‘Space’al Power
   01-Apr-2019
Bharat has now established itself as a space power. It has sent a message to the world in no unclear terms that our space assets are well protected and no one can push us to a corner
The announcement of A-SAT’s success was timed appropriately for the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), if not for the election mongers. While addressing the nation on March 27 afternoon, the Prime Minister took his favourite jargon ‘surgical strike’ on this precise destruction of a live satellite through the ground launched missile. This was enough for his detractors to pour ‘debris’ on every available media ‘space’. The mission SHAKTI, a joint operation of DRDO and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), catapulted Bharat into an elite club of four nations that include United States (US), Russia and China. It was not an easy task, as PM Modi recognised this in his address as a five-year effort. This was enough for both ruling and opposition parties to take credit and pour discredit on others. Some former Chairmen of DRDO and ISRO too joined this bandwagon while the Scientists who toiled their day and night for this program were still rejoicing the success. This big banner announcement was very much required for DRDO as its sheen was losing over the years. Unlike ISRO which had a series of successes in the past, DRDO was craving for a headline despite its moderate achievements in aircraft, missile and battle tank building in the past decade. Over the years the organisation lost its celebrities like Raja Ramanna, MGK Menon, VS Arunachalam, Abdul Kalam and VK Atre while lesser known faces in public occupied the coveted chair. In the bargain, media unnoticed the happenings in DRDO. For many of us who were associated with DRDO in the past, and the current scientists this successful launch was a morale booster. It took our prides to greater heights.
 
 
3-Stage interceptor missile with 2 solid rocket boosters launched from Abdul Kalam Island, Balasore, off the coast of Odisha, at 11.10 am 
 
When DRDO launched its Integrated Guided Missiles Development Program in the 80s of previous century under Abdul Kalam’s Chairmanship, the current Anti-SATellite Missile was not included. With the fair success of Prithvi, Akash, Nag and Trishul and a thumping success of Agni series, DRDO impacted public memory as a missile developer. The world’s fastest and super-sonic missile BRAH-MOS (a joint development with Russian support) added more credit to DRDO in the later dates. The much-delayed Light Combat Aircraft (Tejas) and Main Battle Tank (Arjun) projects were deterrents for the organisation’s progress. Despite these, DRDO continued its commitments in associating with ISRO on Space Recovery Capsule and other strategic programs. Now, with the acquisition of perfection in A-SAT deployment, DRDO has extended its giant leap into space.
Entering the Star Wars Club Mission Shakti has ensured Bharat a unique spot among countries with anti-satellite missiles
  • Under Mission Shakti, DRDO tested anti-satellite (ASAT) missile which hit a live satellite in low earth orbit of 300km 
  • ASTA is a modified interceptor missile of the Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) system
  •  The mission was competed in 3 minutes
 Costing: $74 Million less than the budget of space movie ‘Gravity’

 Countries with A-SAT Capabilities
 
  • 2015:Russia tested its first A-SAT system 
  • 2007:China had successfully destroyed a weather satellitr using an SC-19 A-sAT on January 11, 2007. 
  •  2008:The USA successfully launched an A-SAT to destroy its own satellite which was decaying in orbit
 Can Strike Up to 1,000km
  •  Bharat can now disrupt a country’s surveillance, communications & navigation capabilities, rendering enemy forces ‘deaf and blind’ on battlefield 
  •  A-SAT will also boost India’s ability to tackle high-altitude incoming missiles The interceptor missile was a three-stage missile. The kill vechicle in on the top 
 
 
A-SAT concept is not new as the US partly experimented it in 1985 and made a big news with itssuccess in 1997. The world took this experiment very seriously when China destroyed its own inoperative satellite in the 865 km orbit during 2007. There were heated debates on development of this technology which has a potential of target destroying satellites in space. Russia which was a silent spectator till then surprised with its own
experiment of similar nature in 2015. Now, it is India’s turn to get into the league of famous-four nations which have demonstrated capabilities of striking live satellite targets in space.
 
 
A-SAT missile will give new strength to India’s space programme. I assure the international community that our capability won’t be used against anyone but is purely India’s defence initiative for its security. We are against arms raised in space. This test won’t breach any international law or treaties” — Narendra Modi, PMDefence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman who is steering DRDO took this opportunity to convey people that the technology of A-SAT is totally indigenous, as no country would be ready to part with such strategic science to others. She attributed the entire success of the mission to the scientists who indigenously developed and demonstrated the capability of space strikes. Such intricate technologies cannot be developed overnight, and scientists took little more than seven years for acquiring it. Technology demonstration is not an easy task and demands utmost confidence of developers in addition to political will of the leaders. The controversies related to timing of this test to proud announcement on national media are required to be set aside. The scientific experiments, specially the ones related to strategic defence should not get linked with the national elections. As the country has a continuous series of elections either to Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha or states (which are staggered over years), any national announcement of this nature can generate controversies. It is high time for the people to delink scientific achievements from the political parties. And more so to delink the Prime Minister of the country to the party he heads.
 
“On the significant occasion of India’s becoming a space superpower after the successful Mission Shakti, testing of anti-satellite weapon A SAT, we salute and compliment our scientists as well as the central leadership on behalf of the people of India. This glorious achievement will be a source of inspiration forgenerations to come.” - Arun Kumar, RSS Akhil Bharatiya Prachar PramukhGetting back to the intricacies of the ‘Mission Shakti’, chasing a moving target in space is a herculean task. This moving target was a live satellite with its rotation speed in a designated orbit. Exact pin-pointing of such an object in space requires lot of precision. The telemetry and tracking systems of ISRO and its satellites have worked in perfection. Same with the navigation and guidance of the ballistic missile defence (BMD) interceptor. What if, there was a failure? The missile would have just lost in space or in the worst scenario would have hit another satellite in its path or would have been a space debri to pose threat to many more satellites in future. But the Indians did this ‘right first time’ with a ‘like in text-book perfection’. This speaks of the competence, capability and confidence of our scientists who are second to none in the world, specially in the space science.

“India had the anti-satellite missile capability more than a decade ago but there was no political will at the time of UPA to demonstrate it” — G Madhavan Nair, Former ISRO chairman
 The former DG of DRDO and present member of Niti Aayog VK Saraswat has placed on record the challenges posed in execution of these kinds of missiles. The missile was required to intercept a satellite speeding at 7 kms per second in its orbit of 300 kms from earth. The precision expected was of the order of less than a millisecond. The success of the experiment has proved that India has a capability of engaging weapons at altitudes of 300 kms above ground. Which means we can strategically provide defence against ICBM onslaughts in real time.
“We made presentations to the then National Security Adviser (NSA) and National Security Council (NSC) when such discussions were held. They were heard by all concerned, unfortunately, we didn’t get a positive response (from UPA), so we didn’t go ahead. During that time, Shiv Shankar Menon was the NSA” — VK Saraswat, Former DRDO ChiefIf there is a war in space, which India do not subscribe to, this capability provides the defence preparedness. This is just akin to our nuclear bomb explosion experiment of 1998, the adversary nations shall think twice before launching a nuclear weapon against us. At the end of the day, what are the take-aways from this experiment? The demonstration of this capability infuses a greater strength to the nation. We have sent a message to the world, specially our adversaries in no unclear terms that our space assets are well protected. This is a tool of deterrence and no nation can drive us to a corner push us against a wall. Further, DRDO has proved (may be for the first time) its capability that it is one among the best science organisations of the world.
 (The writer is a former Scientist with DRDO with expertise in military aircraft and propulsion system. He was a DGM at HAL working for the Light Combat Aircraft and Intermediate Jet Trainer aircraft)