Military & Aerospace

ASAT Test: Despite?
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 01 Apr , 2019

Recently, when India demonstrated her ASAT capability, the import of the achievement was hardly grasped within the country, much less its strategic and geopolitical facets. We live in very cynical times. The test was just deemed as a demonstration of the capability of our scientists. Of course without their ability and exertion nothing can be possible, and without a robust scientific pool Indian missile and military space programme would not have come thus far. It may be reiterated that the ASAT capability is entirely indigenous. However, it is also true that without political will, foresight, strong leadership, scientific pool and favourable geopolitical situation such strategic tests and demonstrations are not possible.

What India has done is to basically address its threat perception in space after China demonstrated this capability in Jan 2007.

What India has done is to basically address its threat perception in space after China demonstrated this capability in Jan 2007. Strategically, China’s stance towards India has been provocative both at regional and global level. It is Pakistan’s and North Korea’s nuclear enabler and serves as  their diplomatic umbrella to cover their acts of terror. It has also been making provocative strategic manoveures in the Indian Ocean. The CPEC is also a strategic challenge which traverses through our territory i.e. Gilgit Baltistan. China’s nuclear enabling of Pakistan provided the room for jihadi proxy war. In addition, with supply of conventional Chinese arms, Pak till Balakot, felt that it had acquired irreproachable impunity against India in its ongoing proxy war. Pak also felt that with CPEC forging two countries into one territory, India would be rendered irrelevant, regionally and globally.

Under these geopolitical circumstances it was absolute necessity to meet the Chinese military threat in space. It has taken us 12 years to do this, we should have done it much earlier. It was not that we did not realize the threat. Infact, within two weeks of the Chinese test, the Indian Air Force had announced setting up of  Aerospace Command.

As per the former head of DRDO we were capable of demonstrating our ASAT capability in 2012 itself. The DRDO had sought permission, it was denied. Possibly, the level of international subversion of the political decision-makers was quite high, possibly because the then Prime Minister and the super Prime Minister were being controlled by opposing international quarters. Our strategic imperatives demanded we do it, the strategic interests of the US also demanded that we do it—but obviously the China and the Chinese lobby in India scuttled it. A prominent face of that lobby was seen surreptitiously sneaking into the Chinese embassy during the height of Doklam crisis.

The US could not have been averse to Indian ASAT test, because only a few months before the Chinese test in January 2007, had reportedly blinded a US military satellite by ground based laser.

The US could not have been averse to Indian ASAT test, because only a few months before the Chinese test in January 2007, had reportedly blinded a US military satellite by ground based laser. It may be recalled that during the same period Bush had unveiled revised space policy, which defends freedom of action in space. For the US the Chinese test was also a message that China was trying to supplant Russia as its main rival in space technology.

There is a view that in the case of China-Taiwan conflict the Americans would heavily rely on precision guided weapons and satellite,and if China is able to overcome the preponderance of US satellites, the rest would be relatively easy.

It was due to international pressures and subversion that the Indian nuclear tests could not be carried out before 1998. Eventually, when we decided to it, the threat of international sanctions loomed large. It was in that anticipation that retirement age of central government employees was increased from 58 to 60, in order to hedge the financial risks. Even while we were preparing for the tests we were constantly trailed by foreign military satellites and spies.

The level of infiltration and subversion in our strategic programmes has been murderous. So many scientists including Homi J Bhabha lost their lives under mysterious circumstances. Space techonolgy, Missile technology, Anti Ballistic Missile Technology, ASAT techonology—are sister technologies. Inimical foreign powers colluded with enemies within to thwart India’s cryogenic engine programme in ISRO in the 80s. A scientist Nambi Narayan was falsely framed for espionage and put in jail. The vector used to frame him was a ‘woman’. This is the standard practice in intelligence operations. It is only now, under the present dispensation that the conspiracy was finally unraveled. Nambi Narayan’s dignity was restored and was awrded Padma Bhushan in 2019.

…if it is our manifest destiny to compete with China, we have to accept the challenge, either alone or through strategic alignments. Both Balakot and ASAT test are strong strategic messages to China.

Bharat Karnad in his book,’’Why India is Not a Great Power (yet) wites: ‘’And yet, paradoxically, the most high end technologies and decisive strategic armaments are all indigenously designed, and decisive strategic armaments are all indigenously designed, developed and produced in the country ranging from Agni series—–the Arihant class SSBN, ability to inject satellites into precise earth orbits ….’’ The situation of self sufficiency in sophisticated strategic armaments but dependence  on imported conventional weaponry —because former category—-projects in ‘mission mode’.’’

The chances of subversion in projects in’ ’mission mode’’ exists but is far lesser in comparison to procurement or production of conventional weapons.

President APJ Kalam was one of the key architects of our space as well as missile programme. The enemies within ,hated Kalam for that. He did not fit into their theocratic frame. They were repelled by his patriotism, hence were repugnant to the idea of his Presidentship. The funeral procession of Yakub Memon and APJ Kalam, although at two different places, was concomitant affair. In death they rivaled each other.

Obviously this constituency would not be happy India’s ASAT test. The tukde-tukde constituency would not be happy.

Finally, if it is our manifest destiny to compete with China, we have to accept the challenge, either alone or through strategic alignments. Both Balakot and ASAT test are strong strategic messages to China. Balakot is in Pak territory and Space has no boundaries!

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

RSN Singh

is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research and Analysis Wing, or R&AW and author of books Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and The Military Factor in Pakistan. His latest book is The Unmaking of Nepal.

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