India now a ‘space power’ as it shoots down satellite
Prime Minister Modi says country has joined US, Russia, China in acquiring such a capability
NEW DELHI India has shot down a satellite in space with an anti-satellite missile, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said yesterday, hailing the test as a major breakthrough in its space programme.
Mr Modi made the announcement in a television address to the nation. He said India was the fourth country to have used such an anti-satellite weapon after the United States, Russia and China.
Such capabilities have raised fears of the weaponisation of space and setting off a race between rival powers.
"Some time ago, our scientists shot down a live satellite 300 kilometres away in space, in low-earth orbit," Mr Modi said, calling it a historic feat.
"India has made an unprecedented achievement today," he said, speaking in Hindi.
"India registered its name as a space power."
Mr Modi faces a general election next month. He went on Twitter earlier to announce his plan for a national broadcast, saying he had an important announcement to make.
India's space programme makes earth imaging satellites and offers launch capabilities as a cheaper alternative to Western programmes.
Mr Brahma Chellaney, a security expert at New Delhi's Centre for Policy Research, said the US, Russia and China were pursuing anti-satellite (Asat) weapons.
"Space is being turned into a battlefront, making counter-space capabilities critical. In this light, India's successful 'kill' with an Asat weapon is significant."
No comment was immediately available from old rival Pakistan.
There was also no immediate reaction from China's foreign or defence ministries.
China destroyed a satellite in 2007, creating the largest orbital debris cloud in history, with more than 3,000 objects, according to the Secure World Foundation.
Mr Ajey Lele, a senior fellow at the government-funded Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi, said India was spurred into the anti-satellite programme by China's test.
Indian defence scientists have sought political approval for live tests but successive governments had baulked, fearing international condemnation, an Indian defence official said.
But Mr Modi - who is heading a Hindu nationalist-led government - has taken a consistently strong position on national security, launching air strikes last month on a suspected militant camp in Pakistan that led to retaliatory raids by Pakistan in a dramatic ratcheting up of tensions between the nuclear-rivals.
Mr Lele said India had in all likelihood destroyed its own satellite in the three-minute test conducted yesterday.
Tensions between India and Pakistan remain high. India's big concern is China's defence assistance to Pakistan, including in its missile programmes, and analysts say the fear is that Islamabad may turn to Beijing for help to neutralise any Indian advantage such as the latest test in space capabilities.
"I don't think Pakistan has acquired that level of accomplishment yet by itself, but Pakistan is no longer seen alone," said Mr Uday Bhaskar, director of Society for Policy Studies, another Delhi think-tank.
"Pakistan and China have a very deep strategic kind of partnership. So some kind of sharing of capabilities can't be ignored." - REUTERS