The ASAT missile being launched

DRDO scientists say the test was purely a deterrence measure

Around noon on March 27, 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi came out on national television to announce to the world that India had shot down a low-earth orbit satellite (a satellite at an altitude of 2,000 km or less) using an ASAT (anti-satellite) missile.

The operation, named Mission Shakti, made India the fourth nation—after the US, Russia and China—to achieve the capability of destroying an enemy satellite. The destroyed satellite had an altitude of 300 kilometres.

While many applauded the move, others viewed Modi's announcement as a political move to get poll numbers, taking place as it did barely a few days before the 2019 general elections. But, the world looked at it as the trend towards the militarization of space.

Defence experts say India has now attained the ability to render an enemy country ‘deaf and blind’—by targeting its communication, military and surveillance satellites. While defending the action, Indian military observers believe that India has to be fully equipped for all types of warfare including land, air or space.

Defence minister Rajnath Singh early today, on the 1st anniversary of successful Anti Satellite (A-SAT) Missile Test, tweeted that he proudly recalls the contribution of all the scientists and researchers associated with ‘Mission Shakti’.

"The success of ‘Mission Shakti’ proved our capability to defend the assets in outer space and made India the 4th Space Power in the world. "

Three months after Mission Shakti, the defence ministry in June last year had carried out a table-top war game named ‘IndSpaceEx’ with all stakeholders from the military and scientific community to assess the requisite space and counter-space capabilities.

A senior DRDO official, while denying plans of carrying out further anti-satellite missions in the near future, said, "It is up to the government to decide. As of now, the government has not told us anything."

DRDO chief Satheesh Reddy told THE WEEK, "On the occasion of the first anniversary, We (DRDO) assure that we will live up to the expectations of the nation to provide cutting edge technologies to the armed forces."

And on the current scenario, when the entire nation is fighting against the coronavirus, Dr Reddy said, "DRDO is working towards contributing our best in the fight against Corona pandemic."

A year after, DRDO scientists claimed that the Mission Shakti was purely a deterrence measure. “We have done a technology and capability demonstration," a scientist involved in the mission said. Scientists believe that they have achieved greater accuracies, of a few centimetres, and have the capability to do it at higher altitudes also. "But, as a responsible nation, we have done it at a lower altitude," he explained.

China has conducted three such tests since 2007, facing a lot of criticism globally. The latest test was in February 2018. An observer said that China did the test at 875km in space, and the debris from that mission is there even today.

But, DRDO scientists claim that all space debris from their test has "vanished now".

When DRDO scientists faced criticism of publicising the operation, they came out with claims that it is a "deterrence" against those who are capable of destroying our satellites. “We are only telling them that we, too, have the same capability. We have about 50 orbiting satellites, probably the largest [fleet] in the Indo-Pacific region. They need to be protected.” a scientist told THE WEEK.

A section of critics challenged Mission Shakti and claimed it is the same technology that the DRDO had proven in several anti-missile tests, which were more complex. They said that defence scientists have done several Exo and Endo-atmosphere tests against incoming missiles, which are more difficult to track and kill, compared to a satellite whose orbit is known and predictable.