Lecturette – Indian ASAT Weapon Programme

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The topic for my lecturette today is Anti Satellite Weapon also called ASAT weapons and their inplications on the defence of our nation.

Anti-satellite weapons (ASAT) are designed to destroy or disable satellites in space. The importance of ASAT weapons lies in their strategic significance in enhancing a country’s defense capabilities, as well as their potential to impact global security and stability.

In Indian context, Mission Shakti, an anti-satellite missile test by India, was conducted on March 27,2019. India is the 4th country after the US, Russia and China to have successfully tested A-SAT missile. This has made India one of the super powers in space research and development.

ASAT weapons have the potential to impact global security and stability, by creating debris in space, that could potentially collide with other satellites or pose a threat to human spaceflight. This underscores the need for responsible behavior in the use and development of ASAT weapons, including minimizing the creation of space debris.

Progress made by Indian Scientists

First, let me explain the progress made by our country in the field of ASAT technology. The technology has been indigenously developed and tested by India’s DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation). The launch took place from Balasore,Odisha. The missile engaged and destroyed a decommissioned Indian satellite in the Lower Earth Orbit at an altitude of nearly 300 km.

Low Earth Orbit means an orbit less than an altitude of to 2,000 km above earth. Satellites in an low earth orbit can potentially monitor ground and water surfaces. They can be effectively used for spying and intelligence gathering.

It is important to note that though the target Indian satellite of India’s ASAT test was hit at a range of 283 km, the missile is actually capable of shooting down hostile objects moving at 10 km per second at a far higher altitude of nearly 1200 km.

After the test, India had issued a statement saying that the intent of the test is to defend India’s space assets and not to start an arms race in space. This technology demonstration has helped our country gain higher global status as well as a greater say in international negotiations on outer space.

The test’s real significance lay in the demonstration of the progress made in the BMD (Ballistic missile development) programme under which the DRDO is developing. DRDO is developing the BMD programme in two distinct phases. On completion, the BMD would provide a two-layered shield against hostile missile attacks.

The missile used for the ASAT test was not part of the BMD programme’s existing interceptor missile inventory. The missiles currently used in BMD are the Advanced Air Defence (AAD) missile for endo-atmospheric interception and the Prithvi Delivery Vehicle (PDV) missile for exo-atmospheric interception. ASAT hs been a technology breakthrough higher than DRDO’s current various missile developmental programmes.

A brand new three stage missile with two solid rocket boosters, weighing 18 ton and measuring 13 meters, was independently developed for the ASAT test after the government gave a go ahead about two years ago. The missile has been developed in a short span of time with 150 odd scientists working around the clock for the past six months.

DRDO is already working on ASAT Phase-II, of the BMD programme, in which the DRDO aims to intercept longer range missiles of 5000 km range at a higher altitude of up to 400 km.

International reactions to Indian Space Programme

The USA and China have expressed their concerns over peace in outer space. The USA has been particularly upset about the debris of the destroyed satellite left in orbit after the test. USA claims that the debris in space can cause safety hazards to space stations and other projects. But, India has ensured that the debris will fall back to earth in a matter of weeks due to it being in low entry orbit.

The anti-satellite space technology shows India’s focus on security challenges, emanating beyond Pakistan. The most important international Treaty on space is the ‘1967 Outer Space Treaty’. India signed this treaty and ratified it in 1982. The Outer Space Treaty prohibits only the use of weapons of mass destruction in outer space, not ordinary weapons.

India is also a part of the Missile Technology Control Regime(MTCR). Mission Shakti will not have any effect on India’s status in the MTCR or other such treaties. The test has several future implications both for India as well as the world.

India has always advocated the peaceful use of outer space but, the fact remains that space is increasingly being used by countries, particularly the US and China, for military purposes.

China, our hostile neighbour, has made a giant strides in space capability. Chinese space agencies are currently operating nearly 70 military satellites in orbit, for Navigation, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Communication.

China also established a Strategic Support Force (SSF) in 2015, integrating space, cyberspace, and electronic warfare (EW) aspects into a joint command under the Central Military Commission.

Future Plans on use of Outer Space

Given this reality of the military utility of outer space, it is only logical that India exploits its new capability in the fourth domain of warfare to further national security interests.

India made a modest beginning in this regard in 2001 by implementing a space based surveillance programme. A further impetus was provided when an Integrated Space Cell (ISC) was constituted in 2009 under Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff (HQ IDS) to coordinate the space related aspects of the three defense forces.

Now, this Cell would be upgraded to a dedicated defense Space Command to cater to all user services. It may be headed by a senior military officer, with a strong component of specialists from various scientific and technical organizations including DRDO, National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

In addition to establishing a Space Command, India also needs to create a dedicated Defence Space Research Agency (DESRA) to harness the entire spectrum of space technologies with defense applications. Such an agency may be set up under the DRDO, which has gained a head start in this crucial area.

Suffice it to mention that, apart from the ASAT capability, DRDO has also developed an Electro-Magnetic Intelligence Satellite (EMISAT), which was launched on April 01, 2019. Besides, with the successful design, development, and deployment of the Agni series of missiles, the DRDO has the requisite capability to meet the launch-on demand for urgent satellite launches.

Message to the Audience

As we can see, development of ASAT weapons is an important step towards a more robust space based defence for the defence of India. ISRO and DRDO have, time and again, proved their competence and commitment to put India on the world map as an effective space power.

Many advanced countries like the United States, Russia, and China,have expressed concern regarding the development and deployment of space based weapons. They have time and again raised concerns about their potential impact on global security and stability. However, the same countries have developed ASAT weapons or conducted similar tests in the past.

From a military perspective, ASAT weapons can be used to disrupt or deny a country’s access to critical satellite-based capabilities like satellite communication, navigation and intelligence gathering. This can severely hamper a country’s military operations and render it vulnerable to attack.

Therefore, possession of ASAT weapons can serve as a deterrent against potential adversaries. Therefore, not withstanding the objections raised by super powers, ASAT weapons are important for our country’s defense strategy. However, we must they should be developed responsibly, taking into account the potential impact on global security and stability.

Thanks for listening patiently with the hope that I have been able to provide some value during my three minutes of lecturette.

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