What is an anti-satellite weapon? India joins US, Russia, China in elite space power club with Mission Shakti

In an "important message" to the nation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday announced that India has entered the "elite space power" league with an anti-satellite weapon (A-SAT), successfully targeting a live satellite on a low earth orbit. The operation, called the 'Mission Shakti', was a "difficult target" to achieve, Modi said. The prime minister further added that it was completed successfully within three minutes of launch. The other three nations to have achieved this feat are United States, Russia and China.

 What is an anti-satellite weapon? India joins US, Russia, China in elite space power club with Mission Shakti

Representational image. Reuters

What is an anti-satellite weapon?

A-SATs are space weapons that are designed to incapacitate or destroy satellites for strategic and military purposes. As of now, only India, Russia, China and the United States have demonstrated their capability to successfully shoot down defunct satellites. These 'weapons' help destroy satellites that impede a nation's ability to collect intelligence or direct attacks. They can be air, land or sea-based.

According to the US-based think tank 'Council on Foreign Relations', research into A-SATs began after the Soviet Union had launched the world's first satellite, Sputnik, in October 1957. By the 1980s, both US and the Soviet Union performed anti-satellite missile tests, all of them in technical violation of a 1967 UN treaty banning such activities.

In January 2007, China became the third country to conduct a successful test when it launched a ballistic missile with a kinetic-kill vehicle (KKV) payload on 11 January, 2007. It destroyed an inactive weather satellite. This test had followed three earlier failed attempts.

A-SATs continue to proliferate as both weapons and dual-use technologies. It was also widely speculated that the US ASAT test in 2008 was in retaliation to the Chinese test in 2007.

During the 97th Indian Science Congress in Thiruvananthapuram, in January, 2010, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) had announced that the nation was developing necessary technology that could be combined to produce a weapon to destroy enemy satellites in orbit. Subsequently, in February of that year, DRDO stated that India had "all the building blocks necessary" to integrate an anti-satellite weapon to neutralise hostile satellites in low earth and polar orbits.

Threat from China?

Even as being included in the elite space power club has drawn cheers from netizens across the country, analysts also tell us about the increasing "need" for such a weapon in the face of a growing threat from neighbouring China. A report in The Diplomat cited how China's own launch of an ASAT had caused anxiety and led to calls for a new space policy aimed at countering the growing might of the neighbour's space military program.

After China’s 2007 ASAT test, former Indian Army chief General Deepak Kapoor, was quoted in a report by The Times of India saying China’s space program was expanding at an “exponentially rapid” pace in both offensive and defensive capabilities, and that space was becoming the “ultimate military high ground” to dominate in the wars of the future.

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Updated Date: Mar 27, 2019 14:35:25 IST