India demonstrates Space Shakti4 min read . Updated: 27 Mar 2019, 11:18 PM IST
- DRDO's anti-satellite missile (ASAT) shoots down LEO satellite, makes India a space power, says PM Narendra Modi in address to the nation
- The speech sets off political controversy, with opposition alleging misuse of TV time in the middle of a campaign for Lok Sabha Elections 2019
New Delhi: India on Wednesday added enormous punch to its offensive defence capability after an Indian missile successfully shot down one of its low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites, registering India's credentials as a space power.
The action entailed striking an object located at an altitude of 300km and moving at a speed of 25,200km per hour, a precision that requires consummate technological sophistication.
Consequently, India has joined an elite club of nations possessing anti-satellite missle technology (ASAT), which, prior to Wednesday, was the exclusive preserve of the US, Russia and China.
Code-named “Mission Shakti", the entire process of downing the satellite—from the launch of a ballistic missile defence interceptor to the destruction of the target—took three minutes, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a televised address to the nation.
“In the world, the importance of space and satellite is just going to grow. In such a situation, it is equally important to protect these things," Modi said in his speech.
“Today I want to assure the world that the new capabilities we have achieved today are not against anyone. Today’s development does not break any international laws. We want to work only for the security of the 130 crore citizens of the country. Our main mission is to maintain peace and not create an environment of war," he said.
The address, however, set off a political controversy, with the opposition alleging misuse of television time in the middle of a campaign to elect the next government. The matter is likely to become a key point of electoral discussion as the incumbent government will seek to showcase the achievement.
According to a note from the ministry of external affairs, “the test was done to verify that India has the capability to safeguard our space assets".
“The capability achieved through the anti-satellite missile test provides credible deterrence against threats to our growing space-based assets from long-range missiles, and proliferation in the types and numbers of missiles," it said.
Wednesday’s development, which follows the 26 February Indian Air Force air strikes on a terrorist hideout at Balakot in Pakistan, once again underlines India’s growing offensive capabilities.
“The increased use of satellite technology in terrorism, especially cross-border attacks, has compelled India’s defence ministry to activate the technology, which it has developed. India has been using satellites in military operations. The time was right for an anti-satellite demonstration," said Chaitanya Giri, an expert on space studies at Mumbai-based strategic think tank Gateway House.
Brahma Chellaney, an analyst with New Delhi-based think tank Centre for Policy Studies, said in a Twitter post: “Without building deterrence by demonstrating an ASAT capability, India risked encouraging an adversary like China to go after Indian space capabilities early in a conflict. To ‘defend’ its satellites, India has to deter China’s use of its direct ascent missiles and laser weapons."
China reacted cautiously to the development. “We have noticed reports and hope that each country will uphold peace and tranquillity in outer space," the Press Trust of India cited the Chinese foreign ministry as saying.
According to the Indian external affairs ministry note, “the test required an extremely high degree of precision and technical capability. “The significance of the test is that India has tested and successfully demonstrated its capability to interdict and intercept a satellite in outer space based on complete indigenous technology."
The achievement is all the more remarkable given that for several decades Indian research bodies like the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Defence Research and Development and Organisation (DRDO) had been under international sanctions. India came under a slew of international sanctions in 1974 when it conducted its first nuclear test, and then again in 1998 after the Pokhran tests. Some of the sanctions were lifted in the early 2000s and the last of them after 2008, when India and the US signed a civil nuclear cooperation pact.
That the test was “fully successful and achieved all parameters as per plans", as the external affairs ministry put it, underlined the work put in by Indian scientists, a fact that was acknowledged by Modi and the opposition Congress.
“Congratulations to @DRDO_India for the success of #MissionShakti, building blocks of which were laid during UPA-Cong Govt in 2012....Proud moment for India!" Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said on Twitter.
Congratulating DRDO, scientists and officials, Modi said the mission was an important step towards securing India’s safety, economic growth and technological advancement.
With the Prime Minister choosing to announce the accomplishment on television, just two weeks ahead of the first round of general elections, the achievement is seen to burnish his image as a strong leader. Opposition parties, however, accused him of violating the model code of conduct.
“Research, space management & development are a continuous process over the years. Modi, as usual, likes to take the credit for everything," said West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, dismissing the announcement as “limitless drama".