On March 27, 2019 India conducted Mission Shakti, an anti-satellite missile test. With this, India becomes the 4th country to undertake such tests, the other being the US, Russia and China.
By Dr Ajey Lele
It is important to note that satellite launches and testing of certain intricate technologies cannot follow any election schedule. Such tests are planed much in advance and go through a very complicate life cycle. Universally, it has been observed that most of the space projects usually fail to follow the definite timeline. Forget about satellite launches, even building of flyover bridges are mostly been found unable to follow the projected timelines. India was expected to send its second mission to Moon during 2014, but owing to various challenges, it is getting delayed. It was announced long time back that the window to land on the lunar surface is open between March 25 till the end of April 2019. Normally, launch windows are calculated based on the launch rocket’s capability and the orbit to which it is going. For reaching to Mars, the launch window comes after every 26 months, since that is the time the Mars is closest to the earth. Hence, the belief that such missions could follow the election schedule is bit misplaced.
Also, Rocket Science is difficult to comprehend for the commoners. On March 27, 2019 India conducted Mission Shakti, an anti-satellite missile test. With this, India becomes the 4th country to undertake such tests, the other being the US, Russia and China. This was a technological mission carried out by Defence Research and Development (DRDO). During this test India targeted one of its own satellites with a ground-based missile. It is learned that the target has been correctly addressed and the satellite got disintegrated into more than 250 pieces. Visual manifestations of rocket science, say Neil Armstrong putting his foot on the Moon, definitely grabs the imagination of mankind but it is really difficult to quantify that how much of traction a test like anti-satellite system would generate with the common people.
The nature and quality of the television debate in India, which followed the tests was dismal barring few. Actually, the political class and some of the so-called experts had no clue about what ASAT means neither many of them have taken any efforts to understand the entire issue. It is but obvious that this test was a ‘bolt from the blue’. But, India’s 24X7 electronic media had to fill their daily appetite during the election season and they offered a readymade platform for the politicians to politicise the issue. Unfortunately, this has led to the trivialisation of an issue of great strategic importance.
Globally, the response to Indian test appears to be a bit muted, at least as of now. Actually, many of the international experts are found bit confused owing to the political noise surrounding these tests. Possibly, they are failing to understand that how the generation of 250 pieces of debris at an altitude of 300 km above the earth surface and its expected evaporation within few days would impact the voting patterns!
India has taken a bold step by undertaking these tests. Amongst these four ASAT capable states, India is the only country which has openly announced the conduct of the test, few minutes within the success of test. More importantly, the test was announced none other than the Prime Minister of the country. There is a need toleave the politics of all this behind and try to dispassionately analyse the rationale behind the test and the global impact of PM himself announcing this test.
Internationally, India has significantly raised the stakes of the issues concerning Space Security. The Prime Minister openly addressing this issue gives a signal to the rest of the world, that how serious India is about Space Security. For India space is a tool for a growth and wellbeing of its people.
India is effectively utilising space for education, resources management, medicine, weather forecasting, disaster management, science, communication, navigation, entertainment, business and military. It is difficult to understand how the electronic media and partisan and opinionated people are occluding the issues related to the DNA of modern-day human survival, the Space. The brawl surrounding India’s ASAT clearly indicates that one may understand Rocket Science, but politics is a subject which is most difficult to understand!
(The author is Senior Fellow, IDSA, New Delhi. Views expressed above are his personal.)