A-SAT Missile Test: A Testimony to India's Growing Military and Scientific Prowess
Amb Satish Chandra, Vice Chairman, VIF

India's successful conduct of ‘Mission Shakti’ - an anti-satellite (A-SAT) missile test - on March 27, 2019 is testimony to its growing military and scientific prowess. The test entailed the destruction of an Indian satellite operating in lower earth orbit through the use of a ballistic missile defence interceptor which is part of the ongoing Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) programme.

The test required a very high degree of precision and technical capability as the 740 kg satellite presented a relatively small target, was nearly 300 km into space and was travelling at over 27000 km per hour.

Successful conclusion of this test, therefore, amply demonstrates India's capability to interdict and intercept a satellite in space. The only other countries to have so far demonstrated such capability are the USA, Russia and China. Mission Shakti is clearly a matter of justifiable pride for the entire nation, and all the more so as it was accomplished through indigenous efforts and technology.

The rationale for this test must be seen in the context of India being heavily invested in space. Indeed, it would be true to state that the Indian space programme forms a critical component of its economic, social and communication infrastructural framework. This is evident from the fact that, since the 1960's, India has undertaken over one hundred spacecraft missions, currently operates about 50 satellites with multifarious applications in areas such as communication, navigation, earth observation, meteorology, education, disaster management etc, has a variety of space transportation systems, has undertaken a Lunar and a Mars mission and has a human space flight programmed for 2022. In this backdrop, India cannot but be aware that in the coming decades ensuring the safety of its assets in space and its freedom to operate in space will assume increasing importance. Indeed, if a century and a half ago there was merit in the dictum that the power that controlled the oceans would control the world, in the years to come, dominance in space could make for world dominance.

Mission Shakti, much like our nuclear tests in 1998, serves as a deterrent. While the latter served a notice that any nuclear attack on us would also face a retaliatory nuclear response, the former makes it evident that attacks on our space assets by any country could face similarly crippling retaliatory attacks on its space assets. Accordingly, Mission Shakti helps to ensure the security of our space assets and is a step to ensure peace and security. As pointed out by the Prime Minister, the test was simply "an effort to secure a fast growing India" and the new capability developed by India was "not directed against anyone."

It is also important to bear in mind that Mission Shakti is not violative of any international law or treaty. India has, however, always opposed the weaponisation of space and any arms race in the outer space. As clarified by the Prime Minister, this test "does not in any way change this position."

India is also to be commended for having been conscious of the need to minimise the space debris resulting from the test. Accordingly, it judiciously targeted one of its defunct satellites in lower earth orbit so that in a relatively short period of time the resulting debris would burn up in the Earth's atmosphere and not pose a threat to other operating satellites or space vehicles. Moreover, the density of space traffic in a lower earth orbit is much lower than in higher orbits. In contrast, China when conducting its first A-SAT test in 2007, showed no such sense of responsibility. It destroyed one of its satellites in a much higher orbit thereby producing a huge cloud of debris which will last for centuries and pose serious hazard for space vehicles and objects in this highly frequented zone.

It is unfortunate that highly successful endeavours like Mission Shakti, the surgical strikes, and the Balakote attack, which would in most countries have been a cause for profound celebration, have been questioned and even denigrated by some opposition elements in India. We need to introspect about this trend, particularly as India has been prey to foreign incursions whenever divided while our leaders have tended to be oblivious to the national interest in their narrow quest for power. It was this that induced the Group of Ministers, in their Report on Reforming the National Security System in 2001, to devote four paragraphs to recommendations on inculcating patriotism and promoting a commitment to the national cause. Regrettably like many other recommendations of the Group of Ministers this too fell by the way !!!!

(Author is a former Deputy National Security Advisor)

Image Source : https://cdn.dnaindia.com/sites/default/files/styles/full/public/2019/03/28/806791-shakti-1.jpg

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