Explore the Dynamics of India's DefSpace Sector: Lt Gen Anil Bhatt (Retd), DG, ISpA

In an exclusive interview with Lt Gen Anil Kumar Bhatt (Retd), Director General of the Indian Space Association (ISpA), strategies to minimize legal and financial risks, compliance, and scalability in collaborative projects with startups were thoroughly examined.

Punam Singh
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Lt Gen Anil Kumar Bhatt (Retd), Director General of the Indian Space Association (ISpA)

 In an exclusive interview with Lt Gen Anil Kumar Bhatt (Retd), Director General of the Indian Space Association (ISpA), we delve into the nuanced landscape of India's burgeoning DefSpace sector.


With the recent opening of the space industry to private players, there's a pressing need to navigate complex regulatory frameworks while fostering innovation and growth. In this discussion, we explored strategies to minimize legal and financial risks, ensure compliance, and drive scalability in collaborative projects with startups.

Additionally, we examined the role of generative AI in space operations, initiatives advancing space manufacturing technologies, and key learnings from the global space market. Join us as we unravel the intricacies of India's DefSpace journey.

DQ: How can companies in the defense and space sectors navigate complex regulatory frameworks? What strategies can ensure compliance and minimize legal and financial risks while fostering innovation and growth?


The space sector is a nascent sun-rise sector in India and historically has been the government's domain i.e., ISRO. The sector has now opened to private players (NGEs) and undoubtedly it is critical that legal and financial risks for them are minimized. 

The most critical aspect of this is providing a single window for clearance for the space industry. The same has been promised by IN-SPACe, which is a premier autonomous body under the Department of Space, established to promote, handhold, and regulate private sector participation in the Indian space domain. However, in practice, multiple ministries get involved for e.g., the Department of Telecommunication (DOT) for Spectrum Allocation, the Department of Space (DOS)/NSIL for IRS data, the User ministries for orders, MEA for Export Control and Ministry of Finance for fiscal incentives like PLI, GST, etc. 

The space-based companies are and should continue to actively participate in consultations with regulatory bodies to provide industry perspectives as there is a lot of work in progress and should engage with the Indian Space Association (ISpA) to collectively advocate for streamlining policies, regulations and establishing a true single-window clearance system. We are positive for the growth in the private Space sector as the progress is led by the PMO itself. 


DQ: Within the space industry, how do you perceive the role of generative AI, and are there any concrete plans or ongoing efforts to integrate generative AI into space-related operations?

The space industry, particularly in the domain of remote sensing and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), is heavily reliant on processing large volumes of raw data coming from multiple ELINT satellites, such as Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), Electro-Optical (EO) and Hyperspectral sensors. Efforts have already begun to leverage edge computing to minimize the voluminous data that needs to be downloaded in traditional scenarios, and generative AI can play a crucial role in this endeavor.

Even with raw data, generative AI models can be employed to extract tangible insights and actionable information, thereby reducing the need for extensive data downloads. These models can be further improved and refined to provide users with direct answers to their queries, detect changes over time (companies like Digantara, Skyserve & Dfy Graviti), support disaster management, monitor crop health (KaleidEO), and enable other applications.


DQ: How is the DefSpace sector effectively addressing the challenges of ensuring long-term sustainability and scalability in collaborative projects with startups in the space tech industry?

Response: The Ministry of Defense took a major initiative in defining and laying out the requirements of space for the defense services, which manifested in the form of 75 DefSpace challenges launched by the Honorable Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the DefExpo-Ahmedabad in October 2022. This launch aimed to provide a clear roadmap and problem statements for the Indian space industry to develop innovative solutions catering to the specific needs of the defense sector.

The 75 DefSpace challenges cover a wide range of areas, including satellite-based communication systems, remote sensing and surveillance, navigation and positioning, space situational awareness, and space-based applications for logistics and operational planning. By outlining these challenges, the government has given startups and industry players the clarity they need to develop relevant products and technologies aligned with the defense sector's requirements.


Furthermore, the inclusion of minimum order quantities (MOQs) in many of these challenges will provide additional clarity and assurance to startups and companies, addressing one of the major hurdles they often face – the uncertainty surrounding demand and scalability of their solutions. 

In addition to the DefSpace challenges, the government has also launched initiatives like INDUS-X (India-United States Defence Acceleration Ecosystem (INDUS X)) under iCET, which aims to provide a platform for sustained engagement between the Indian def-space industry and the US defense sector. INDUS-X facilitates collaboration, knowledge sharing, and technology transfer, enabling startups and companies to leverage the expertise and resources of the defense sector for the development and scaling of their solutions.

Moreover, any space product accepted and integrated into the Indian Defense sector's systems and operations would automatically gain credibility and recognition on a global scale. This can potentially open up opportunities for startups and companies to scale up their products and services for worldwide markets.


DQ: What initiatives and efforts are currently underway to advance space manufacturing technologies?

Several initiatives and efforts are currently underway to advance space manufacturing technologies in India, one of the notable efforts is the transfer of technologies (ToT) from the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) to the private space industry.

A significant example of this is the manufacturing of five Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles (PSLV) by a consortium of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Larsen & Toubro (L&T). In August 2023, IN-SPACe announced its intent to transfer technology for the Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) to the private sector, paving the way for the industry to manufacture and operate this launch vehicle independently.


Several private companies and startups, such as Walchandnagar, Godrej Aerospace, Skyroot, Pixxel, Dhruva Space, Azista-BST, and Bellatrix Aerospace are also investing in developing their space manufacturing capabilities, including setting up dedicated facilities and acquiring advanced manufacturing equipment.

Furthermore, we (ISpA), on behalf of the private space industry, have reached out to the Ministry of Finance to provide a Production-Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme for the space sector.

DQ: What are some of the things the Indian space sector can learn from the global space market to help us improve our positioning internationally?

The success of the private space sector, primarily in the USA, Europe, and other nations, has been largely driven by strong regulatory support from their respective governments. The Indian government has taken similar steps by introducing policies such as the New Geospatial Policy 2022, the Indian Space Policy 2023, the New Telecommunications Act 2023, and the new FDI Policy 2024, which have aimed to create an enabling environment for the growth of the private space industry.

However, one crucial aspect that the Indian space sector can learn from the global space market is the importance of assured demand and the government acting as an anchor customer, especially in the sector's nascent stages.