Earlier this week, India launched a cutting edge spy satellite, dubbed RISAT-2. This is a momentous occasion for Indian national defence. The Israeli-made satellite uses synthetic aperture radar (SAR) technology to capture high-resolution photos; it can reportedly make out a car’s licence plate from its orbit in space.
It has been claimed that data from the satellite will prevent another 26/11, and that the satellite can track our borders to prevent terrorist infiltration. But a national defence triumph should not be confused with proper counterterrorism: India needs a coherent anti-terrorism policy.
A spy satellite—no matter how advanced—will never be as efficacious at securing our vast borders as more appropriate tactics such as electric fences, motion detectors and strong intelligence. Instead, RISAT-2 will protect India from traditional, nation state threats. This is, of course, still important. India can now easily track the movements of the Pakistan army if it were to crowd our border. The same goes for China and other potential threats.
Beyond the defence benefits of RISAT-2, it also tightens our military partnership with Israel. This is welcome. Israel has provided India with its cutting edge equipment. And Israel is reportedly working on two more satellites for India.
Traditional military prowess, such as this satellite, is not as effective at combating terrorism. The US’ debacles in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate this: The most well-funded, trained army in the world has still been easy prey to suicide bombers and guerrilla-style attacks. The US, too, has spy satellites.
In routing the terrorists during 26/11, the National Security Guard was called in after much delay; an urban counterterrorism force could have ended the violence earlier. It’s unclear how much the Indian Space Research Organisation’s RISAT-2 cost. Indian satellite launches are priced relatively very low compared with those in advanced countries. A similar amount of money if spent on counterterrorism initiatives would deliver good results compared with misplaced expectations from a tool that has great value otherwise.
The triumph of RISAT-2 is important, but it alone will not stop terrorism. India needs to pursue more effective—and less glamorous—tools to fight terrorists.
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