Explained: What Mission Shakti means for India, the controversy around anti-satellite tests

Mission Shakti: India successfully carried out the test of anti-satellite missile by bringing down one of its satellites in the low earth orbit. What does this mean?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi Wednesday announced that India had become the fourth country in the world to successfully hit a satellite in space with an anti-satellite missile. Indian scientists have successfully carried out the test of an anti-satellite missile by bringing down one of its satellites in the low earth orbit 300 kilometres from the Earth’s surface.

This brings India in the select league of nations that claim to have anti-satellite weapons. Only the United States, China and Russia have demonstrated this capability till now. Israel is also said to possess this capability, though it has not carried out a test so far.

“Some time back, our scientists have hit a live satellite 300 km away in the low earth orbit. This was a pre-determined target which has been brought down by an A-SAT. The operation was completed in three minutes. Mission Shakti was a very difficult operation in which very high quality technical capability was required,” the Prime Minister said.

Explained: Significance of Mission Shakti

Satellites are used by countries for navigation, communications and also for guiding their missile weaponry. The ability to bring down an enemy’s missile, therefore, gives a country the capability to cripple critical infrastructure of the other country, rendering their weapons useless.

Though the United States and the then Soviet Union both tested anti-satellite missiles way back in the 1970s at the height of the cold war, never has any country brought down the satellite of any other country, either during a conflict or by mistake.

During the tests, countries target their own satellites, those which are no longer in use but continue to be in the space. A detailed statement by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) confirmed that an Indian satellite had been used for the test, but did not specify which satellite it was.

Controversy behind anti-satellite tests, weaponisation of space

Anti-satellite tests are extremely controversial and considered to be contributing towards weaponisation of the space, which is prohibited by the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.

PM Modi was careful to state that India’s test was a “defensive” move, aimed at securing its space infrastructure, and does not change India’s strong opposition to weaponisation of space.

“Today, we are using space and satellites for all sorts of purposes, including agriculture, defence, disaster management, communication, entertainment, weather, navigation, education, medical uses, and other things. In such a situation, the security of these satellites is extremely important,” he said.

“I want to assure the international community that our newly acquired capability is not targeted at anyone. This is a defence capability of an India which is progressing at a rapid pace. India has always been opposed to weaponisation of space, and today’s test does not alter that position. Today’s test does not violate any international law or treaty. We will only use modern technology for the security and welfare of 130 crore Indians. A strong India is necessary for the security of this region. Our strategic goal is to ensure peace and not create an environment for war,” the Prime Minister said.

MEA issues statement on Mission Shakti

The MEA statement said that the purpose of the test was to “safeguard” India’s own “space assets”.

“The test was done to verify that India has the capability to safeguard our space assets. It is the Government of India’s responsibility to defend the country’s interests in outer space. The tests were done after we had acquired the required degree of confidence to ensure its success, and reflects the intention of the government to enhance India’s national security. India has seen an accelerated space development programme since 2014,” the MEA said.

It also said India had “no intention of entering into an arms race in outer space”.

“We have always maintained that space must be used only for peaceful purposes. We are against the weaponisation of outer space and support international efforts to reinforce the safety and security of space-based assets,” it said.

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