March 27, 2019, marked a significant milestone in the history of Indian space science when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the successful testing of India’s first Anti-Satellite (ASAT) missile. The test was conducted under ‘Mission Shakti’ of the Government of India. Prime Minister Modi stated in his speech, “Mission Shakti is an important step towards securing India's safety, economic growth and technological advancement.” The interceptor was launched from Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Island in Chandipur, Odisha and hit its target, Microsat-R, a functioning Indian test satellite, at a height of 300 km in low-Earth orbit within three minutes. The missile system has been developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), a research wing of the Indian defence services.
What is ASAT
ASAT is a missile that can destroy or jam an enemy satellite in space. Since most of the communication networks are now satellite-based, this missile will add a much needed edge to India’s satellite armada. Until now, only USA, Russia, and China had operational ASAT systems. G. Satheesh Reddy, Chairman, DRDO, informed the media, “The ASAT missile uses a kinetic kill mechanism, which requires the weapon to directly hit the target to destroy it.”
How has ASAT increased India’s military strength
This new technology has enhanced the military might of India manifold, putting her in the league of handful countries which possess such satellite slaying capability. India has successfully sent different communication satellites, Earth observation satellites, experimental satellites and navigation satellites to space in recent years. The ASAT test has also been done to establish India’s capability to safeguard its space assets. After this successful test, India now has the ability to project hard power in space along with the United States, Russia and China. The tests seem to be driven by considerations of security, demonstrating technological prowess, and by the rightful Indian insistence on having a voice at the high table of global politics. Further, the assertion of upholding international conventions signalled India’s desire to be perceived as a responsible global player.
Is ASAT test directed against any country
The Indian government has made it clear that India’s anti-satellite mission is not directed against any country. “The new capability we have developed is not directed against anyone. India has always been opposed to the weaponisation of space and an arms race in outer space, and this test does not in any way change this position,” said PM Modi in his speech. India has consistently opposed the weaponisation of space but the Chinese ASAT test in 2007 aggravated India’s military concerns. European Union, Russia and China have seemingly proposed to prevent the weaponisation of outer space. Yet, space remains a place for strength demonstrations.
Harsh V. Pant, Director of Studies Programme at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi and Professor of International Relations at King’s College, London and Shounak Set, a research scholar of International Relations at King’s College, London wrote in their article, India’s leap in the space, “Incidentally, subsequent proposals to restrict an arms race in space have been languishing at the United Nations Conference on disarmament since 1980s, owing to opposition primarily from the United States. The European Union, Russia and China have in the recent past put forward various proposals ostensibly to prevent the weaponisation of outer space, but platitudes notwithstanding, consensus remains elusive.”
Since 2007, these countries have accelerated their military space activities manifold. They further added in their article, “Deploying a weapon system in space denotes weaponisation of space and is in contravention of the Outer Space Treaty, 1967. In contrast militarization of space entails utilising space for military purposes and is legitimate.”
India’s ASAT missile test drew international attention shortly after its successful completion. China and Pakistan reacted to India’s successful space mission. Pakistan appealed to the international community to condemn India's action and strengthen international laws regarding the militarisation of space. Pakistan said, “Space is the common heritage of mankind and every nation has the responsibility to avoid actions which can lead to the militarisation of this arena.” Meanwhile, the Chinese Foreign Ministry stated, “We have noticed reports and hope that each country will uphold peace and tranquillity in outer space.”
The United States stood by India, giving emphasis to the Indo-US strong strategic partnership and expressing hope to continue to pursue shared interests in space and scientific and technical cooperation, including collaboration on safety and security in space. However, the US reaction has also raised concern about space debris.
Has India broken any law by conducting the ASAT test in outer space
The Outer Space Treaty had come into effect in October 1967 and can be considered to be the constitution of international space laws. According to the treaty, no country can place weapons of mass destruction in the orbit of the Earth, Moon or any other celestial body. However, this treaty does not prohibit ordinary weapons in the space. Currently, 103 countries are the part of this treaty. Additionally, 23 other countries have signed the treaty but they haven't yet completed the ratification process. India signed the Outer Space Treaty on March 3, 1967 and it was deposited on January 18, 1982. The ASAT test performed by Indian authorities has not contravened any provision of the Outer Space Treaty.