DOWN TO EARTH ON THE ASAT TEST
23, Apr 2019
Prelims level : Science & Technology Mains level : GS-III Technology, Economic Development, Bio diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management
Why in News?
- India has neither achieved a higher level of deterrence nor enabled a more stable strategic security environment
- India carried out a successful test of an Anti-Satellite (ASAT) weapon,launching an interceptor missile from the Balasore range in Odisha to hit a live satellite in Low Earth Orbit.
- It thus became the fourth country in the world to develop an ASAT capability.
- The significance of the test is that India has tested and successfully demonstrated its capability to interdict and intercept a satellite in outer space based on complete indigenous technology. With this test, the country joins an exclusive group of space faring nations consisting of USA, Russia, and China
Not a Game Changer
- An ASAT test is hardly a game-changer as far as space warfare is concerned
- several claims that India now had a “credible deterrence” against attacks on the country’s growing number of space assets seemed to suggest that India was not averse to weaponisation of outer space.
- India has, no doubt, sought to reassure the global community that it has not violated any international treaty or understanding with this test.
- India has also taken great pains to advertise the fact that the international community, especially the U.S., had not faulted India for carrying out this test, in marked contrast to what had happened when China had carried out an ASAT test in 2007. Nevertheless, it would be facile to think that the world endorses India’s claims regarding its peaceful intentions.
- India’s demonstration of ASAT capability comes a little more than a decade after China’s,
- and nearly six decades after that of the U.S. and Russia.
- An ASAT test is, undoubtedly, less threatening than a nuclear explosion, but the world is likely to ask why India decided to demonstrate its capability at this time, though it possessed the ability much earlier.
- The international community cannot be faulted if it were to think that India had deliberately breached an unwritten convention against weaponisation or militarisation of outer space.
- ASAT capabilities are generally perceived as integral to ballistic missile defence programmes.
- This clearly identifies an ASAT test as a military programme. In turn, it implies an intention to embark on weaponisation of outer space. It is, perhaps, for this reason that countries such as Israel and France, which are believed to have this capability, have so far refrained from carrying out such tests.
Does the Test Create Space debris?
- The test was done in the lower atmosphere to ensure that there is no space debris. Whatever debris that is generated will decay and fall back onto the earth within weeks.
Cold War Phenomenon
- ASAT was essentially a Cold War phenomenon whose strategic importance has declined over the years. Currently, none of the other three countries which possess an ASAT capability extol its strategic value and importance. The U.S., Russia and China, all seem to demonstrate less and less interest in pursuing ASAT weaponry.
- These countries are increasingly focussing on laser and cyber capabilities to achieve the objective of neutralising killer satellites. Countries are experimenting with directed-energy weapons, radio frequency weapons, etc. rather than concentrating on shooting down satellites in space. The last named also carries the danger of hitting satellites that may not be on an offensive mission, apart from the issue of space debris.
- It could well result in something very different. It is almost certain, as was the case with India’s nuclear test, that Pakistan will immediately try to acquire the same capability, in all likelihood with generous assistance from China. India has neither achieved a higher level of deterrence nor is it likely to lead to a more stable strategic security environment. Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) recently indicated that it has, of late, carried out certain new launchessuch as the Microsat-R and EMISAT satellites which are intended for ‘strategic use’.
- The mere existence of such a situation could lead to heightened tensions. Based in one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in the world, India needs to do everything in its power to convince other nations that space is not part of India’s overt defence calculations.
- India should highlight the fact that its enormously successful space programme,unlike those of many other countries, is notable for being conceived and implemented as a civilian programme, quite distinct and separate from any military programme or objective. ISRO was set up in 1969, and the Space Commission came into existence in the early 1970s.
- Vikram Sarabhai is credited with creating India’s vision for exploration of space and,
- following his untimely demise in 1971, the mantle fell on Satish Dhawan.
- ISRO launched its first Indian satellite, Aryabhatta, in April 1975. In April 1982, ISRO launched the first Indian National Satellite System (INSAT-1A). The first Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) took off from Sriharikota in 2001. In November 2013, ISRO launched the Mars Orbiter Mission (Mangalyaan) spacecraft.
- There is little strategic advantage accruing from an ASAT test; on the other hand the damage that could be caused to India’s image as a peaceful and responsible nation intent on, and committed to, peaceful uses of space could be immense.