The modern battlefield has extended to space. Although we’re not conducting laser battles in orbit (yet), satellite systems are regularly used to guide missiles and drones to their destination, facilitate communication between soldiers on the battlefield, and spy on adversaries. Given how critical space assets are for national security, it’s hardly surprising that militaries spend a lot of time developing ways to destroy their enemies’ satellites.
On Wednesday, the Indian Defense Research and Development Organization, or DRDO, launched a missile that destroyed one of the country’s own satellites in low Earth orbit. The successful demonstration, dubbed Mission Shakti, was revealed during a live televised address from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who claimed that “India has no intention to threaten anyone.”
“The main objective of our space program is ensuring the country’s security, its economic development, and India’s technological progress,” Modi said. “India has always been opposed to the weaponization of space and an arms race in outer space, and this test does not in any way change this position.”
Mission Shakti made India just the fourth country to successfully destroy a satellite in orbit, following the US, Russia, and most recently China. Compared with the international backlash that followed China’s anti-satellite demonstration in 2007, though, the response to India’s test has been relatively subdued.
Daniel Porras, the space security fellow at the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, says this is likely because the debris from the Indian anti-satellite test poses less of a hazard to other satellites. “The Chinese demonstration was carried out at 800 kilometers and was widely condemned because of the resulting space debris, which will likely stay in orbit for decades or longer,” according to Porras. “India’s demonstration was conducted at 300 kilometers, so the debris will likely be out of orbit in months. For this reason, the reaction has been much less.”