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India joins elite space club with ‘Mission Shakti’

TV Jayan/M Somasekhar New Delhi/Hyderabad | Updated on March 28, 2019 Published on March 27, 2019

DRDO testfires anti-satellite missile; 4th nation to acquire such a specialised capability

The capability of attacking a satellite in orbit closer to Earth achieved by the Indian defence scientists on Wednesday would give a ‘tactical weapons’ edge to the country.

The anti-satellite (A-Sat) missile, a new missile in the defence armoury, is an offshoot of a series of trials undertaken during 2014-18 to develop the two-tiered, Ballistic Missile Defence Shield (BMD), sources in the know said.

The missile, launched from the APJ Abdul Kalam Island (Wheeler Island) off the coast of Odisha, is 12-13 metres long and has three stages with two solid boosters as well as a terminal stage fitted with the ‘hit to kill’ feature.

 

In just three minutes, the A-Sat intercepted an unnamed Indian satellite in the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) at an altitude of 300 km and destroyed it, said the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

Giving high importance to the achievement, Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to share the success with the nation through a special broadcast, which initially led to heightened suspense. In a series of tweets, Modi said: “In the journey of every nation, there are moments that bring utmost pride and have a historic impact on generations to come. One such moment is today...”

Executed in top secret, the project was codenamed ‘Mission Shakti’. With this, India joins an exclusive club which currently has the US, Russia and China as its members, making it the fourth nation to acquire such a specialised capability. The entire development is indigenous.

Developed indigenously

The new technologies incorporated in A-Sat include an advanced navigation system called Ring Laser Gyroscope and an Infrared Imaging Radar (IIR) seeker that helps the missile home-in on the target satellite, defence scientists said. Most of these technologies were developed at the Missile Complex and Research Centre Imarat (RCI) in Hyderabad.

The entire mission carried out on Wednesday was led by G Satheesh Reddy, Chief of the DRDO and Secretary, Defence R&D & Scientific Advisor to the Raksha Mantri. Hitting a faster-moving satellite at a higher altitude needs a lot of precision, said Rajaram Nagappa, professor of International Strategic and Security Studies at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru.

The missile should be coming in at a speed of at least 7-8 km per second, he said.

A former DRDO scientist welcomed the move citing India’s experience with the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). “Given our experience with the NPT, it was prudent for us to conduct such a test — of which we have been technologically capable for several years now — to pre-empt any discriminatory NPT-type regime for arms-limitation in space,” said V Siddharatha, a former emeritus DRDO scientist.

Defence sources said that A-Sat is actually an advanced version of the interceptor missile, which the DRDO had successfully developed in 2011.

Interestingly, the former Chief of the DRDO, VK Saraswat, had indicated the country’s capability to destroy low-earth orbiting satellites, after the launch of the interception missile mission back in 2011 itself, as part of the BMD.

Pat from Jaitley

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in his tweet said: “Our scientists desired to develop A-Sat missiles, but the UPA govt did not give the permission to work on the project.”

Meanwhile, the EC has said it has directed a committee of officers to examine the PM’s address on electronic media in the light of the Model Code of Conduct.

Published on March 27, 2019
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