India on Wednesday successfully conducted an Anti-Satellite (ASAT) missile test, named Mission Shakti, becoming the fourth country in the world to demonstrate the capability to shoot down satellites in orbit.
What is Anti-Satellite Missile Test
It is the technological capability to hit and destroy satellites in space through missiles launched from the ground. Anti-satellite (A-Sat) weapons that attempt to directly strike or detonate near a satellite or other targets are called kinetic physical weapons. There are two types of kinetic weapons
- Direct ascent A-Sat (DAASAT) weapon – strikes a satellite using a trajectory that intersects the target without requiring an interceptor system already in orbit. It is a type of missile Test by India
- Co-orbital A-sat mission – Requires first to be placed in orbit and then, when commanded to do so, reach within.
- The first anti-satellite test (ASAT) was carried out by the US military way back in 1959. The then Soviet Union followed a year later.
- The two countries carried out a series of such tests up till early 1980s.
- In 2007, china tested A-SAT and targeted its own satellite placed at more than 800 km from Earth’s surface
- Other countries which could have the capability, like Israel, have not shown an intention to test.
- Technology – DRDO’s ballistic missile defence interceptor was used. India used Kinetic Kill, a space technology in which India has developed capability.
- Test and Debris – Test was done in lower atmosphere to ensure no space debris. Whatever debris was generated will decay and fall on the earth within two weeks.
These are satellites roughly at an altitude of 2,000 kilometres from the earth and that’s the region where majority of satellites are concentrated. A database from the Union of Concerned Scientists, a non-government organisation based in the United States, says that there are at least 5 known Indian satellites in LEO: India PiSat, Resourcesat 2, Radar Imaging Satellites 1 and2 and SRMsat.
Significance for India
- India among Elite Group – Anti-satellite technology has so far been in the hands of very few countries: United States, Russia and China. The acquisition and demonstration of this technology make India a member of an elite group of countries.
- Indigenous Efforts – Indigenously developed technology adds to India’s credentials, given that for many decades India was kept away from acquiring key technologies, forcing the country to develop its own space and nuclear capabilities.
- Capability to destroy enemy satellites – Anti-satellite weapons provide the capability to shoot down enemy satellites in orbit thereby disrupting critical communications and surveillance capabilities. It can cripple enemy infrastructure without causing any threat to human lives.
- Space deterrence – Anti-Satellite missile test provides credible deterrence against threats to our growing space-based assets from long range missiles, and proliferation in the types and numbers of missiles.
- Spin off effect – The acquisition of this technology is expected to have spin-offs that India can exploit for commercial use, both domestic and globally.
- Drafting of International law: India expects to play a role in the future in the drafting of international law on prevention of an arms race in outer space including inter alia on the prevention of the placement of weapons in outer space in its capacity as a major space faring nation with proven space technology. India was not considered a nuclear weapons state during Non-proliferation treaty because it did not test before January 1968.
- Problem of space debris: Anything launched into the space remains in space, almost forever, unless it is specifically brought down or slowly disintegrate over decades or centuries. A satellite that is destroyed by a missile disintegrates into small pieces, and adds to the space debris. The threat from the space debris is that it could collide with the operational satellites and render them dysfunctional.
- Targeting satellites in the higher orbits: Many of the most strategic satellites are placed in orbits that 30,000 km from earth’s surface or even higher. India has to improve its capability to hit target beyond 30,000 km.
- Arms race in outer space: Many analysts observe that India’s test would bring arms race in outer-space. Although India clarifies that India’s space capabilities do not threaten any country and nor are, they directed against anyone
- Against International law: It is being alleged that India’s test is against the Outer Space Treaty of which India is a signatory. However, India clarifies that India is not in violation of any international law or Treaty to which it is a Party or any national obligation. The treaty prohibits only weapons of mass destruction in outer space and India’s test is to assure safety and security of space-based assets.
India and Outer space
India is a party to all the major international treaties relating to Outer Space. India already implements a number of Transparency and Confidence Building Measures (TCBMs) such as
- India is signatory to Outer Space Treaty,1967 and ratified it in 1982. The Outer Space Treaty prohibits only weapons of mass destruction in outer space, not ordinary weapons.
- India supported UNGA resolution 69/32 on No First Placement of Weapons on Outer Space
- India supports the substantive consideration of the issue of Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) in the Conference on Disarmament where it has been on the agenda since 1982.
- India register space objects with the UN register and follow pre-launch notifications measures in harmony with the UN Space Mitigation Guidelines,
- Participate in Inter Agency Space Debris Coordination (IADC) activities with regard to space debris management,
- Part of SOPA (Space Object Proximity Awareness and COLA (Collision Avoidance) Analysis and numerous international cooperation activities, including hosting the UN affiliated Centre for Space and Science Technology Education in Asia and Pacific.
- India has been participating in all sessions of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.
The capability achieved through the Anti-Satellite missile test provides credible deterrence against threats to our growing space-based assets from long range missiles, and proliferation in the types and numbers of missiles. Also, this test will make it increasingly difficult for India to present itself as exhibiting more strategic restraint and responsibility than China in matters pertaining to space security. India has to show diplomatic maturity in coming days in order to balance national security and its commitment towards prevention of arms race in outer space.