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India Launches High-Tech Imaging Satellite

India has launched a sophisticated Israeli-built all-weather imaging satellite. The technology will give India the capability to more closely track activities in neighboring countries, especially its traditional military foe, Pakistan.

India has put into orbit its most sophisticated imaging satellite. Experts say the RISAT-2 will allow India's security agencies to monitor military activities and movements of suspected terrorists in neighboring countries.

Independent aerospace and defense analyst Lance Gatling, in Tokyo, tells VOA News the Israeli-built satellite contains X-band synthetic aperture radar designed to observe grounds targets down to one meter in size.

"It doesn't use ambient light so it can actually see through clouds and it can also see in total darkness," Gatling explained.

India's existing satellites often get blinded at night and during the monsoon season.

Indian media reports say the 300 kilogram satellite will be in an orbit at an altitude of 550 kilometers. It is expected to have a lifespan of three years.

Shortly after the launch the chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), G. Madhavan Nair, in an interview with NDTV, downplayed the intelligence capabilities of the new satellite.

"Actually that is not in the agenda of ISRO," Nair said. "This is essentially meant for peaceful applications like disaster management support and things like that. It is the security agencies who will procure the images and do whatever they want."

The Press Trust of India, in its dispatch from the Sriharikota barrier island launch site, just off the coast of Andhra Pradesh, reported the RISAT-2 is primarily intended to keep a round-the-clock eye on India's border and aid anti-terrorist operations.

Other reports say the technology will also allow India to track Pakistani and Chinese ballistic missile launches.

Only several other countries have reconnaissance satellites of this sophistication.

The rocket lift-off Monday morning, using India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, is the latest example of a burgeoning relationship in the defense arena between India and Israel, according to analyst Lance Gatling.

"It's interesting that they would get it from Israel because Israel itself launched its own similar satellite on an Indian rocket because they could get a better orbit from India," Gatling said. "So they actually have a very pragmatic relationship and it's growing. I understand Israel is now the second largest export of arms to India."

Russia remains the top weapon supplier to India.

The C-12 rocket which carried the RISAT-2 also put into an orbit another satellite, named ANUSAT. The amateur communications micro-satellite, weighing less than 50 kilograms, is the first one in India designed and built by university students.