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Current Affairs 05 January 2022 for UPSC Exam | Legacy IAS

Contents

  1. China to ‘modernise’ its nuclear arsenal
  2. ISRO gearing up for multiple space missions in 2022
  3. India’s December ’21 unemployment rate hits 4-month high
  4. Bioenergy crops create cooling effect on cultivated areas
  5. Why the world is short of computer chips?

China to ‘modernise’ its nuclear arsenal

Context:

China said that it will continue to “modernise” its nuclear arsenal and called on the U.S. and Russia to reduce their own stockpiles.

China defended its nuclear weapons policy and said Russia and the U.S. (2 countries that still possess 90% of the nuclear warheads on Earth)— by far the world’s largest nuclear powers — should make the first move on irreversible and legally binding disarmament.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (India’s Neighbors, Foreign Treaties and Policies affecting India’s Interests), GS-III: Science and Technology (Nuclear Technology)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Evidence of China’s expanding Nuclear Arsenal
  2. Evidence regarding Modernization of Chinese arsenal
  3. Reasons behind current expansion by China
  4. India’s Cause for concern
  5. Impact on India

Evidence of China’s expanding Nuclear Arsenal

Recently, greater evidence has emerged that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is expanding the size of its nuclear arsenal by building more missile silos (storeroom).

It indicates that the PRC is fielding a larger nuclear force based on fixed land-based capabilities.

The nuclear missile silo field in the Xinjiang region in western China is believed to host 110 silos.

Also, there is evidence that China had built a site with 120 silos in the arid region of Yumen, in the Gansu province.

Evidence from the SIPRI Year Book 2021

According to the SIPRI Year Book 2021, China’s nuclear arsenal consisted of 350 warheads at that start of 2021, up from 320 at the start of 2020.

  • China is pursuing a planned modernisation of its nuclear arsenal because it fears the multi-layered missile defence capabilities of the United States.
  • China is arming its missiles with Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicles (MIRVs) capabilities to neutralise America’s missile shield.
  • The Peoples Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) fields a range of Medium Range Ballistic Missiles (MRBMs) and Short-Range Ballistic Missiles (SRBMs), and China also on a sizeable inventory of fissile material.
  • China’s expansion is cause for concern because even as the U.S. and Russia are attempting to reduce the size of their respective arsenals, the PRC is on an expansionist mode.

Evidence regarding Modernization of Chinese arsenal

  • In 2021, China tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic glide vehicle (Hypersonic speeds are 5 or more times the speed of sound = > Mach 5) that circled the globe before speeding towards its target.
  • Hypersonic technology developments, in the backdrop of growing US-China rivalry and a year-long standoff with Indian forces in eastern Ladakh, is certainly a threat for India’s space assets along with the surface assets.
  • Though slower than ballistic missiles, they are harder to intercept and can be manoeuvred.
  • Hypersonic Glide Vehicles (HGV) first go up into the atmosphere on a conventional rocket before being launched towards their target.
  • Hypersonic cruise missiles are the ones that use rocket or jet propellant through their flight and are regarded as being just faster versions of existing cruise missiles.

Reasons behind current expansion by China

  • Increase the survivability of its arsenal against a first strike from their nuclear adversaries, most prominently the United States. Washington, which possesses a larger arsenal, stands at 3,800 warheads, and paired with its growing missile defence capabilities poses a threat to Chinese retaliatory nuclear forces. However, other countries too figure in China’s nuclear expansion such as Russia and India, even if Russia is not an overriding concern presently.
  • To mislead enemies: The current silo-based missile expansion being undertaken by China can also be to mislead and deceive enemies by hiding actual number of nuclear tipped warheads.
  • A credible nuclear deterrent: Land-based nuclear capabilities, like silos also mean that for its enemies China will be a country with a huge number of targets to strike. The larger the target list for any potential opponent, the greater the chances of China’s arsenal surviving a first strike, thereby boosting the credibility of China’s nuclear deterrent. In all probability, China is expanding its nuclear forces to withstand a first strike and then execute a retaliatory attack that would defeat its enemy’s missile defences.

India’s Cause for concern

  • The increase in unclear arsenal of China might not seem large relative to the size of the nuclear arsenal of the U.S. and Russia but it indicates a gradual shift toward a larger arsenal. This presents India with challenges because New Delhi has to contend with a nuclear-armed Pakistan as well.
  • The Indian nuclear arsenal, according to the SIPRI, stands at roughly 150 nuclear warheads with the Pakistani slightly ahead with 160 warheads.
  • China’s nuclear modernisation and diversified nuclear capabilities during conventional military escalation along the China-India boundary is one of the major concerns for India.
  • The PRC is believed to base a part of its nuclear arsenal in inland territories such as in the Far-Western Xinjiang Region, which is close to Aksai Chin.
  • Also, the concern is the rate and extent of the production by PRC as making a precise estimate of the PRC’s nuclear strength is not easy.
  • China’s nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles forces (land-based and sea-based) have improved in quantity and quality.
  • China’s Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) capabilities and Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) capabilities in the form of the Dongfeng-41 (DF-41) and the DF-26, respectively, are its most potent land-based missile systems.
  • At least 16 launchers of the DF-26 are known to be deployed in the Xinjiang region close to the Sino-Indian border.

Impact on India

  • China has refused to enter any tripartite arms control negotiations with Americans and Russians.
  • It possibly sees its current build-up as a necessity to bridge the nuclear asymmetries it faces against Washington and Moscow.
  • While the growth in China’s nuclear arsenal might not have an immediate impact on India, its development of land-based nuclear silos in the Xinjiang province is a cause of concern – given the region’s proximity.
  • It is likely to have an impact on the ongoing boundary stand-off between the two countries in Eastern Ladakh.
  • The major concern is the coercive leverage fixed land-based nuclear capabilities give the Chinese in consolidating their territorial gains in Depsang, Demchok and Gogra-Hotsprings.
  • It is unlikely that the strategic balance between China and India will change because of the Chinese nuclear expansion, but it is essential for India to keep a close eye on its neighbour and work on enhancing its own strategic capabilities.

-Source: The Hindu


ISRO gearing up for multiple space missions in 2022

Context:

After a rather muted 2021 in terms of satellite launches, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is gearing up for a number of missions in 2022.

Relevance:

Prelims, GS-III: Science and Technology (Space Technology)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Chandrayaan-3
  2. Gaganyaan
  3. Aditya-L1
  4. XPoSat
  5. Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System
  6. Earth Observation Satellites

Chandrayaan-3

  • The Chandrayaan-3 is the successor to the Chandrayaan-2 mission and it will likely attempt another soft-landing on the lunar surface.
  • Chandrayaan-3 is a lander-and rover-specific mission, with the rover communicating with Earth via the existing orbiter from Chandrayaan-2 and taking images 100 km from Moon’s orbit.
  • The unique exploration of Chandrayaan-3 aims at studying not just one area of the Moon but all the areas combining the exosphere, the surface as well as the sub-surface in a single mission.
  • With Chandrayaan-1, ISRO achieved immense success as the ‘Moon Impact Probe’ by Chandrayaan-1 lunar remote sensing orbiter detected water in vapor form in trace amounts. With Chandrayaan-3, India aims to further the study of the lunar surface, focussing on the dark side of the Moon that has not seen sunlight in billions of years, which is believed to have ice and vast mineral reserves.
  • The Lunar South pole is especially interesting because the lunar surface area that remains in shadow is much larger than that at the North Pole. Further, there could be a possibility of the presence of water in permanently shadowed areas around it. In addition, the South Pole region has craters that are cold traps and contain a fossil record of the early Solar System.

Gaganyaan

  • Under the Gaganyaan 3 flights will be sent into orbit of which two are unmanned flights and one is human spaceflight.
  • The Gaganyaan system module, called the Orbital Module will have three Indian astronauts, including a woman.
  • It will circle Earth at a low-earth-orbit at an altitude of 300-400 km from earth for 5-7 days.
  • GSLV Mk III, also called the LVM-3 (Launch Vehicle Mark-3,) the three-stage heavy lift launch vehicle, will be used to launch Gaganyaan as it has the necessary payload capability.
  • Gaganyaan will involve numerous agencies, laboratories, disciplines, industries and departments. It will help in enhancement of science and technology levels in the country and help inspire youth.
  • It will help in improving international collaboration along with the development of technology for social benefits.

Aditya-L1

  • Aditya-L1 is India’s first solar mission to study the Sun designed and to be built in collaboration between the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and various Indian research institutes.
  • It is planned to be launched on the PSLV-C56 and it is now planned to be a comprehensive solar and space environment observatory to be placed at the Lagrangian point L1.
  • The Aditya-L1 mission will be inserted in a halo orbit around the L1 point, which is about 1.5 million km from Earth.
  • Aditya-L1 will be able to provide observations of Sun’s photosphere, chromosphere and corona.
  • Aditya L1 will be ISRO’s 2nd space-based astronomy mission after AstroSat, which was launched in 2015.

Objectives of Aditya-1

  • One of the major unsolved issues in the field of solar physics is that the upper atmosphere of the Sun is 1,000,000 K (1,000,000 °C) hot whereas the lower atmosphere is just 6,000 K (5,730 °C).
  • In addition, it is not understood how exactly the Sun’s radiation affects the dynamics of the Earth’s atmosphere on shorter as well as on longer time scale.
  • The mission will obtain near simultaneous images of the different layers of the Sun’s atmosphere, which reveal the ways in which the energy may be channeled and transferred from one layer to another.
  • Thus, the Aditya-L1 mission will enable a comprehensive understanding of the dynamical processes of the Sun and address some of the outstanding problems in solar physics and heliophysics.

XPoSat

  • The X-ray Polarimeter Satellite (XPoSat) is a ISRO planned space observatory to study polarisation of cosmic X-rays.
  • It is planned to be launched in the second quarter of 2022 on a Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV).
  • The telescope is being developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Raman Research Institute.
  • The observatory will be placed in a circular low Earth orbit of 500–700 km (310–430 mi).
  • Studying how radiation is polarised gives away the nature of its source, including the strength and distribution of its magnetic fields and the nature of other radiation around it. XPoSat will study the 50 brightest known sources in the universe, including pulsars, black hole X-ray binaries, active galactic nuclei, and non-thermal supernova remnants.

Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System

  • IRNSS is an independent regional navigation satellite system developed by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).
  • The main objective is to provide reliable position, navigation and timing services over India and its neighbourhood.
  • IRNSS is a regional and not a global navigation system.
  • Unlike the widely used GPS which includes 24 satellites, NavIC has 8 satellites and their range is within India and its adjoining regions extending up to 1,500 km from the country’s border.
  • Technically satellite systems with more satellites provide more accurate positioning information. However, compared to GPS which has a position accuracy of 20-30 metres, the NavIC is able to pinpoint location to an estimated accuracy of under 20 metres.
  • The IRNSS constellation was named as “NavIC” (Navigation with Indian Constellation) by the Prime Minister, which provides two types of services:
    • Standard Positioning Service (SPS) is meant for the general public.
    • Restricted Service (RS) is an encrypted service meant for authorised users and agencies.

Earth Observation Satellites

  • An Earth Observation Satellite or Earth Remote Sensing Satellite is a satellite used or designed for Earth Observance (EO) from orbit, including spy satellites and similar ones intended for non-military uses such as environmental monitoring, meteorology, cartography and others.
  • The most common type are Earth imaging satellites, that take satellite images, analogous to aerial photographs; some EOS satellites may perform remote sensing without forming pictures, such as in GNSS radio occultation.
  • The first occurrence of satellite remote sensing can be dated to the launch of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, by the Soviet Union in 1957.

ISRO and EOS

  • Starting with IRS-1A in 1988, ISRO has launched many operational remote sensing satellites.
  • Currently 13 operational satellites are in Sun-synchronous orbit – RESOURCESAT-1, 2, 2A CARTOSAT-1, 2, 2A, 2B, RISAT-1 and 2, OCEANSAT-2, Megha-Tropiques, SARAL and SCATSAT-1, and *four* in Geostationary orbit- INSAT-3D, Kalpana & INSAT 3A, INSAT -3DR.
  • The data from these satellites are used for several applications covering agriculture, water resources, urban planning, rural development, mineral prospecting, environment, forestry, ocean resources and disaster management.
  • The launch of the Earth Observation Satellites, EOS-4 and EOS-6 on board the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), and the EOS-02 on board the maiden flight of the Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) are among the list of missions planned by the ISRO for 2022.

-Source: The Hindu


India’s December ’21 unemployment rate hits 4-month high

Context:

India’s unemployment rate hit a four-month high in December 2021 according to data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE).

Relevance:

GS-III: Indian Economy (Human Resources, Employment, Growth and Development of Indian Economy)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What are the risks to employment based on data in December 2021?
  2. Causes of Unemployment in India
  3. Way Forward

What are the risks to employment based on data in December 2021?

  • Urban unemployment rate on a weekly level had spiked to a double-digit rate to around 10.09 per cent in mid-December.
  • Urban employment is a proxy for better paying jobs and a decline in these numbers reflects impact on better-paying organised sector’s jobs.
  • With Covid-19 cases on the rise amid the threat posed by the Omicron variant and many states imposing fresh curbs, economic activity and consumption levels have been affected. This could adversely affect economic recovery further going ahead.
  • The December 2021 numbers are also significant as they show a declining trend even before the new Covid-19 wave of January 2022 led to fresh restrictions being imposed on business.

Causes of Unemployment in India

  • Jobs in the capitalist world have become highly specialised but India’s education system does not provide the right training and specialisation needed for these jobs.
  • In India nearly half of the workforce is dependent on Agriculture – even though agriculture is underdeveloped in India and only provides seasonal employment.
  • Mobility of labour in India is low due to factors like language, religion, and climate.
  • The industrial development had adverse effects on cottage and small industries – as the cottage industries fall, many artisans become unemployed.
  • Constant increase in population has been a big problem and one of the main causes of unemployment.
  • Certain work is prohibited for specific castes in some areas and this also contributes to unemployment.

Way Forward

  • Improving the labour market information system where emerging demand for skills are spotted quickly and the necessary training and certifications for the same are created is one the steps.
  • Development of the rural areas will help mitigate the migration of the rural people to the urban areas thus decreasing the pressure on the urban area jobs.
  • There is a need for a National Employment Policy (NEP) that would encompass a set of multidimensional interventions covering a whole range of social and economic issues affecting many policy spheres and not just the areas of labour and employment.
  • Jobs and skills planning should be decentralized and it has to be done at state and district levels, where there is granular information on education, skills and job options.
  • Decentralisation of Industrial activities is necessary so that people of every region get employment.

-Source: The Hindu


Bioenergy crops create cooling effect on cultivated areas

Context:

Converting annual crops to perennial bioenergy crops can induce a cooling effect on the areas where they are cultivated, according to a new study.

Relevance:

GS-III: Environment and Ecology, GS-III: Agriculture

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Energy crops
  2. Bioenergy crops and cooling effect

Energy crops

  • Energy crops are low-cost and low-maintenance crops grown solely for energy production by combustion (not for food).
  • The crops are processed into solid, liquid or gaseous fuels, such as pellets, bioethanol or biogas. The fuels are burned to generate electrical power or heat.
  • The plants are generally categorized as woody or herbaceous.

Bioenergy crops and cooling effect

  • Researchers found that global air temperature decreases by 0.03~0.08 °C, with strong regional contrasts and inter-annual variability, after 50 years of large-scale bioenergy crop cultivation.
  • Cultivation area under bioenergy crops occupies 3.8 per cent ± 0.5 per cent of the global total land area, but they exert strong regional biophysical effects, leading to a global net change in air temperature of −0.08 ~ +0.05 degrees Celsius.
  • The biophysical cooling or warming effects of bioenergy crop cultivation can significantly strengthen or weaken the effectiveness of bioenergy crop cultivation with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) in limiting the temperature increments, depending on the cultivation map and the bioenergy crop type.

Impact of this effect

  • Large-scale bioenergy crop cultivation induces a biophysical cooling effect at the global scale, but the air temperature change has strong spatial variations and inter-annual variability.
  • Compared to the herbaceous crops, changes in the energy fluxes induced by woody crops in the cultivation regions are larger, and the cooling effect is stronger and healthier across different cultivation maps.
  • Cultivating eucalypt shows generally cooling effects that are more robust than if switchgrass is used as the main bioenergy crop, implying that eucalypt is superior to switchgrass in cooling the lands biophysically.
  • Warming effects in Alaska and northwestern Canada may cause greenhouse gas release from thawing permafrost, from the four idealised bioenergy crop scenarios based on the composited cultivation map. 
  • Strong cooling effects in Eurasia, between 60°N and 80°N, may protect permafrost from thawing or reduce methane emissions from wetlands.

-Source: Down to Earth Magazine


Why the world is short of computer chips?

Context:

An abrupt and cascading shortage of semiconductors has caused  car manufactures and premium bike makers curtail production across categories.

Relevance:

GS-III: Industry and Infrastructure (Industrial Policy and Indigenization of Production and Technology, Government policies and Interventions)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Why are semiconductor chips important?
  2. Why are there shortages?
  3. What is the impact of the chip famine?
  4. Indian electronics sector

Why are semiconductor chips important?

  • The number of transistors mounted in IC circuit chips has doubled every two years.
  • Notably, the increase in chip consumption over the last decade is also partly attributable to the rising contribution of electronic components in a car’s bill of materials.
  • Electronic parts and components today account for 40% of the cost of a new internal combustion engine car, up from less than 20% two decades ago. Chips account for a bulk of this increase.

Why are there shortages?

  • The stay-at-home shift: This pushed chip demand beyond levels projected before the pandemic. Lockdowns spurred growth in sales of laptops to the highest in a decade. Sales also jumped for home appliances, from TVs to air purifiers, that now come with customized chips.
  • Fluctuating forecasts: Automakers that cut back drastically early in the pandemic underestimated how quickly car sales would rebound. They rushed to re-up orders late in 2020, only to get turned away because chipmakers were stretched supplying computing and smartphone giants like Apple Inc.
  • Stockpiling: PC makers began warning about tight supplies early in 2020 and then around the middle of 2020 – they began building up inventory to ensure it could survive U.S. sanctions that were set to cut it off from its primary suppliers.

What is the impact of the chip famine?

  • Consumers of semiconductor chips, which are mainly car manufacturers and consumer electronics manufactures, have not been receiving enough of this crucial input to continue production.
  • Chip shortage is measured in chip lead time, which is the gap between when a chip is ordered and when it is delivered.
  • With just-in-time deliveries, carmakers typically kept low inventory holdings and relied on an electronics industry supply chain to feed production lines as per demand. There were two reasons for this: a steady decline in input prices and improvements in the processing power of chips.

Indian electronics sector

  • The Indian electronics sector is tremendously growing with the demand expected to cross USD 400 billion by 2023-24.
  • Domestic production has grown from USD 29 billion in 2014-15 to nearly USD 70 billion in 2019-20 (Compounded Annual Growth Rate of 25%).
  • Despite the impressive growth of electronic production in India, the net value added by production units is very low. The net value addition ranges between 5% and 15%, as most components are imported rather than locally sourced.
  • In the era of global supply chains, the value addition at the final stages of production is very low, especially in electronics because the more complicated processes, involving greater value addition, occur prior to assembly, in ‘upstream’ industries.
  • Currently, these imports nearly constitute 80% of these components, with approximately 67% of the imports coming from China alone.
  • In the absence of foundries (semiconductor fabrication plants where microchips are produced), India has to rely on foreign contractors to produce microchips. – [There are about 170 commercial foundries globally but India does not have a single one.]
  • Chip manufacturers like Intel, TSMC and Samsung choose other countries instead of India citing uncertain domestic demand and poor cost efficiencies here.

-Source: The Hindu

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