NEW DELHI : India has rewritten the rules of global engagement by downing a live satellite in low earth orbit on Wednesday and adding space to its strategic lexicon.

The effective space deterrence has heralded India’s entry into an exclusive club of powers with space, land, air and sea-based weapons delivery platforms. This not only helps safeguard space assets from long-range missiles, but also signifies India’s strategic repositioning by leveraging the interceptor, part of the ongoing ballistic missile defence programme, as an offensive option.

“The principal international treaty on space is the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. India is a signatory to this treaty and ratified it in 1982. The Outer Space Treaty prohibits only weapons of mass destruction in outer space, not ordinary weapons," the ministry of external affairs said on Wednesday.

Interestingly, India was opposed to the ‘Star Wars’ programme of the US.

The downing of the satellite follows India’s willingness to rewrite the rules of the game and marks a geostrategic shift. It makes India the fourth country to have the capability to do so after the US, Russia and China. The leitmotif of this Indian stratagem was in play during the air strikes against terror training camps in Pakistan.

The building block for such an interceptor option was put in place with Agni, which has a strike range of 700km to 5,200km.

The kinetic options available to India also include inter-continental ballistic missiles such as Agni-V and VI. India is also reported to be developing Surya, which will exponentially enhance the strike range capability.

Wednesday’s action sends a powerful signal to countries such as China and is an attempt by India to draw new red lines to redefine the security calculus.

(Graphic: Sarvesh Kumar Sharma/Mint)

“Without building deterrence by demonstrating an A-SAT (anti-satellite) 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," Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research said in a tweet.

The use of a three-stage Defence Research and Development Organisation’s ballistic missile defence interceptor also comes against the backdrop of India demonstrating its first nuclear armed submarine INS Arihant’s deterrence patrol capability in November.

The test demonstrates India’s technological capability to design, build and intercept a satellite in outer space using indigenous technology. This may also pave the way for the creation of a new space command on the lines of what the US has.

“The process started in 2014 after the Prime Minister gave the permission. It’s a huge achievement. Not only have we become space power but we are now in big four. We should not forget that tomorrow’s wars will not be the same as yesterday’s wars," Union finance minister Arun Jaitley said on Wednesday.

The test also comes against the backdrop of simmering tensions in the sub-continent with China’s security concerns in South Asia historically been centred around its desire to use Pakistan to thwart India’s rise as a challenger to its dominance in Asia.

utpal.b@livemint.com

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