India had been working on weapon systems to intercept space objects to be able to secure its own for a long time
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 27, 2019 declared India an established space power with the success of Mission Shakti, an anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon program. As part of the mission, he said, an Indian weapon system shot down a satellite in Low Earth Orbit. The launch was carried from Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Island launch complex.
Modi also congratulated scientists at Defense Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) for this achievement. DRDO’s Ballistic Missile Defense Interceptor was used in the test to shoot down the Indian satellite, according to media reports.
In a televised address, Modi said India has become the fourth country in the world to have developed this capability, after United States, Russia and China.
He added that with this test India is not in violation of any international space treaties. Even though the test has been carried out now the technologies required for such a feat have existed in India since at least 2010.
“India is putting together building blocks of technology that could be used to neutralise enemy satellites. We are working to ensure space security and protect our satellites. At the same time, we are also working on how to deny the enemy access to its space assets,” VK Saraswat, now a senior member of the NITI Aayog, who was then the director general of DRDO, had told reporters in January 2010.
At the time experts like Victoria Samson of the Secure World Foundation, which works on space security, had dismissed Saraswat’s claims as tall talk. But the current test proves that Saraswat’s claims were not unfounded.
India was working on its weapon systems to intercept space objects as it wanted to secure its own space assets from foreign adversaries. “Our satellites are vulnerable to ASAT weapon systems because our neighborhood possesses one,” PV Naik, the then air chief marshal, had told the media in February 2010, referring to China’s anti satellite weapon system, which was tested in 2007.
In fact, according to a media report, by March 2011, the DRDO had conducted six interceptor missions in which missiles were used to shoot down objects from outside and inside the Earth’s atmosphere, most of which were missiles. The first such test was carried out in 2006 when a Prithvi-II missile was successfully intercepted by the Prithvi Air Defense missile in the endo-atmosphere, within the Earth’s atmosphere, at an altitude of 48 kilometres. This was part of India’s Ballistic Missile Defense which has been in the works since 1998. Five of these missions had been successful.
After the last successful mission conducted on March 6, 2011, Saraswat had declared, “The fresh success of the interceptor missile mission has demonstrated the country's capability to neutralise adversarial satellites in space.”
Saraswat, at this point, was also the scientific advisor to the defense minister. Then, he had also added a caveat that, “India's policy is that it will not weaponise space and we are committed to the peaceful uses of outer space.” So, the current success of Mission Shakti is a culmination of all these efforts over the past two decades.
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