Military & Aerospace

Mission Shakti and Space War
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 12 Apr , 2019

27 March, 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a live broadcast to the nation on March 27, 2019, stated that India had shot down a low-earth orbit satellite in space, propelling itself into an elite club of nations. He also said that intent of DRDO’s ‘Mission Shakti’ is to defend India’s space assets, not to start an arms race in space. 

It was a historic day for India, in successfully demonstrating anti-satellite (ASAT) missile capability, joining the elite club of the US, Russia and China having such capabilities. The test was carried out off the coast of Odisha and on a low orbit satellite 300 km above surface level.

The fact that this anti-satellite technology is indigenously developed makes the feat all the more significant,  considering that for many decades India was kept away from acquiring key technologies, forcing the country to develop its own space and nuclear capabilities.

Having developed its own indigenous vehicles for launching commercial satellites, India has been in the forefront of launching satellites of other countries, attaining hallmarks in launching multiple satellites through single launch, and that too at comparatively low costs compared to foreign competitors.

According to a government official, “This technological achievement (Mission Shakti) will have many spin-offs that we can exploit for civilian commercial use.” Obviously the civil commercial use implies both for domestic and foreign applications. But most important is its military use in being a strategic deterrence, China having successfully demonstrated the capability in 2007. 

A viewpoint is being expressed denouncing India’s ASAT test on the argument that too many satellites are in space, it would be difficult to decide which one to shoot down, and that such a contingency may never occur. But this is a myopic view. ASAT capability is a strategic deterrence in its own field, as are nuclear weapons in theirs.

Mission ‘Shakti’ is definitely ‘Advantage India’. But there are more beneficiaries as well. The primary Individual beneficiary is Prime Minister Narendra Modi. According to one claims, India had this capability in 2007, while another says India was ready in 2012. But if India had the capability in 2007 or 2012, why didn’t NDA-II undertake the test immediately on coming to power – akin to Prime Minister AB Vajpayee immediately going for Pokhran-II on assuming premiership? The answer is very simple; Modi timed the test with general elections, as part of what is being referred to as ‘carpet bombing of voters’.

The second major beneficiary is the DRDO whose performance has been questioned time and again because of its output being far below its mammoth organization and funding. But then missiles are one niche where DRDO has done well, the foundation of which was laid by Later President APJ Abdul Kalam when serving in DRDO.

There are others who are trying to extract benefit for themselves. G Madhavan Nair, former ISRO chairman and BJP member claims India was ready for ASAT test in 2007 but Congress did not want it. He also says he has received death threat. The first statement is clearly political. ISRO makes satellites, not missiles. How does he know DRDO had ASAT missile in 2007? And if Congress didn’t want the test despite India having the ASAT missile, was he selling cookies when BJP assumed power in 2014? Is he trying to get even for getting kicked out from ISRO for the dubious deal relating to state of radio spectrum bandwidth involving Antrix?

The second part of death threat bit, appears to be aimed at remaining relevant and securing Z or Z-plus security for himself. One can understand death threat if he was in service with ISRO but such threat a decade after retirement is preposterous, unless someone who didn’t get the due ‘share’ from the Antrix deal or another is after his blood. 

NASA Administrator, Jim Bridenstine appeared afflicted with ulcers in stating that that India’s move to shoot down of one of its own satellites was a “terrible thing” as it created about 400 pieces of orbital debris. Wonder if the dude wanted India to shoot down a foreign satellite – US, China, which country? Jimmy boy obviously doesn’t seen a mirror and would be loathe to comment so for another Chinese test? The CIA of course is mum because of the currently expanding Indo-US strategic partnership. Otherwise it is well known who was behind eliminating how many India scientists through accident starting with Dr Homi J Bhabha, including some made to look like suicides. All this, with no Pakistani nuclear scientists touched, and US unable to even interview Pakistan’s master nuclear proliferation expert – AQ Khan.

In a significant development, China has established a secret complex of chemical lasers, microwave generators and other radio frequency weapons some 145 south of Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang Province, to neutralize space vehicles of  potential adversaries. This would enable the PLA to simultaneously fire one to three laser guns. According to the US Department of Defence (DoD), China will be able to deploy land-based laser guns by early 2020, and by end 2020s will be able to destroy all types of satellites in earth orbit. That China would be working on ‘capturing’ foreign satellites is also a possibility.

The space war has been heating up past few years, what with the US firing a space-based kinetic weapon, ‘Rod of God’, at China’s Tianjin port  on August 12, 2015, that killed 114 people and instantly destroyed six city blocks on the edge of the city of Tianjin. This was a weapon that can be dropped from high orbit to strike almost any land-based target. It demonstrated that weaponization of space is well underway. It can be safely assumed that research may also be underway to develop satellites that can ‘deflect’ missiles or ‘stealth’ satellites’. China has already demonstrated it can electronically target fighter aircraft, drone and satellites.

So while ASAT capability to shoot down enemy satellites is good, there is a huge challenge for augmenting indigenous capabilities: defence against space weapons; employment of land-based lasers, microwave weapons; capability to electronically kill or deflect enemy aircraft, drones and the like. These are operational necessities, no more distant.

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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

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is a former Lt Gen Special Forces, Indian Army

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