Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing the nation on Wednesday, announced that India has become a major space power and that our scientists have tested a new space missile. Codenamed 'Mission Shakti', the Prime Minister announced that a Low Earth Orbit satellite, a pre-decided target 300 km away in outer space, had been shot down by an Anti-Satellite Missile System (ASAT).
“It was shot down using an ASAT satellite within just three minutes," he said. "Mission Shakti was a very tough operation. It required high levels of technical expertise. Scientists have achieved all set goals and targets in this operation,” he added.
He announced that India is the fourth country to do so in the world, after the United States of America, Russia and China.
Pallava Bagla, the Science Editor for NDTV, said that the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) had launched a few low earth orbits, which they confirmed was for DRDO purposes.
Highlighting the importance of satellites in various spheres like entertainment, education, disaster management, defence and so on, Modi said, “In the world, the importance of space and satellites will keep growing in different spheres. Perhaps it will be difficult to manage in life without them. It is important to protect these machines. Today's ASAT missile will give new strength to India. I want to tell the world diaspora also, this new skill is not against anyone. This is a defence move. India has always been against weapons in space. This policy has not changed. This test is not in violation of any international laws. This is only for the protection of the citizens of this country and this region.”
He added, “View this step as a direction towards peace and protection. It is important to move forward and prepare ourselves for future challenges.”
The purpose of an anti-satellite missile system is to destroy enemy satellites and stop the enemy from communicating with troops or accessing vital information about incoming missiles and troop movements. China, which began its ASAT testing programme a few years ago, had led India to bring changes in its space programme
Modi's announcement could be seen as a counter to China’s growing space military programme. China conducted its anti-satellite missile test in 2013 when it launched its new ASAT (anti-satellite) missile, the Dong Neng-2 or DN-2, and in 2015, had tested a satellite-killing missile DN-3, which was seen as a threat to US space assets.
In 2012, VK Saraswat, then Chief of the DRDO, had announced that India has the building blocks for an anti-satellite weapon to deal with hostile satellites in low earth and polar orbits. Saraswat had suggested that India’s anti-ballistic missile defence programme had the capability of being used as ASAT weapon, along with its Agni series of missiles.
Existing space treaties check countries from placing weapons of mass destruction in space but do not check countries from placing other kinds of strategic weapons like ASATs. ASATs can be used for things such as cyber-attacks on space systems, electromagnetic pulse explosion devices, directed energy weapons and targeted missiles to destroy other satellites, etc.