India test-fired a sophisticated anti-satellite missile (ASAT): ‘Mission Shakti’ and destroyed a live, out of use Indian satellite, flying in a low-earth orbit at 300 km altitude on 27th March 2019. It took three minutes to successfully demonstrate India’s capability based on completely indigenous technology.
The complexity of the mission can be understood by the fact that the satellite was orbiting at a speed of 29,000 km per hour. This small
speck in the space had to be located amidst a maze of space objects and debris, tracked, locked on to and destroyed by a direct hit. A splendid and spectacular example of precision strike displayed by Indian scientists of ISRO and DRDO.
This successful mission has made India the fourth country to acquire such a specialized capability, till now the forte of only three members of the UN Security Council: US, Russia and China.
India remains opposed to the militarization of space, and this capability will not be used against any particular nation. It’s a pure defence initiative, a demonstrator of India’s strengthening deterrence capability, without breaching any existing international treaties on space.
For India, as a space-faring nation, to develop the capability of ASAT through ‘Mission Shakti’ is a strategic landmark which, if needed, can be used to intercept and interdict, deny and destroy, the ability of an enemy country to use its space-based systems to gather intelligence. It also cautions against the use of space-based military applications against India. Also important is the fact that India has successfully demonstrated its capability based on complete indigenous technology.
The military potential of satellites are numerous and include surveillance, communications, navigation, early warning and provides continuous intelligence and monitoring. It adds the vital fourth dimension to our capabilities and is a huge force multiplier.
ASATs (Anti Satellite) can degrade the enemy’s satellite navigation and communication systems and use of their missile assets against India. ASAT operations are technically challenging and highly complex as there is a requirement of a precise hit at extremely high speeds.
India is a space-faring nation with more than 100 satellites spacecraft, missions and space-based assets. It has a rapidly growing space program which includes successful Mars (MANGALYAAN) and Moon (CHANDRAYAN) missions, and the proposed Human Space Flight program (GAGANYAAN). It needs to safeguard its assets in outer space with a credible deterrent.
In addition, India’s vital infrastructure and connectivity programs such as Digital India for bridging the digital divide, E-Governance initiatives by linking of Gram Panchayats, villages, BharatNet, high speed bandwidth and advanced telecommunications for providing effective communication in varied topology and remote areas of the country, DTH services, health and primary medicare, meteorological, communications, navigation (Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System-NAVIC and Geo Augmented Navigation-GAGAN) and surveillance, need to be protected pro-actively.
With the successful completion of ‘Mission Shakti’ and with the ‘No First Placement of Weapons in Space’ principle, India is now comfortably placed as space superpower matched only by US, Russia and China.
As part of this elite league, India is now in a position to not only safeguard its space interests but also contribute to the development of a peaceful outer space treaty, acceptable to the United Nations.
The UNODA (United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs) in its October 2018 declaration started the process of a new international treaty for banning militarization of space, in the tentative time frame 2018-2020 under pressures from China and Russia.
The PAROS Treaty (Prevention of Arms Race in Outer Space) being discussed at UN Conference of Disarmament, for placing objects or carrying any type of weapon into orbit or using force against space objects, if finalised, would have made it difficult for India to carry out any ASAT mission, due to compliance-related issues.
Once the treaty is done and if India had not demonstrated the ASAT capability, it could be at a disadvantageous position and would have found it difficult to enter into the privileged club of nations with ASAT capability. It would have led to a situation that India could ill afford.
India has a robust missile defence program and it is a signatory to all the major treaties with reference to the Outer Space.
As informed by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, India has implemented a number of Transparency and Confidence Building Measures, which include the registering of space objects in the UN register, Pre -Launch notifications, compliance with the UN Space Mitigation Guidelines, participation in Inter-Agency Space Debris Committee in collaboration with other space agencies, with regard to space debris management, undertaking Space Object Proximity Awareness (SOPA) and Collision Avoidance Analysis and is a participant of the UN Committee on the peaceful use of Space.
– Ratan Shrivastava