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India and Space Technology

Al-Etihad, UAE, April 4

India has already demonstrated its skill in both space exploration and the launch of satellites at a much lower cost than European countries and the United States. But the Asian nation has also shown another aspect of its power in space, proving that it is no less capable than superpowers such as the US, Russia or China, with regard to the space program. Last week, India conducted a successful test of its new anti-satellite missile system, becoming the fourth country in the world with such capabilities. To mark this incredible milestone, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation about the achievement in a televised speech, which caused widespread confusion in the midst of a fierce election campaign. Modi explained that the missile had a range of about 300 kilometers from the ground and hit the satellite within three minutes of its launch, putting India in a club that includes America, Russia and China exclusively. In the wake of international criticism of this Indian move, Modi also made clear that the test, dubbed Mission Shakti, was not directed against any country. He assured the international community that India had always opposed the “weaponization of space” and that this test did not change its position in any way. Despite Modi’s conciliatory messages, it is clear beyond any doubt that this test was meant to send a clear message to China. An official statement from the Indian Defense Ministry confirmed that the test had been part of “the responsibility of the Indian government to defend its interests in outer space” after China finished conducting a long series of anti-satellite experiments. India did not want to lag behind China. There was a great deal of criticism in India when China, in 2007, used a missile for the first time to destroy a satellite. Since then, India has been developing its own capabilities. Although New Delhi has been capable of launching such missiles for quite some time now, Modi proceeded with the test to gain political capital on the eve of the election. The test demonstrated the strength and local nature of the Indian space program. India did not require any technical assistance for its missile, which was manufactured using Indian technology and using local capabilities. We will likely see India continue to push the boundary on space technology in the years to come. Modi has now vowed to continue exploring space by launching India’s first mission to Mars at a cost equivalent to about a tenth of the cost of the most recent US mission to the same planet. New Delhi is also working on launching a manned mission into space. In the meantime, the ability to destroy a satellite in outer space gives India an added advantage in its space program. This is meant to ensure its competitiveness with Beijing and dissuade any Chinese-Pakistani partnership in space. – Zaker al-Rahman