Mission Shakti: India’s ASAT test and its geopolitical implications

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India announced on 27th March, 2019 that it had successfully terminated a low earth orbit (LEO) satellite in space using an indigenously developed anti-satellite missile system. The test, code-named Mission Shakti, was fully successful and achieved all parameters and met desired objectives. An ASAT test requires an extremely high degree of precision and technological capability. The test makes India the fourth country in the world after the United States, Russia and China, to acquire the strategic capability to shoot down enemy satellites in orbit.

China conducted an ASAT test in January 2007 which demonstrated the capability of shooting down satellites at an altitude of over 800 kilometres in the lower earth orbit (LEO). US was the first country to acquire the ASAT technology in 1958 followed by USSR in 1964. Anti-satellite weapons are considered to be strategic assets since they can easily cripple an enemy nation’s communication links and earth-observing capabilities, thereby impacting military operations, financial transactions and broadcasting services. Much like nuclear assets, ASAT capabilities serve to act like a deterrence. The DRDO’s Ballistic Missile Defence interceptor was used in this test, which is part of India’s on-going ballistic missile defence programme. Crucial support was also provided by ISRO, India’s premier space research organization. The mission took only 3 minutes to complete from the time of locking on to the target satellite till the moment it was terminated.

Mission Shakti: India's ASAT Test
Mission Shakti: India’s ASAT Test

The government of India has stated that it has no intention of entering into an arms race in outer space. The country has always maintained that space must be used only for peaceful purposes. The government has also stated that India is against the weaponization of outer space and supports international efforts to reinforce the safety and security of space based assets. The test was done simply to verify that India has the capability to safeguard its space assets. Care was taken to ensure that test was performed in the lower earth atmosphere. This would ensure that there was no space debris. Whatever debris was generated shall decay and fall back on to the earth’s surface within a few weeks, thereby reducing the possibility of damage to other active satellites in the vicinity.

The consequences of publicly announcing an ASAT capability are far-reaching. An ASAT capability can finish a war even before it starts. It is a message to India’s hostile neighbours, namely Pakistan and China, that the country can defend its space assets and, if required, eliminate enemy assets to cause massive disruption during war. It is a strategic and bold move by India and reflects a tectonic shift in the nation’s military doctrine. India, is now truly ready for the space age.

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