India has shot down a low earth orbit satellite with an indigenously-developed ASAT missile, a giant leap for the country’s space capability that propelled India into an elite club comprising US, Russia and China, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a rare televised address to the nation on Wednesday.
“Some time ago, our scientists, shot down a live satellite 300 kilometres away in space, in low-earth orbit… It was conducted under Mission Shakti, which was completed in three minutes,” PM Modi said in his 10-minute address.
The weapon, an Anti-Satellite missile or ASAT missile, allows for attacks on enemy satellites – blinding them or disrupting communications – as well as providing a technology base for intercepting ballistic missiles. The interceptor was indigenously produced, he said.
“India has registered its name in the list of space superpowers. Until now, only three countries had achieved this feat,” he said.
The ASAT missile was launched from DRDO’s testing range in Odisha’s Balasore at about 11.16 am, nearly an hour before PM Modi appeared on television, according to news agency ANI. It said the decommissioned satellite blown up in space was a micro-satellite launched by the ISRO on January 24 this year.
The Foreign Ministry followed up Prime Minister Modi’s announcement about the Anti-Satellite weapon with a statement explaining India’s stand to the world. New Delhi underlined it was only driven by its responsibility to deter threats to its space assets from long-range missiles and had no plans to enter into an arms race in outer space.
The opposition rushed to congratulate scientists at Defence Research and Development Organisation, or DRDO. The Congress also added that the anti-satellite missile programme was started during its tenure and accused PM Modi-led government of trying to derive political mileage from the success of scientists.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley blocked the many darts that opposition parties hurled at the government, insisting that the scientists had the capability to build the missile for years but never got permission from the Congress-led government.
The government said the test was done in the lower atmosphere to ensure that there is no space debris. “Whatever debris that is generated will decay and fall back onto the earth within weeks,” the foreign ministry said in its explainer. China had destroyed a satellite in 2007, creating the largest orbital debris cloud in history, with more than 3,000 objects, according to the Secure World Foundation.
Soon after PM Modi made the announcement, Union minister Nitin Gadkari congratulated the scientists involved in the project. The prime minister, in his address, said the Mission Shakti was accomplished by the scientists of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
“This is significant. India can now take out Chinese communication systems, for instance,” Bharat Karnad, Delhi-based security expert at the Centre for Policy Research told news agency Reuters. “The PM is going to derive whatever political benefits he can in election season — why would he give up the chance?”
India’s space and missile programme — along with its economic growth of more than 7 percent and a bid for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council — is major part of the country’s efforts to build up its defense capabilities and establish itself as a world power, Reuters said.