Why India’s ASAT capability matters?
Today, India made a big leap in its space technology capabilities and became only the fourth nation to boast of Anti Satellite weapons technology. While it has undoubtedly confirmed India’s space power prowess, the announcement of India’s entry into the elite club of countries which possess ASAT weapons has wider international and geopolitical implications also. It can be safely said that India has taken the right move at the right time.
India already has a conventional military superiority over Pakistan and the ASAT capability has made the power asymmetry between the two countries in India’s favor, significantly. As such, India’s ASAT capability must be seen as a counter to China’s, a nation in possession of the capability
India’s entry into the elite club of countries having ASAT technology becomes that much more important because China has been pretty active in this domain in the past decade. China had demonstrated its ASAT weapons technology in a 2007 test. The Chinese military had launched a KT-1 rocket at that time which successfully destroyed an obsolete Chinese Feng Yun 1-C weather satellite approximately 800 kilometres away in the low earth orbit (LEO). This had confirmed the ability of the Chinese to target and destroy enemy satellites in times of war. The significance of this development had been recognized at that time itself. The then Chief of Army Staff, General Deepak Kapoor had stated, “China’s space programme is expanding at an exponentially rapid pace in both offensive and defensive content.” Observing that space was increasingly becoming the “ultimate military high ground”, he had also hinted at the need of establishment of a tri-service space command.
What is important to note is the fact that China seems to have further strengthened its Anti-Satellite Weapons technology in 2013. The country had launched the Dong Neng-2 or DN-2, which is a high-earth orbit attack missile. As per reports, the test was disguised as a space exploration rocket firing. As per the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), the Chinese spokesperson had neither confirmed nor denied the conduct of this test. The DN-2 is seen as part of PLA’s plans to build asymmetric warfare capabilities against the US and its allies. It is therefore clear that Space Warfare is no longer a figment of imagination or a subject of Sci-Fi movies. There is an actual threat of deployment of Anti Satellite Weapons and it is safe to say that India cannot remain oblivious to this fact when such weapons have been developed in its neighbourhood.
The 2007 and 2013 ASAT tests conducted by the Chinese were of a critical implication for India in light of the 2018 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community, which stated, “We assess that, if a future conflict were to occur involving Russia or China, either country would justify attacks against US and allied satellites as necessary to offset any perceived US military advantage derived from military, civil or commercial space systems. Military reforms in both countries in the past few years indicate an increased focus on establishing operational forces designed to integrate attacks against space systems and services with military operations in other domains.” Therefore, the Chinese potential to target and destroy satellites has been largely considered to be a worrisome factor.
It is clear that China has been actively developing its Anti-Satellite Weapons Technology and even the US Intelligence has observed it as a worrisome factor. ASAT weapons technology creates a number of threats such as cyber-attacks, jamming of satellites and hindering communication with troops. India has emerged as a major space power in recent years even as ISRO has been successful in ensuring that India emerges as a power to reckon with as far as space technology is concerned. In such circumstances, it had become necessary for India to develop ASAT weapons technology in order to create a deterrent effect.
India possesses both civilian and military space assets, and the country has been focussing on increasing its space assets-build up. In today’s time, no country can afford taking its space infrastructure lightly. Therefore, it was indispensable for India to ensure sufficient protection of its increasing number of satellites. Given how China has been able to develop ASAT weapons technology, India couldn’t afford not to create a deterrent effect. It is necessary to analyse “Mission Shakti” in this background. The testing of ASAT weapons technology by India is not a show of muscle power. It is a realisation of the future needs of national security and India has successfully kept pace with the next-generation technology of warfare.