascribe, at the very least, to some internationally accepted norms of behavior.”
Former NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said May 10 the Long March 5B episode is another reminder that the United States needs to step up diplomatic efforts to compel China to change its behavior.
This is the latest of several instances where China has acted irresponsibly, Bridenstine said during a Heritage Foundation virtual event.
When China in 2007 shot down its own weather satellite “it resulted in orbital debris that today we’re still dealing with. Of course, this wasn’t a unique event with the Long March 5B,” Bridenstine said.
He recalled a similar episode in May 2020 when pieces from another Chinese Long March 5B core stage landed on the Ivory Coast, causing damage to buildings.
“Look, there has to be responsible behavior in space, it’s critical that we use the elements of diplomacy to compel good behavior,” Bridenstine said.
From a national security standpoint, he said, it’s even more concerning that China could be deploying hardware in space that the United States might not be able to track.
“What concerns me most is not a rocket body that everybody knew about, was watching and paying attention to,” he said. “But what are the things we can’t see, like cubesats, that we don’t know about?”
The Space Force, he said, needs to step up its capabilities to monitor outer space. “We have to be really good at space situational awareness,” he added. “A rocket body launched from China that everybody knows and sees, yeah, that’s a problem from a public policy perspective, but that’s not what concerns me when you think about the threats in space that would be nefarious in nature.”
Inmarsat heading to administrative court over Dutch 3.5 GHz auction
TAMPA, Fla. — Inmarsat is pivoting to an administrative court in its battle to stop the Netherlands from auctioning 3.5 GHz spectrum, which the British satellite operator says it does not want to cede to bandwidth-hungry 5G networks.
Inmarsat had sought an injunction in a civil court to stop the Dutch government’s plan to sell the frequencies, which it uses for maritime safety services, to terrestrial 5G providers next year.
A hearing was scheduled May 11 at The Hague District Court, but was canceled after the Dutch government published its National Frequency Plan (NFP) April 30.
“The publication of the National Frequency Plan does not change Inmarsat’s position and we will continue to oppose the amendments to the NFP by the Dutch Government, which are unnecessary and put lives at risk,” an Inmarsat official said in an emailed statement.
There is not yet a date for the administrative court hearing in Rotterdam.
The Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs & Climate Policy was unable to comment before this article was published.
The government is keen to release more 5G-suitable spectrum as other European countries are ahead in next-generation network deployments.
Inmarsat will have to move a ground station in Burum, in the northern part of the Netherlands, if the country gives wireless operators full use of the frequencies.
“Inmarsat is committed to the Netherlands and to continuing to provide essential, free of charge maritime safety services from Burum,” the company official added.
“Contrary to the mistaken belief of the Dutch Government, these services can continue without affecting future 5G telecoms services in the northern Netherlands. We will continue to defend safety of life at sea services against the unnecessary position of the State.”
The Dutch government has said wireless operators will be able to use 3.5 GHz spectrum for 5G in September 2022 if it auctions it early next year.
Inmarsat says it would take longer to transfer the frequencies.
Orbcomm gets no offers after contacting more than 50 potential buyers
TAMPA, Fla. — Satellite operator Orbcomm said May 10 it did not get any alternative proposals in its 30-day “go-shop” period, which followed private equity firm GI Partners’ $1.1 billion acquisition offer.
The company, specializing in connecting industrial monitoring devices, said it engaged with more than 50 parties that it thought might be interested in a deal.
New Jersey-based Orbcomm is now under “no-shop” restrictions, limiting its ability to find alternative deals as the GI Partners transaction moves toward closing in the second half of 2021.
The sale, which will take Orbcomm off the Nasdaq stock exchange, still requires shareholder and regulatory approvals.
Raymond James analyst Ric Prentiss downgraded Orbcomm’s shares to ‘underperform’ from ‘strong buy’ after its fruitless search for an alternative deal.
Orbcomm reported revenues down to $63.7 million for the first three months of 2021, compared with $66.2 million for the corresponding period in 2020.
Adjusted EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, fell to $13.5 million compared with $13.7 million.
However, the company also added 50,000 net subscribers, and said product sales increased 1.1% to $25.9 million compared with the first quarter of 2020. Product sales were up 5.1% compared with the last quarter of 2020.
“We’re pleased with our first quarter results with Revenues coming in as expected while navigating through a global component supply shortage,” Orbcomm CEO Marc Eisenberg said in a statement announcing the results April 29.
“We’re continuing to see customer demand return to normalized levels as evidenced by the 87,000 devices we shipped in the quarter. This resulted in year-over-year and sequential growth in product sales. With the integration work now behind us, we believe the Company is well-positioned to capitalize on strong tail winds in the industrial IoT market.”
The fast-growing market for connecting IoT (internet of things) sensors is attracting a flurry of startups, looking to deploy low-cost solutions with relatively inexpensive satellites.
Orbcomm is locked in a regulatory tussle with one of these companies, U.S.-based startup Swarm Technologies that is sharing its spectrum to expand internationally.
Orbcomm is challenging a letter from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), sent March 10, that aimed to clarify how they will share Very High Frequency (VHF) spectrum.
The 28-year old company said the letter is procedurally and substantively defective, calling on the FCC to rescind and review it.
Silicon Valley-based Swarm, which got its FCC license in January 2019, said the move aims to confuse international regulators and slow down its expansion.
The FCC has yet to weigh in since Swarm responded April 26 to Orbcomm’s petition.
Meanwhile, Luxembourg startup OQ Technology said May 10 it has ordered a second satellite from NanoAvionics to connect IoT devices to 5G technology.
Lithuania-based NanoAvionics will build, integrate and operate a 6U nanosatellite called Tiger-2 for a launch this year.
“Tiger-2 is an example of a NewSpace startup breaking barriers and racing with time to get to orbit within a few months, while using an agile approach to quickly deliver 5G connectivity,” OQ Technology founder and CEO Omar Qaise said in a statement.
OQ Technology has a multi-launch deal with ride-share specialist Spaceflight.
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