Successful anti-satellite missile test puts India in elite club

PM announces launch in televised address; says it’s for peace, not war-mongering

March 27, 2019 11:54 pm | Updated 11:54 pm IST - NEW DELHI

In an incremental advance, India on Wednesday successfully conducted an Anti-Satellite (ASAT) missile test, named Mission Shakti , becoming the fourth country in the world to demonstrate the capability to shoot down satellites in orbit. So far, only the United States, Russia and China have this prowess.

“A short while back, our scientists have shot down a live satellite in the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) at 300 km in space,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, addressing the nation around noon.

The satellite downed by the ASAT missile was Microsat-R, an imaging satellite which was launched into orbit on January 24, 2019 using a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), a senior Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) official said.

India has built the broad capabilities and building blocks to develop ASAT missiles for some time as part of its Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) programme.

Mr. Modi said the aim of the test was to maintain peace, rather than war mongering.

“A BMD interceptor missile successfully engaged an Indian orbiting target satellite in LEO in a ‘hit to kill’ mode’, the DRDO said in a statement.

A DRDO official claimed that the ASAT missile was a modified exo-atmospheric interceptor missile of the BMD. A LEO of 300 km was chosen to “minimise” debris and it also won’t last more than a few months, the official said.

Anti-satellite weapons provide the capability to shoot down enemy satellites in orbit thereby disrupting critical communications and surveillance capabilities. ASAT missiles also act as a space deterrent in dissuading adversaries from targeting the country’s satellite network.

In March 2011, The Hindu had reported the then Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister Dr. V.K. Saraswat, who later became the DRDO Chairman, as stating after an interceptor test that India had “all the technologies and building blocks which can be used for anti-satellite missions.”

Meanwhile questions are being raised on the manner of announcement of the ant-satellite capability.

In 2007, a similar test by China at an orbit of 800 km above earth had drawn global condemnation.

This test will make it increasingly difficult for India to present itself as exhibiting more strategic restraint and responsibility than China in matters pertaining to space security, and potentially other areas of defence policy as well, said Frank O'Donnell, South Asia expert at the U.S. Naval War College, in Newport, Rhode Island. “The timing of this test, and the degree of public communications coordination among the Prime Minister’s Office, DRDO, and Ministry of External Affairs, strongly suggests that this test was ordered and conducted for domestic political reasons with the upcoming elections in mind,” he said, expressing concern on the debris generated which “cannot be controlled in terms of its destination and impact regardless of the MEA statement suggesting otherwise.”

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