Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India has become the fourth country in the world to bring down a satellite in space.
“It was done in three minutes… we took out a satellite rotating around the earth in low earth orbit at a height of 300 km.”
It was done using a locally designed anti-satellite missile.
“I congratulate all DRDO researchers who helped India achieve this extraordinary milestone,” Modi said.
“It was important to ensure that we have the power to protect our satellites, which are playing an important role today.”
Defence expert Professor Brahma Chellaney of Center for Policy Research said the move was essential as a deterrent against China. Without such a capability, China could have easily taken out India’s satellites in case of a war.
“Space wars are becoming a reality because if you look at the great powers, the US, Russia and China, they have operational anti-satellite weapons or they are developing them.
“Therefore, in a conflict that involves India and China, India’s electronic infrastructure, including its space-based capabilities, will be vulnerable to an attack by China.
“Therefore, developing counter strike capabilities is essential for deterrence,” Chellaney said, adding that today’s announcement is ‘very significant’.
“Without deterrence, the enemy will be tempted to strike first and knock out all your space-based platforms. That would leave India naked, in a military sense. Developing this kind of capability sends a message to the enemy that if they were to attack India’s space platforms, then India would attack the enemy’s space-based platforms too.”
“Given China’s capability in anti-satellite warfare, it had become essential for India to counter China’s asat capability and today’s kill of a low-orbiting satellite sends a powerful message, to China in particular…,” he added.
Chellaney also pointed out that Narendra Modi’s action is a departure from the stand taken by earlier governments as far as space-oriented weapons are concerned.
“India used to take the moral high ground.. the previous government had been reluctant to give the go-ahead to the DRDO on operationally demonstrating India’s anti-satellite capability. This government gave the go-ahead to the DRDO.”
It remains to be seen how the move will be seen by the international community, though Modi did his best to assuage any concerns.
“I want to assure the international community that our capability is not against anybody. We have always been defensive in our pursuit of our space program.
“Our move does not contravene any international treaty or law,” he said.
“We want to use this technology only to protect our citizens,” he added. “Our aim is to preserve the peace, not beat the drums of war.”
Generally, the international community do not like ‘star wars’ programs.
Some countries, such as Russia and the US, are reported to be capable of destroying other countries’ satellites and ground equipment using armed satellites as well as missiles.
There is also talk of some countries working on using laser-enabled satellites to destroy enemy infrastructure.
However, going by today’s announcement, India’s capability is restricted to the use of missiles to take down other countries’ satellites.
The next step for India would be to launch satellites that can send missiles to destroy the infrastructure of enemy countries.
The announcement today is to be seen in the context of upcoming elections in India in which Modi is up for re-election, but faces a tough challenge from opposition parties led by Indian National Congress.
The announcement has been met with relief in some corners, as some were expecting a development on the Pakistan front, while others were expecting a move like demonetization.
“I would be addressing the nation at around 11:45 AM – 12.00 noon with an important message. Do watch the address on television, radio or social media,” Modi had said a few minutes before the announcement.
There was a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security today morning, and there is some speculation that the announcement could be related to security matters.
The move comes barely three weeks before the start of general elections 2019.