In pursuit of prestige, Indian premier Modi created a pre-election controversy after hailing his country’s first test of Anti-Satellite (ASAT) missile by himself not ISRO. India claimed to have demonstrated capability of destroying one of its own satellites 300 kilometers away in Low-Earth orbit in a ‘Hit to Kill’ mode. The U.S. government sources have indicated that India has also conducted a failed ASAT missile test in low-earth orbit on February 12, 2019. Indian government pre-notified the U.S. a vague hint of an experimental weapon test without precisely mentioning ASAT missile test.
NASA administration termed Indian ASAT missile test a “terrible, terrible thing” which created at least 400 pieces of orbital debris. Experts are viewing this test as a dangerous precedent for global security where the escalation of military technology in conflict-free space is likely to disturb the fragile strategic equation of South Asia. Brian Weeden of the Secure World Foundation criticized Indian government and blamed Trump administration for pushing rhetoric of war-fighting in the space domain. Weeden further analyzed the test as prearranged because the target of the ASAT missile was Microsat-R satellite, which launched back in January 2019. He suggested small satellite companies to react this ASAT launch by boycotting India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) which is a big source of revenue for Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).
Weeden has accurately remonstrated a scenario of war-fighting in space affairs when India is proliferating space technology capable of military use. And, the worst part is India turning Space of Benefit into Space of Conflict with international cooperation. ISRO is heavily depending on international space cooperation under the rubric of peaceful scientific space development. Despite apprehensions about the absence of detailed separation plan for India’s civilian and military rocket programs, the U.S. and Britain are participating in the Indian space programme.
India has a history of proliferating advanced space and nuclear technologies for military use, which were meant for peaceful scientific research. For instance, India diverted peaceful nuclear cooperation with Canada to make nuclear weapons. Similarly, the U.S. leveraged India by relaxing export restrictions on equipment for the civil space programme. The U.S. assistance enticed India to militarize space and the wrong perception was build that Indo-US space partnership is for peaceful purposes. The driving force behind the extended pace of Indian space modernization is Indo-US space cooperation which has accelerated in the last decade.
India is intensifying the war in outer space by exploiting peaceful space technology for military and strategic use. India has always relied on the dual nature of space-related technology to enhance its military and strategic strength in outer space. In 2005, when the U.S. eased export controls for India on dual-use space technology and satellite navigation, reports were circulating about Indian efforts to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). But the U.S. downplayed those red alerts and continued its support for ISRO under the perception of China-India competition. Consequently, in 2018, India test fired Agni-V nuclear capable ICBM which covers China, Russia and several European capitals. Not learning from history, the U.S. is still reluctant to condemn recent India’s ASAT test. Meanwhile, the American support in terms of India’s inclusion into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) has generated new opportunities and started to increase the efficiency of Indian missile capabilities.
Dr. G Sateesh Reddy, Chairman of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), has said that by testing an ASAT weapon it was feasible to target multiple satellites of the rivals. He also revealed that India has the technology to hit at targets at a distance of 1,000 km in space. Therefore, India’s ASAT capabilities could ominously threaten the ability of its nuclear neighbours to defend their strategic assets. The ASAT missile can damage key communication system while disrupting intelligence and surveillance collection. India’s choice to hit communication satellites is not a defensive measure because it targeted its opponents’ ability to defend their strategic interests.
India is harbouring the conflicts of space to humanity without realizing that it is not really a security route but an offensive strategy. This offence will not only contest the security of opponents but it will trigger a fresh arms race in the region. And finally, the Outer Space Treaty has stretched to its limits, hence the world should come up with tangible solutions to attend space security concerns. The UN must invigorate the Disarmament Commission and Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space to cooperate on the issue of space militarization.