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Mission Shakti: Here is why India’s capability to shoot down enemy satellites is a massive feat

The A-Sat missile developed by DRDO intercepted and destroyed a satellite 300 km above earth

On 27th March, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India has acquired the critical capability to shot down artificial satellites on orbit. During a televised address to the nation, Modi informed that India joined an elite group of only three countries to have this capability, US, Russia and China. Under the Mission Shakti program, Indian scientists successfully shot down a target satellite on the Low Earth Orbit of 300 km altitude using an A-Sat (anti-satellite) missile developed by DRDO.

Intercepting satellites in orbit is very complex and the mission was conducted at extremely high speed with remarkable precision, as informed by PM Modi. He said that It shows the remarkable dexterity of India’s outstanding scientists and the success of our space programme. He informed that the entire mission was completed in just 3 minutes.

China had demonstrated its ability to shoot down satellites on orbit when they successfully destroyed a defunct Chinese weather satellite in January 2007. They did further tests in 2013 and 2018 with weapons that can target satellites. After that, it had become crucial for India to have similar technology for strategic reasons. According to reports, Indian scientists had already developed the missile technology to achieve the same by 2012, but the then UPA government didn’t sanction the project.

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In a press briefing during the 97th Indian Science Congress in Thiruvananthapuram in 2010, the Defence Research and Development Organisation had announced that India was developing the necessary technology that could be combined to produce a weapon to destroy enemy satellites in orbit. On February 10, 2010, Defence Research and Development Organisation Director-General and Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister, Dr VK Saraswat had stated that India has all the building blocks necessary to integrate an anti-satellite weapon to neutralize hostile satellites in low earth and polar orbits.

In an interview, Saraswat had suggested that India’s anti-ballistic missile (ABM) defence program could be utilized as an ASAT weapon, along with its Agni series of missiles. This was corroborated by DRDO, which said that the Indian Ballistic Missile Defense Program can incorporate anti-satellite weapon development. It was speculated in defence forums that India was developing an exo-atmospheric kill vehicle that can be integrated with the missile to engage satellites.

It is also important to note that with the recent successes of India’s Moor and Mars missions and the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-D5), the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has the capability to launch satellites weighing in excess of two tons, an important prerequisite for the deployment of any weapons system.

Shooting down live satellites on orbit has significant geopolitical implications and it requires strong political will to go ahead with this technology. Satellites are one of the most crucial technology in the modern era which forms the backbone of communications networks. They are most vital for defence forces, which are crucial in communications, intelligence gathering, and field operations. Therefore, the ability to protect own satellites and attack enemy satellites if needed are vital during a war. And the Modi government has shown the political will to develop and demonstrate this capability.

Although many people are trying to dismiss today’s achievement as a mere space program which didn’t require an announcement by the PM, that is incorrect. It was a missile test done by DRDO, not a rocket test by ISRO. This was a demonstration of a new capability acquired by India’s defence forces which also have geopolitical implications, that’s why it needed to be the addressed by the prime minister himself.

Prime minister Modi also reassured the international community that the Indian government will use this technology in defence of the nation, and India’s stated doctrine of no first offence will remain in place.

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