ASAT and ISRO, DRDO merger rumor

ASAT Test

For last few days I was not in Pune as had gone to attend a workshop which was funded by Innovation for change . Unfortunately, I was not able to take part in the workshop as the traveling proved to be a bit too much in too short a time. While I would share more in another blog post for the moment, I would like to share about the ASAT test that India conducted. While it’s a positive development, from my perspective there was no need for the Prime Minister to come on-stage and declare that we can shoot down a Satellite at 3k when China can do the same at 38k . So we have a long way to go, in as far as parity with China is concerned. While I’m not sharing the source of this information, this is for all and anybody to see and figure out if you know how to use the web. There are a few things I would share, I didn’t use any private data-sets to get this information, which means it’s available easily online. I did not use tor, the dark web otherwise I probably could have got far more material. Thirdly and more interestingly, if you wanna start your search from scratch, ORF could be a good starting point from an Indian POV although there are many other such think-tanks which could help you in your research.

The only question I have to ask is if we are the weaker party, which is clearly the case herein, then whom are we trying to sell this idea if not the Indian public ? Chinese military satellites are in varying range from 300 km. to 36,000 km. so there is hardly a chance that we would be able to make any significant dent to their military usage. Also using an ASAT on another country’s satellite would be an act of war. As far as Communication satellites are concerned, they are also at 36,000 km. are at the Geostationary orbit so they will not be harmed. There is also a pretty nice animation of the same at wikimedia .

International Politics

While we can understand that Mr. Modi did it for electioneering, it does have impact internationally. Last year when the Chinese did another ASAT test (which the Pentagon guestimate it reached 36k from sea level from their ground and space-based instruments) . The Chinese statement was quite brief and to the point . They said that they did the test and it performed on all the military objectives. This is a sort of perfect statement which doesn’t reveal either what the Chinese military objectives of the test were and what was accomplished. All other Governments either have to rely on their own instrumentation (if they have in space to spy and on lookout for such activities ) or rely on Pentagon’s guestimates and findings which they chose to public. The Americans are also well to not show their hand and may share some information or even share mis-information as this is and would be considered part of Information warfare. This is also precisely the reasons we have ambassadors, diplomats and others who sit together and are engaged in naunced wording. There were no need of an announcement and even if it needed, it could have been done by some mid-level executive on DRDO saying something similar on the lines of what the Chinese said and probably adding we have a long road ahead of us or something like that.

Update – 04/04/2019 – Somebody on twitter shared a link to Dr. Saraswat’s latest interview which was held a few days back .

The answers were designed in the way so as to show that the UPA govt. didn’t show the interest for the ASAT test while the NDA Govt. Even if we do take Dr. Saraswat’s interpretion of how the event happened, it still raises questions rather than answers.

  1. By. Dr. Saraswat’s own admission, it was an informal presentation . While he didn’t go into the details of what he meant by ‘informal presentation’ it could be something akin to somebody asking me to do an informal presentation on Debian. For this, the most I have to do is collect my thoughts, read up a bit onto what’s new, exciting if there is something which catches my eye and at the most have 5-7 pages of slides and depending upon what kind of organization it is, I would share what Debian is. If however, somebody would ask me to make a presentation on a possible Debian deployment, it would consist of knowing and having details of how small or big the network is ? What are the critical points in the network (for e.g. many shops or small businessess have either their custom-designed billing system whose source-code they don’t have and has to be on MS-Windows) while other systems you could potentially do the deployment. Apart from doing the actual deployment, there would be time for training, documentation etc. all of which involve some sort of hard numbers and time which both parties would have to work at to get some sort of understanding of how this different system works.

2. And this is where my question comes in. In the interview it’s also not mentioned what time or date when the presentation was done. Now we all know that 2014 was only a year away, if the presentation was done 6-9 months before elections, it is very much possible that there was no interest because it would be time-consuming and there are no guarantees of a successful test. In fact, before this test which was declared a success, there was another test which was conducted by DRDO which was a failure. This also begs or marks the question as to when did Dr. Saraswat approach NDA or vice-versa and when he started actively working on the project. Did it take 5 years for this to come to this stage or 2 years or less because that would give some more guidance and a way for us to guage future success of the project.

Rumour of Merging DRDO and ISRO

There is also a worrying bit of news that the Government of India is thinking of merging both DRDO and ISRO to be similar structure to what the Chinese have for their space program, which I think will be disastrous for the Indian Space Program, the taxpayer public money as well as the two organizations as well.

DRDO work culture

While my mother had the honor of serving within a sub-set of DRDO and she was friends with few scientists, one of the major grouses for most scientists was the constant shifting of parameters or specifications. To take a very simple example, let’s think that you are told or given a set of specs. of a Maruti 800, a small city car , then a year, year down the half, you are told that the design specifications has changed to now a Station Wagon or a hatchback and when you start to design for those, the specs. are changed again in a year or two to a sports car. Now any car-enthusiast would know that these three are completely different cars having their unique needs, dimensions, center of gravity, steering, fuel consumption, the works. Extrapolate that to a missile or missiles where more often than not, these design changes were at many a times not asked by the Armed forces who would be the actual users but the bureaucracy i.e. civil servants, many from IAS who instead of consulting, using consesus of the people on both sides, instead share and put whatever opinion they have. Of course inter-personality conflicts also do occur and inspite of it DRDO is able to do what it does. Because of quite a few such Inter-personality conflicts, many a brilliant scientist have been forced to leave DRDO and are now either serving private Indian interests or some foreign ones and they repent why they spent their best productive years at DRDO or whatever sub-unit they were into.

ISRO Work culture

While I do not have relatives working in ISRO, I do and did have friends who work or have worked in ISRO. Due to the nature of the work itself, which is more exploratory and peaceful in nature, they are able to collaborate with lot of educational institutions within India and worldwide and even collaborate with organizations like NASA, ESA and others. The civilian beaureacracy has had a more hands-off approach which has resulted in ISRO being able to carry out whatever fantastic achievements they have been able to achieve. The only thing, if they need to learn from this Government, is the ability to find money and do more of promotion of the good work they are doing. Even if ISRO were to do 1% of the promotion that NASA does in promotion with merchandising, they would get more than money back while at the same time inspire millions of young children to take up challenges in space sciences.

So from the above, it is pretty clear it would be disastrous as both have a very different mind-set and ways of working. I remember hearing or conversing with some military gentleman couple of years ago and we were talking on some similar topics. This was on a short train trip. The gentleman remarked, it’s not often that we get things to work right the first time, in any of the fields of endevour the military does. If we do, even some small part, we make sure not to disturb or change it and would make changes around it so it works and fix all the other things and processes till there is cohesion. He went on to share some real-life examples from his work which I have since forgotten but the principle seems good, solid enough at least to me.

Making Organizations Fun

At the very end, I would like to draw attention to Jonathan Carter’s blog post where he shares about Debian and Fun . I found both the art peices most appropriate not just for the organizations listed above, but should be the calling points of any organization which believes in genuine stewardship of whatever organization they have or hope to take forward.

While I would invite everybody who has more than a passing interest in the world of computer science to see Jonathan’s and other potential DPL (Debian Project Leader) platforms as well as their rebuttals, the difference between the two is statements or pictures above is that while the first one is an employer-employee model, the second is more on the volunteer, contributor-steward model. Although as DPL , the only perks the DPL enjoys are speaking about Debian in sometimes exotic locations, although that is more than tempered by being part of Debian Politics and Free software politics which comes with its own rewards, risk scenario and is and can be pretty tricky as has been observed over the years.