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India eyes more military satellites, aims for secure communication & 24-hr border surveillance

Defence Acquisition Council Tuesday cleared first step of procurement for indigenously designed and built GSAT 7B, a state-of-the-art, multiband, military-grade satellite for Army.

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New Delhi: As warfare becomes increasingly tech-oriented, with seamless and secure networked communication being a key element, India is aiming to launch multiple satellites in the next two-three years, sources in the defence and security establishment told ThePrint.

These satellites will not just be for communication but will also provide round-the-clock surveillance of India’s borders, a feature that the country lacks at the moment, sources said.

On Tuesday, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), the key procurement panel chaired by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, accorded Acceptance of Necessity (first step of procurement) for the indigenously designed, developed and built GSAT 7B, which will be a state-of-the-art, multiband, military-grade satellite for the Army.

When launched, this will be the Army’s first exclusive communication satellite that will act as a force multiplier and fail-safe communication support to the force as it moves deeper into network-centric warfare scenario.

Sources explained that the GSAT 7B satellite, which has been a long pending demand of the Army, will be launched in the next two-three years and provide integrated communication, not just within the force but also the other two Services — Navy and Air Force.

The satellite will cost Rs 4,635 crore and there would be two units of it. One would be operationalised in space while the other would be on ground, sources said.

The Army is also looking at procuring satellite-linked drones and having a dedicated satellite will be key for operations, sources said.

The upcoming Defence Space Agency under the Chief of Defence staff (CDS) — the position is vacant at the moment — will coordinate all satellites of the forces, they added.

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Satellites in use with Navy and IAF

In November last year, the DAC cleared an Indian Air Force (IAF) proposal for the GSAT-7C satellite.

Currently, the force uses GSAT-7A (also known as ‘Angry Bird’), which was launched in 2018. While this is a dedicated satellite for the IAF, the Army uses about 30 per cent of its capacity.

The satellite connects various IAF platforms like aircraft, choppers, drones, airborne early warning and control system and radars, among others. This was the second dedicated satellite for the Indian military after the GSAT-7, which was launched in 2013 for the Navy.

Known as Rukmini, the GSAT-7 is the primary communication link for all naval operations.

The Navy has already contracted the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for its replacement, which will be called GSAT-7R. The replacement is needed because the lifespan of GSAT-7 will be over in the next couple of years, sources said.

ISRO will be launching a few more military satellites this year that will be focussed on surveillance, sources added. India currently uses the CARTOSAT and RISAT series of satellites for this purpose.

India uses its own satellites and those of friendly nations, besides commercial ones, to keep track of developments at its borders, especially the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China.

In February this year, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV)-C52 successfully launched EOS-04 Satellite, an earth observation system, from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota.

India changes procurement rules for defence equipment 

On Tuesday, the DAC also made policy changes to the procurement manual, Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP)-2020, under which all modernisation requirements of defence forces are to be “indigenously sourced and import to be resorted to only as exception”.

To reduce the financial burden on the defence industry, the requirement of Integrity Pact Bank Guarantee (IPBG) is to be dispensed with and Earnest Money Deposit (EMD) to be introduced as bid security and PCIP cover up to contract stage, a statement by the Ministry of Defence said Tuesday.

EMD will be applicable only for proposals of Rs 100 crore and above and MSMEs and start-ups will be exempted from EMD. The DAC also approved the new simplified procedure for procurement from Innovations for Defence Excellence start-ups/MSMEs, the statement said.

The ministry also said new rules would fast-track the procurement as timelines have been reduced from 2+ years to 5 months.

(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)

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