India shoots down satellite, joining space ‘super league’: Modi

India on Wednesday destroyed a low-orbiting satellite in a missile test that puts the country in the space “super league”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said.

He said India would only be the fourth country to have used such an anti-satellite missile after the United States, Russia and China.

‘Hugely significant’

“A while ago our scientists shot down a live satellte at a low-earth orbit. I congratulate all scientists who have made this possible and made India a much stronger nation,” Modi said in a rare televised address to the nation weeks before the national elections scheduled to be held in April and May.

“This is a big moment for India. Something that all of us should be proud of. We are not just capable to defend on land, water and air, but now also in space,” he was quoted as saying by NDTV website.

The satellite was in orbit at 300km.

“This is of a huge significance. I will compare it to India’s first nuclear test [in 1998],” said Pallava Bagla, author of “Bridging the Communication Gap in Science and Technology: Lessons from India”.

“This will certainly increase India’s defence capabilities. India can now respond to threats from space assets of foreign countries. Only very few countries are capable of doing what India has demonstrated,” he told Al Jazeera.

The mission was led by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the country’s premier defence research organisaion, as part of the Mission Shakti.

Timing of the announcement

Supporters of Modi took to social media to congratulate the government and the DRDO on the latest feat, but many others, including opposition leaders, criticised the timing of the announcement in the middle of election campaigning.

Modi, who faces a general election next month, went on Twitter earlier to announce his plan for a national broadcast, saying he had an important announcement to make.

India has had a space programme for years, making earth imaging satellites and launch capabilities as a cheaper alternative to Western programmes.

Brahma Chellaney, a security expert at New Delhi’s Centre of Policy Research, said the United States, Russia and China were pursuing anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons.

“Space is being turned into a battlefront, making counter-space capabilities critical. In this light, India’s successful ‘kill’ with an ASAT weapon is significant.”

India’s space programme

In December, India allocated $1.43bn for its first manned space mission, set to be launched by 2022. New Delhi is aiming to expand the country’s influence in the competitive $300bn global space industry.

An unmanned test launch of the project is likely scheduled for December 2020.

India has an ambitious missile programme [File photo: Reuters]

In 2014, India put a satellite into orbit around Mars, becoming the fourth nation to do so.

India’s Mars Mission cost less than the budget of the Hollywood space blockbuster “Gravity”. In November last year, India fired a rocket carrying 31 satellites into space, many on behalf of foreign governments.

India’s neighbour China first sent humans to space in 2003.

New Delhi’s space programme was launched in the early 1960s but it remains a small player in the global space industry.

Both China and India have dedicated billions of dollars to their space programmes, but their budgets are still far below that of the United States, which is estimated at $40bn.

Al Jazeera and news agencies

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