Pokhran parallel: Anti-satellite missile adds critical capability to strategic arsenal

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Updated: March 28, 2019 7:32:25 AM

India had unveiled its intention to acquire this capability way back in 2010 when the then chief of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) V K Saraswat had announced at a January 5 press conference that such a test was on the anvil.

Anti satellite missile test, Pokhran test, DRDO, Prithvi, Agni, narendra modiThe situation is not very different in the case of anti-satellite missile test carried out Wednesday.

In terms of scale, significance and international impact, Wednesday’s test of the anti-satellite missile will probably rank several notches lower than the nuclear tests of 1974 or 1998. And yet this test has given India a unique and a critical strategic capability that only three other countries in the world currently possess.

Both in 1974 and 1998, India made a forceful entry into an exclusive club. At least in the case of 1998 tests, India was only converting a de facto nuclear status into a de jure one. The situation is not very different in the case of anti-satellite missile test carried out Wednesday. India had unveiled its intention to acquire this capability way back in 2010 when the then chief of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) V K Saraswat had announced at a January 5 press conference that such a test was on the anvil.

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And even though the actual test has taken nine years to come, the capability itself was never in doubt, as DRDO tested, one after the other, several short, medium and long range ballistic and other missiles, including those capable of carrying nuclear warheads like Prithvi and Agni.

“We had the capability. But the test was important. You have to check the reliability of your technology and that can be ensured only through a test. Besides, you also have to demonstrate your technological capability. We have now proven this capability. With today’s test, we are telling the world, and our potential adversary, that we have this capability. A strong message has been sent, that has gone global,” said W Selvamurthy, a former chief controller (R&D) at DRDO who has overseen the development of the anti-satellite capability.

There are other parallels with the nuclear situation. Much like in the case of nuclear weapons, the effectiveness of anti-satellite missiles depends on the deterrence it brings.

No country has so far struck down any other country’s space assets. “It no doubt works on the principle of deterrence. The capability works on the principle that it would never required to be used. It is an aggressive capability and that is why it becomes a deterrent. The nuclear deterrence is a correct analogy,” Selvamurthy said.
After the 1998 nuclear tests, India declared a moratorium on further tests and also declared a unilateral no-first use policy.

A similar policy is not considered necessary in the case of anti-satellite missiles though the official position, as of now, is that further testing might not be required. That is what Saraswat emphasised today. However, Selvamurthy did not rule out the possibility or requirement of future tests but said that would be for the government to decide.
There are important divergences from the nuclear case as well.

Unlike the 1998 tests, the anti-satellite missile test carried out on Wednesday are unlikely to bring any international sanctions though countries are likely to react with concern. The anti-satellite test is not prohibited by any international law or treaty, a fact emphasised by both the Prime Minister and the Ministry of External Affairs, which came out with a detailed statement on the test on Wednesday.

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