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Detailed News Articles: 23 May 2019

1. ISRO launches radar imaging observation satellite RISAT-2B

In a predawn launch, a PSLV rocket of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) placed RISAT-2B, an X-band microwave Earth observation satellite, into orbit 556 km above earth.

Image result for RISAT-2B

Details:

  • The PSLV-C46 launcher carrying the 615-kg RISAT-2B blasted off at 5.30 a.m. The satellite reached its designated position and started orbiting in space with an inclination of 37°.
  • After the satellite separated from the launcher, its solar arrays deployed automatically.
  • the RISAT-2B is built to operate for at least five years.
  • Two important secondary or piggyback trial payloads that would revolutionise its future missions were also included in the launch.
  • They are the new Vikram processor from Semiconductor Laboratory (SCL), Chandigarh, that will control future launchers, and a low-cost micro-electronic inertial navigation system from the ISRO Inertial Systems Unit, Thiruvananthapuram.
  • This is the third Indian RISAT in 10 years, and follows the Israeli-built RISAT-2 in 2009 and the ISRO-built RISAT-1 in 2012. The older RISATs have reached the end of their lives.
  • ISRO has planned a series of radar imagers in the coming months to enhance its space based observation of Earth and the Indian region.

Significance:

  • Its X-band synthetic aperture radar can give added details such as the size of objects on earth, structures and movement.
  • Information from RISAT-2B will complement data from normal optical remote sensing satellites.
  • Such data are useful for agencies that need ground images during cloud, rain and in the dark.
  • “The new satellite will enhance India’s all-weather [space-based] capabilities in agriculture, forestry and disaster management,” ISRO said.
  • Data from the satellite would be vital for the Armed Forces, agriculture forecasters and disaster relief agencies.
  • ISRO chairman described RISAT-2B as “an advanced Earth Observation satellite with an advanced technology of 3.6-metre radial rib [unfurlable] antenna”.

2. Eye in the sky: on RISAT-2B

What’s in the news?

  • India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C46) successfully launched the RISAT-2B satellite from Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) SHAR, Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh.
  • This was the 72nd launch vehicle mission from SDSC SHAR, Sriharikota and 36th launch from the First Launch pad.
  • RISAT-2B is a radar imaging earth observation satellite weighing about 615 kg. The satellite is intended to provide services in the field of Agriculture, Forestry and Disaster Management.
  • ISRO is now gearing up for the launch of Chandrayaan-2 onboard GSLV MkIII during the window of July 09, to July 16, 2019, with an expected Moon landing on September 06, 2019.
  • Experts opine that with the successful pre-dawn launch of RISAT-2B satellite on May 22nd, 2019, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has added another feather to its cap.

How will the satellite help?

  • The satellite will enhance India’s capability in:
  1. crop monitoring during the monsoon season,
  2. forestry mapping for forest fires and deforestation, and
  3. flood mapping as part of the national disaster management programme.
  • Further, it is important to note that given that overcast skies are a constant during the monsoon season and during times of flood, the ability to penetrate the cloud cover is essential.
  • While optical remote sensing that relies on visible light for imaging gets obstructed by clouds, RISAT-2B will not.
  • As a matter of fact, much like the RISAT-1 satellite that was launched by ISRO in April 2012, RISAT-2B will also use microwave radiation.

Characteristics of microwaves:

  • Unlike visible light, microwaves have longer wavelength and so will not be susceptible to atmospheric scattering.
  • Microwave radiation can thus easily pass through the cloud cover, haze and dust, and image the ground.

Specifics on the RISAT-2B:

  • As a consequence, the RISAT-2B satellite will be able to image under almost all weather and environmental conditions.
  • Further, since it does not rely on visible light for imaging, it will be able to image the ground during both day and night.
  • The satellite does not have passive microwave sensors that detect the radiation naturally emitted by the atmosphere or reflected by objects on the ground.
  • Instead, the RISAT-2B will be transmitting hundreds of microwave pulses each second towards the ground and receiving the signals reflected by the objects using radar.
  • The moisture and texture of the object will determine the strength of the microwave signal that gets reflected.
  • While the strength of the reflected signal will help determine different targets, the time between the transmitted and reflected signals will help determine the distance to the object.

A Note on the RISAT-2B’s synthetic aperture:

  • The RISAT-2B satellite uses X-band synthetic aperture radar for the first time; the synthetic aperture radar was developed indigenously.
  • Unlike the C-band that was used by RISAT-1, the shorter wavelength of the X-band allows for higher resolution imagery for target identification and discrimination.
  • Since it has high resolution, the satellite will be able to detect objects with dimensions of as little as a metre.
  • This capacity to study small objects and also movement could be useful for surveillance.
  • As a matter of fact, the satellite could be used for civil and strategic purposes.

Concluding Remarks:

  • RISAT-2B will have an inclined orbit of 37 degrees, which will allow more frequent observations over the Indian subcontinent.
  • Further, with ISRO planning to launch four more such radar imaging satellites in a year, its ability to monitor crops and floods as well as engage in military surveillance will be greatly enhanced.

3. Disclosing dissent: on EC’s decision to not record split opinions

Analysis:

  • The rejection of the demand of one of the Election Commissioners that dissenting opinions be recorded in the orders passed by the three-member Election Commission on complaints of violations of the Model Code of Conduct may be technically and legally right.
  • Having said this, there was indeed a strong case for acceding to the demand of Ashok Lavasa at least in regard to complaints against high functionaries such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The EC being at the receiving end of much criticism:

  • The EC has been widely criticised for giving a series of ‘clean chits’ to the PM, despite some questionable remarks that appeared to solicit votes in the name of the armed forces. Experts opine that such criticism was warranted.
  • Added to the widespread unease was the unexplained delay of several weeks in disposing of complaints against Mr. Modi.
  • It is in this context that Mr. Lavasa’s dissenting opinion may have been relevant enough to merit inclusion in the EC’s orders.
  • After all, the public is aware of the allegedly offending actions and remarks, and is entitled to be informed if the decision was not unanimous.
  • As a matter of fact, in this hotly contested election, one in which the level of discourse was abysmally low, the onus on the poll panel to maintain a level-playing field and enforce the election code was quite high.
  • Making public a dissent in the final order would have deepened the popular understanding of the issues in play.

What does the law say?

  • The law requires the multi-member EC to transact business unanimously as far as possible — and where there is a difference of opinion, by majority.
  • Therefore, there is nothing wrong if decisions are made by a 2:1 ratio.
  • The apparent justification for excluding any dissent from the final order, but merely recording it in the file, is that the practice of including dissent is limited to quasi-judicial matters such as allotment of symbols.
  • An important question arises: should recording of a dissenting opinion be based on such a distinction?
  • A more appropriate distinction would be between decisions that require reasoning — absolving the Prime Minister of an election code violation surely ought to be one — and administrative matters that need to be resolved with dispatch.
  • Experts opine that if members have specific reasons for deciding for or against a particular course of action, there would surely be no harm in spelling out their respective positions.

Concluding Remarks:

  • It would be unfortunate indeed if Mr. Lavasa stays away from meetings concerning violations of the Model Code of Conduct.
  • However, as he has taken up the issue through as many as three letters, it is reasonable to infer that there is some basis for his grievance.
  • At a time when the institution’s reputation is being undermined by sustained criticism, the EC should not shy away from making public any difference of opinion within.
  • Finally, it would be unfortunate if the majority in the EC were to be afraid of any public reaction that may result from disclosure of a split opinion.

4. A blueprint for a national security strategy

Analysis:

  • American think tanker George Tanham in a paper prepared for the U.S. government in 1992, wrote, “Indian elites show little evidence of having thought coherently and systematically about national strategy… Few writings offer coherent, articulated beliefs or a clear set of operating principles for Indian strategy”.

Some Important Questions that need answering:

  • It is important to note that most Indian students of strategy and security studies rightly disagree with this rather presumptuous argument, especially since Tanham located the causes of the Indian inability to think strategically in its historical and cultural specificities.
  • Somehow, it is pertinent to ask, even today, whether India thinks about strategic affairs in a systematic, consistent and coherent manner or whether its national security runs on ad hoc arrangements and ‘raw wisdom’.
  • Or is it that the political class has traditionally been too cagey about putting out a national security strategy, even a mere declaratory one as opposed to an operational one, in black and white?

Lt. Gen. (retd) D.S. Hooda’s Strategy Document:

  • Earlier this year (2019), the Indian National Congress tasked Lt. Gen. (retd) D.S. Hooda, a former Northern Army Commander, to write a strategy document which it eventually endorsed and made part of its manifesto.
  • In fact, there have been several attempts at formulating a national security strategy for India. According to some accounts, the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) had formulated draft national security strategy documents on four different occasions and presented them to successive governments, however, the political class didn’t take things further.
  • There has been a lingering worry in the minds of the politicians about a potential commitment trap if a national security strategy were to be put on paper.
  • Recently a senior member of the NSAB stated that there is indeed in existence a national security strategy of sorts, though not disclosed to the general public — though Gen. Hooda has said that as the Northern Army Commander, he at least had not seen the document.
  • Hence, experts opine that if indeed there is such a document, it is odd that one of the senior-most generals tasked with managing Kashmir and India’s border with Pakistan didn’t know about it. Further, if there isn’t a strategy in place, we should be worried.

Some Key issues that merit discussion:

  • There are some major shortcomings in India’s national security architecture that must be addressed.
  • As a matter of fact, there is a need to take a relook at some of our key national security institutions and revamp their functioning.
  • The National Security Council (NSC), which was set up in 1998 almost never meets, primarily because it is an advisory body, with the Cabinet Committee on Security being the executive body.
  • If the NSC is to be made more useful, the government’s allocation of business rules should be amended to give more powers to the NSC and its subordinate organisations, such as the Strategic Policy Group.
  • Secondly, the job of the National Security Adviser needs to be reimagined. Although the NSA plays a vital role in national security, he has no legal powers as per the government’s allocation of business rules.
  • The K.C. Pant Task Force in the late 1990s had recommended the creation of an NSA with the rank of a Cabinet Minister.
  • Over the years, the NSA’s powers have increased, even though he is not accountable to Parliament. The institution of the NSA today requires more accountability and legal formality.
  • Also, it is important to note that more national security organisations are not the answer; fundamental structural reforms in national security planning are needed.
  • Take the case of the recently constituted Defence Planning Committee (DPC) tasked to recommend policy measures to improve India’s defence capability and preparedness, and national security in general.
  • It is important to note that not only does the DPC have too many responsibilities on its plate, it is also an advisory body.
  • More worryingly, there is a feeling among the armed forces that by having the NSA chair the DPC, the government may have scuttled the demands to appoint a Chief of the Defence Staff, an issue the Hooda document highlights.

A Look at the Hooda document:

  • The Congress promised Gen. Hooda that it would adopt his national security strategy document after internal consultations.
  • The document was prepared in less than two months and in consultation with six key core group members and many domain experts.
  • The guiding philosophy of the document is enshrined in the following sentence: “This strategy recognises the centrality of our people. We cannot achieve true security if large sections of our population are faced with discrimination, inequality, lack of opportunities, and buffeted by the risks of climate change, technology disruption, and water and energy scarcity.”
  • This is by far the most comprehensive treatment of national security in the Indian context.
  • The document offers a comprehensive definition of national security ranging from challenges posed by new technologies to social unrest to inequality.
  • At a time when national security is referred to in strictly military terms, it is heartening to see that a strategy document written by a former Army general, the man behind the 2016 surgical strikes, defines security in an out-of-the box and inclusive manner.
  • A glance at the key themes shows how well-designed the document is: “assuming our rightful place in global affairs”, “achieving a secure neighbourhood”, “peaceful resolution of internal conflicts”, “protecting our people” and “strengthening our capabilities”.
  • Furthermore, the key recommendations in the document are both timely and well-thought-out.
  • On the issue of military jointmanship, it recommends that “the three services should undertake a comprehensive review of their current and future force structures to transform the army, navy and air force into an integrated warfighting force.”
  • It argues that it would take “a cultural change in the way the DRDO is currently operating” to improve domestic defence production.
  • While discussing emerging national security threats, the document differs with the BJP-led government’s decision to set up a Defence Cyber Agency instead of a Cyber Command as was originally recommended.
  • On the Kashmir question too, the document seems to differ with the incumbent government’s muscular policy, and Gen. Hooda’s wise words should be a wakeup call for everyone: “Killing terrorists is an integral part of military operations to ensure that the state does not descend into chaos. However, this is not the primary measure of success or conflict resolution. Serious efforts are required for countering radicalisation. There is a need to initiate structured programmes that bring together civil society members, family groups, educationists, religious teachers and even surrendered terrorists in an effort to roll back radicalisation.”

Concluding Remarks:

  • One hopes that this document is the beginning of a tradition in India of thinking about national security and strategy more systematically, consistently and comprehensively.

Thank you!

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