India has successfully carried out an anti-satellite missile or A-SAT test by shooting down one of its satellites in space. This makes India a member of the elite club of space powers, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in a televised address to the nation. Only the US, Russia, and China have anti-satellite weapons. Calling it Mission Shakti, he said India’s action was not directed against any country.
Within “three minutes of launch,” the A-SAT missile shot down the Low Earth Orbit satellite with remarkable precision and technical capability. “This is a big moment for India, something all of us should be proud of. We are not just capable to defend on land, water and air, but now also in space. I congratulate all scientists who have made this possible and made India a much stronger nation,” the Prime Minister said.
It was over 60 years earlier, during the Cold War, that both United States and the erstwhile Soviet Union, the main dramatis personae, started working on Asat. The US successfully tested first in 1959.
Unsurprisingly, the Opposition was not only unimpressed but also slammed the Prime Minister for the announcement weeks before the general election. Congress president Rahul Gandhi, while congratulating Defence Research and Development Organization scientists, mocked Modi by wishing him “a very happy World Theatre Day.” In a series of tweets, Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee called the exercise “yet another limitless drama” by a “government past its expiry date.”
The American reaction has been very different. Acting US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan was concerned about debris in space rather than Indo-Pak tensions. Speaking to reporters in Florida, he said, “My message would be: We all live in space, let’s not make it a mess. Space should be a place where we can conduct business. Space is a place where people should have the freedom to operate.”
China’s reaction was subdued but sullen. In a written statement, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said, “We have noticed reports and hope that each country will uphold peace and tranquility in outer space.” Beijing also said that it hoped that all countries “can earnestly protect lasting peace and tranquility in space.”
Pakistan was more forthright and hostile, insisting that space is the “common heritage of mankind and every nation has the responsibility to avoid actions which can lead to the militarization of this arena.”
Islamabad wanted the international community to condemn India’s action. “We hope that countries which have in the past strongly condemned demonstration of similar capabilities by others will be prepared to work towards developing international instruments to prevent military threats relating to outer space,” India Today quoted a Pakistan government spokesperson as saying.