Pakistan lags behind India in the race to develop comprehensive terrain mapping coverage of the region
The Indian Space Research Organization, ISRO, confirmed on Sunday that the country’s military carried out an operation in Kashmir (Pakistan) using imagery from their Cartosat-2C satellites. This is the first time India has publicly disclosed the use of its geospatial intelligence capabilities as part of a military operation.
The Cartosat-2Cs are positioned in low-earth orbit 526 kilometers up, according to the Economic Times. They are the successors to the original Cartosat-1, first deployed in 2005, and continue to be launched in waves alongside other satellite systems, the most recent of which took place in June.
ISRO launched PSLV C34 today with record 20 Satellites.17 foreign 3 Indian. Most important of them is Cartosat 2. pic.twitter.com/fEGdpyJirj
— Aviator Anil Chopra (@Chopsyturvey) June 22, 2016
Their high-resolution cameras and video-taking abilities allow them to observe fine details. This 0.65 meter spatial resolution is, “suitable for assessing individual structures as small as a few meters on a side” and frequently requested by both commercial and government customers worldwide.
The Cartosat effort has allowed India to phase out its prior reliance on Ikonos commercial data for mapping purposes. India further hopes to position itself as a major commercial delivery vehicle for satellite launches. ISRO launches run at about 60% of the cost of other organizations, such as the European Space Agency (ESA) or NASA. European and North American entities are already taking advantage of these lowered costs, and each launch gives ISRO more experience to perfect deployment methods for indigenous machines.
The mapping work is coupled with increased work on developing full GPS coverage of the subcontinent. The Ministry of Defense expects to have six mapping satellites deployed within the next few years, including the Cartosat-2C.
India’s military operation in Kashmir has put the Pakistani military in an awkward position where conceding it took place meant it was caught unawares and would also open the room for escalation in response.
Pakistan lacks comparable capabilities for low earth orbit surveillance of Indian territory, though it is possible the country’s Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) could repurpose the Pakistan Remote Sensing Satellite system, set to launch in 2017-18. At present, Pakistan has to depend on commercial imagery or shared intelligence from its ally, China, which also launches a number of Pakistani satellites each year.
India and the U.S. already have a mutual geospatial data sharing agreement, as part of a larger series of agreements aimed at strengthening defense cooperation with China in mind.