India’s latest space adventure is built on a direction provided by the growing paranoia in superpowers of the world about securing their space assets. Though it’s a commendable step for a country with a relatively young space program, it adds to growing global concerns over lack of consensus on maintaining peace beyond the earth.
- India became the fourth country in the world to successfully conduct Anti-satellite missile system test on 27th
- Code named ‘Mission Shakti’, the test destroyed a decommissioned Indian satellite at a distance of 300 Kms from the earth
- India’s test comes after China sped up its drive for Space weapons in the last decade, after its first test in 2007
- India hasn’t received criticism as the test did not violate any guidelines on testing in outer space, unlike China which blew up the biggest debris cloud in history.
A former United States Integrated Defence Staff Lieutenant General, HS Lidder, predicted long ago:
“With time, we will get sucked into the military race to protect space assets and inevitably there will be a military contest in space. In a life and death scenario, space will provide the advantage.”
India joined the hysteric race of leaving a military footprint in space when the DRDO and ISRO jointly conducted the country’s first Anti-satellite Missile System Test (ASAT) on Wednesday 27th March 2019.
As per Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the act enables India to become the 4th nation after US, China, and Russia to successfully display the capability, aimed at
destroying enemy space assets.
PM Modi’s announcement in a nationwide address, right before the general elections might have brought in criticism over violations of the moral code of conduct and the timing of the test.
But leaving aside internal politics, India’s action has global consequences, and adds up to the fiasco fueled by US, China and Russia.
Lead up to India becoming a ‘Space Power’
What pushed India to attain such capabilities was a 2007 test by arch-nemesis China which destroyed an old weather satellite in high, polar orbit at around 800 Kms above earth.
China’s tests were met with global disapproval, not just for reigniting the wary idea of space militarization but creating the largest recorded orbital cloud of debris in history. China has since been on a steady course to rack up its capabilities of space weapons.
This prompted India to make a move in 2010. The defence ministry drafted a 15-year “Technology Perspective and Roadmap”, which also enlisted development of ASAT weapons “for electronic or physical destruction of satellites and GEO-synchronous orbits” as a key focus.
Then in 2012 after the momentous testing of the Agni V missile that went up to 600 Kms into space, DRDO was positive of its capabilities in ‘building ASAT weapons and launching mini/micro satellites on demand’. But with no traction from the government towards testing such capabilities, DRDO Chief VK Saraswat had said:
“India does not believe in weaponization of space. We are only talking about having the capability. There are no plans for offensive space capabilities,”
India’s and China’s emergence is a similar story to what happened between the USSR and the US during the cold war.
With the US flagging off the first use of weapons in space with the first anti-satellite tests way back in 1959. The Soviet Union, earth’s only other super power at that time, responded with its own ASAT tests around the same time and continued building its technology in the 1960s and early 1970s.
The last such reported test during the Soviet-US arms race was done in 1985.
That signaled an end to such testing for more than 20 years. Then came China’s 2007 fiasco, which arguably signalled the start of a new ‘Space Race’.
The first ASAT was done by the US in 1959. Three countries have enacted the same in 60 years – Russia, China and India. Credit: ET
What are the implications
Analysts and Politicos lauded the effort, exclaiming that it successfully demonstrates India’s ability to ‘interdict and intersect’ a satellite in outer space based on completely indigenous technology.
Such tests are known to
destabilize regional and global decorum to some extent. But the inherent power that such a capability gives a country acts as a major deterrent and also amplifies position in geopolitical diplomatic relations.
While India had stated in 2012 that it had the ‘requisite building blocks for an anti-satellite weapon’, a successful test proves India’s weapon capability. In an impromptu address to the nation, PM Narendra Modi informed the citizens:
“The ASAT missile will give new strength to India’s space programme. I assure international community that our capability won’t be used against anyone but is purely India’s defence initiative for its security,”
The Pakistan – China Dyad
From India’s point of view, growing inter-personal interests between Pakistan and China, in a sense had mandated India to develop such capabilities, to ensure its defense capabilities to safeguard space assets.
In the aftermath of India’s display, Pakistan came out voicing its concerns about military threats in outer space. The statement of Pakistan’s foreign ministry said:
“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,”
India’s response strictly maintained that it has no intentions of weaponizing the space race.
PM Modi had assured international community in a televised speech that India’s capability won’t be used against anyone
But analysts have argued that India’s act does not change the balance of power in the region. China has a massive headway in comparison to India when it comes to space prowess.
China could well see India’s fledgling capability as more of a statement than any imminent threat. Its response was guarded and wary to say the least:
“We have noticed reports and hope that each country will uphold peace and tranquillity in outer space.”
As per analysts, India still has miles to cover in ensuring space security is at par with China. India’s space assets still remain highly vulnerable in both peace times and conflict.
Vipin Narang of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had explained to WIRED that if Pakistan starts hitting Indian satellites, India can knock out Pakistan’s very few satellites. But China has the ability to knock out all of India’s satellites whereas India cannot do the same to it.
India’s ‘Mission Shakti’ will not change the balance of power in the region with China’s space program way ahead of India. Credit: DNA
India is experiencing a weird balance in the anti-satellite deterrence game with no perceived advantage in either of its duels.
Say in Global Diplomacy
The move however, when perceived at the macro level of global power landscape, is certain to give more weightage to India. In 2015, with rising concerns over China’s “
disruptive and destructive” counter-space capabilities, US had explored prospects of deeper links with India through the first Indo-US Space Security Dialogue.
Following the tests, India will have a greater role in future drafting of international law on prevention of an arms race in outer space as a major space faring nation with proven space technology.
With completely indigenous technology showcase, India also proves itself as a major innovator. Smaller countries will now look for support from India to develop their own space technological infrastructure.
A major factor why India’s test hasn’t received criticism is the fact that it did not violate any mandates or space etiquettes.
In 2018, the UNIDIR (UN Institute for Disarmament Research) proposed under the ‘No Debris’ guideline that ASAT tests should take care not to create debris that may be hazardous for other space assets in orbit. India stated that it has abided by this guideline.
Testing anti-satellite weapons in space can create damaging debris — guidelines on testing these systems can prevent collateral damage and the escalation of tensions in outer space. Read our work on this topic: https://t.co/UhNIcpOjHJ pic.twitter.com/czbzL5C9dE
— UNIDIR (@UNIDIR) March 27, 2019
India also stands in support of UNGA resolution on No First Placement of Weapons on Outer Space and the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS). The issue has been on the agenda at the Conference on Disarmament since 1982.
In the Bigger Scheme of things
With the military breakthrough, India now stands in an elite company of nations with the ability to undermine most countries.
Destroying enemy satellites can
cripple intelligence and communications of a country. In theory, India is now a threat to satellites of other countries with the capability.
It can be argued that the now elite four ‘space powers’ – India, China, US or Russia – have tested their technologies of their own satellites. No country has yet targeted any other country’s satellite. So, jumping the gun and calling it an alarming situation would be far-fetched.
But that said, these four alleged ‘Space Powers’ need to come to a mutual consensus and formulate laws that keep the outer space, clean, and peaceful.
With no agreement and little information in place for ASATs, other countries might follow suite. Such a trend will surely be a cause for concern. Kumar Abhijeet, a member of the International Institute of Space Law, told Business Insider:
“If more and more countries come up with this technology, there may be an arms race. But India will not be triggering factor. But India might be an excuse,”
India is a signatory to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty which
prohibits only weapons of mass destruction in outer space and not ordinary weapons. There needs to be clearer guidelines that emphasis on demilitarization of outer space. The current scenario with no real communication in the world’s power factions might escalate military activities in future.
Today, space technology has become integral to daily life for citizens around the globe. It can be argued that major technological transformations have come from innovations first used in space missions.
However, the ambiguity about space law and its applicability is lead to
uncertainty and distrust among nations. U.N. Chief, Antonio Guterres, sometime ago expressed his cynicism saying that key components of the international arms control architecture were collapsing.
UN Chief Antonio Guterres had expressed his concern sometime ago on the collapsing international arms control architecture
The indigenous developed capability puts India in an ‘elite club’. But with growing focus of superpowers on enhancing space weaponry, ASATs presents a dire situation.
Although ‘space war’ is more of a story line for fiction right now, but with countries now arming themselves, it might become a reality one day.
That, will be immensely
damaging to the prospects of achieving world peace anytime in the future.
- India’s act does not change the balance of power in the region as China has a massive headway when it comes to space prowess
- Following the tests, India will have a greater role in future drafting of international laws on outer space as a major space faring nation with proven space technology.
- With no agreement and little information in place for ASATs, other countries might follow suite with their own anti-satellite tests
- Space Powers – India, China, US and Russia – need to come to a mutual consensus and formulate laws that keep the outer space, clean, and peaceful.
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