Significance of the ASAT Missile test

Mission Shakti

On 27th March 2019, Indian PM Modi announced the successful testing of ASAT missile which destroyed an obsolete satellite orbiting at a height of 300 km.  This has made India only the 4th nation in the world to have acquired this advanced capability.

As expected, the reactions from different people/groups were different. Some hailed it as a great achievement, whereas, some have questioned it. Some opposition parties in India have objected to its timing as elections are just a few weeks ahead. They are saying that this success is not due to Modi (and the BJP govt), it is a success of the scientists who conducted the test. Continuing in the same tune, they are saying that Modi should not have announced the success of the test, instead the scientists should have made the announcement.

Let’s analyse this step-by-step:

What is ASAT Missile?

It is an Anti-Satellite Missile fired from the earth (or elsewhere) to destroy or incapacitate a satellite orbiting the earth.

How sophisticated it is technically?

Very sophisticated.  We can compare it to a situation like this. Say a bullet is fired from a gun. We have to destroy that bullet during its flight by hitting it with another bullet fired from another gun. Is it really possible, you may wonder?

ASAT is comparable to that. It is like hitting a bullet with another bullet.

And a bit more complicated! Because the path of the satellite is circular (not straight), the ASAT is fired from earth which is moving (spinning around its axis, as well as, revolving around the sun) which means ‘inertia of motion’ has also to be considered, etc.

No wonder that only three countries have achieved this before India.

How is this capability beneficial to India?

It will benefit India in many ways.

It has demonstrated the technical capability of India to the world. So, more countries will come forward to get associated with India in the technological fields.

Realizing India’s technical competence, developed countries will offer it more sophisticated items. For example, on 29th March (just 2 days after the announcement by Modi) Russia has offered SU-57 stealth fighter to India, one of the most-sophisticated fighter aircrafts in the world.

The most significant benefit will accrue to our ‘Defence’. This technology can be used to destroy ICBM (Inter Continental Ballistic Missile) on its flight. Which means that our Missile Defence System will get a boost.

In my opinion, this technological capability has even more significance. This can be used to develop a defence system against ‘satellites used by an enemy country’ and kept in an ever-ready state. In case of a war with that country, we will be able to destroy those satellites (or some of them).  Now, as we all know, modern day weapons like missiles, fighter aircrafts, bombers etc are guided to their destination with help of satellite communications. If those satellites get destroyed, then all these weapons become useless. Our enemy country will have the weapons but will be unable to use them.  See the advantage?

Moreover, the ASAT took just 3 minutes to destroy the satellite (from launch to hit). For satellites at higher orbits, it will take more time, say 10/15 minutes.  Just imagine, if an enemy country attacks us and we destroy their satellites within 15 minutes, the war is already half won! Without their satellites, their armed forces won’t be able to do anything much.

That is why this ASAT capability is a BIG deterrent of war. In fact, it is better than the Nuclear Deterrent. Because you can not actually use Nuclear bombs in a war due to long term threat to mankind, but you can use ASAT which is non-nuclear.

Let me hasten to add that India has not achieved that level of preparedness at present, we have tested our first ASAT just now; it will take many years of development to achieve that.

I think you can see now the tremendous benefits of the ASAT missile test.

Who should have made the announcement: ‘Modi’ or ‘The Scientists’?

It is being said that Indian scientists could have done this test way back in 2012 itself if proper support was given to them both financially and politically. But it was not given by the parties who was in power at that time (i.e. Congress and its allies).

After Modi (and the BJP) came to power in 2014, they extended support to the project to make it a success.

Now, if anything had gone wrong with the test, everyone would have blamed Modi.

So, when it has become a success, why should not Modi get the credit?

Think about it ….

There is another aspect to consider on why Modi made the announcement. I will discuss it later.

Reactions of Different Countries

RUSSIA: Russia congratulated India. Russian press is all-praise for India.

USA: It neither congratulated nor condemned the test. It just showed concern about the debris of the satellite floating around in space. It reaffirmed its commitment to pursue shared interest in space and scientific and technical cooperation with India.

CHINA: China’s reaction was similar to USA. It hopes that each country will uphold peace and tranquillity in outer space.

PAKISTAN: It condemned the test (as expected).


The timing of the announcement

The Opposition’s allegation that the announcement was made just before the elections to gain political mileage.

Why make the announcement at all? The countries who need to know would have come to know anyway!

Well, to understand the above we have to discuss it in detail.

International discussions are going on for the last few decades to implement a ‘non-proliferation treaty’ on weaponization of space, similar to ‘Nuclear non-proliferation treaty’.

Here we have to clearly understand the meaning of ‘non-proliferation’.

When the ‘Nuclear non-proliferation treaty’ was implemented, it did not ban the nuclear weapons. It allowed the countries who had nuclear weapons at that time to keep their nuclear weapons, but restricted other countries from developing nuclear weapons. (The countries who had nuclear weapons could even continue to develop newer nuclear weapons!) That is the meaning of non-proliferation as per the treaty.

At that time, India did not have nuclear weapons and so was barred from developing nuclear weapons. So, India was penalized after the Pokhran nuclear test, and severe restrictions/sanctions were imposed on it. It should be noted that India had the technical capabilities to conduct a nuclear test before the implementation of that nuclear treaty, but the Congress govt under Nehru did not allow it. Had India conducted that nuclear test before the implementation of the treaty, it would not have faced the sanctions!

The ‘non-proliferation’ treaty on weaponization of the space is on similar lines. When it gets implemented, all the countries who possess the capability will continue to possess it whereas the others will be barred from developing it.

That is why India had to conduct the test and demonstrate to the world that it possesses the capability right now. So, even if the non-proliferation treaty comes into effect in the future, India will continue to possess this capability. India will also be free to develop further its ASAT capabilities which it needs to do as we have seen above.

India also needed to put its capability in public knowledge. This is needed for the ‘non-proliferation’ treaty. So, it had to announce the success of the test.

To force the countries to respond to the test, the announcement of the test had to be a major event (and not a low-key affair). Another reason why the announcement was made by Modi, the prime minister of India.  See, when the prime minister of a country like India makes an announcement, all other countries take note.  The event becomes public knowledge globally.

Another objective was to get positive response from the super powers after the test, and not major objections/condemnation. This has also been achieved as we have seen above.

To beat the date of implementation of the expected non-proliferation treaty, India needed to conduct the test as early as possible. After coming to power in 2014, the BJP govt gave full support to the project. It wanted to conduct the test as soon as possible so that India can avoid a repetition of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty where it was left out. That is why when the scientists became ready this time, Modi and BJP gave the green signal to conduct the test. It’s a coincidence that the election is a few weeks ahead.

As for the objection of the opposition including Congress about BJP taking mileage from the test, consider the following:

It is said that the scientists could have conducted the test back in 2012 itself if proper support was given to them. But the Congress govt of that time did not provide the support.  (If they had done that they could have used the mileage themselves and win a few more seats in the 2014 elections!)

Why did not Congress and its allies support such an important program on national security?

That is the big question now!

Is it because they do not have confidence on the capabilities of our scientists?

Is it because they cannot comprehend the importance of such a project?

Is it because Rahul/Sonia and their advisers do not want India to become strong and powerful?

Think about it ……..


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Anupal Bharali

An Educator with over 25 years of experience. Educational Qualification: B.E. from BITS-PILANI

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