Anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons

Anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons are missile-based systems to attack moving satellites. So far the United States, China ,Russia and India are the only ones who’ve reported the ability to shoot down space objects from ground or airborne sources.

Are Anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons new to the world? 

The development of such systems has a long history — fuelled by the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union — with a waxing or waning of funding. There are different kinds of systems — those that can be launched from the ground or those vaulted from planes.

In the Cold War/Space Race era, 1985 was the last time that the United States had used an anti-satellite system to destroy its P-781 satellite that had instruments aboard to study solar radiation.

Resurfacing of anti-satellite weapons

Anti-satellite weapons came back into popular currency after China conducted an anti-satellite missile test on January 11, 2007. The target was a Chinese weather satellite — the FY-1C – that sailed at an altitude of 865 kilometres (537 mi).

A year later, the United States launched ‘Operation Burnt Frost,’ the code name to intercept and destroy a non-functioning U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) satellite named USA-193.

International law on weapons in outer space

The principal international Treaty on space is the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. India is a signatory to this treaty, and ratified it in 1982. The Outer Space Treaty prohibits only weapons of mass destruction in outer space, not ordinary weapons.

Mission Shakti

Mission Shakti is a joint programme of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

As part of the mission , in March 2019, an anti-satellite (A-SAT) weapon was launched and targeted an Indian satellite which had been decommissioned. This is an operation that demonstrated India’s anti-satellite missile capability by shooting down a live satellite.

What are India’s capabilities so far?

While ‘Mission Shakti’ may have targeted an object in outer space, India has long developed the ability to intercept incoming missiles. In 2011, a modified Prithvi missile, mimicked the trajectory of a ballistic missile with a 600-km range. Radars at different locations swung into action, tracking the “enemy” missile, constructing its trajectory and passing on the information in real time to the Mission Control Centre (MCC) to launch the interceptor, an Advanced Air Defence (AAD) missile. It had a directional warhead to go close to the adversarial missile before exploding to inflict damage on it.

Why India need such capabilities?

India has a long standing and rapidly growing space programme. India has undertaken more than hundred spacecraft missions consisting of communication satellites, earth observation satellites, experimental satellites, navigation satellites, apart from satellites meant for scientific research and exploration, academic studies and other small satellites.

India’s space programme is a critical backbone of India’s security, economic and social infrastructure.  India must possess the capability to safeguard its space assets.