India becomes space 'superpower' after shooting down satellite

Indian men watch the live broadcast of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's address to the nation  - AFP

India has joined a club of space superpowers, its prime minister said on Wednesday, after successfully shooting down one of its own satellites with a locally-developed missile. 

Narendra Modi made the surprise announcement that India was “now an established space power” in a press conference just a fortnight before the country’s general election. 

The leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) added that the missile had destroyed the 190-mile distant satellite in less than three minutes. 

He said the test made India the world’s fourth country to have developed and demonstrated this anti-satellite missile capability after China, Russia and the US. 

“India has always maintained that space should not be an area for warfare and that remains unchanged in spite of this test”, Mr Modi declared in a televised address to the nation.

But India, he stated, also wanted to defend itself and it was with this intent that it had pursued and achieved this missile capability.  

Official sources told the Telegraph the missile was a “kinetic kill vehicle” that did not carry any explosives or other devices.

They said its “kill” capability arose simply from the fact that it smashed into the target satellite at high speed. 

In an official statement India’s foreign ministry declared that the debris generated from the impact would “decay and fall back to earth within weeks” as the test was executed in the “lower atmospher”.

The foreign office also stressed that the test was not directed against any country, but added that the capability provided India “credible deterrence against threats to its space-based assets from enemy missiles”.

This was a thinly veiled reference to Pakistan and China that similarly destroyed a weather satellite in 2007, creating the largest orbital debris in history.  

The Chinese test was also the trigger for India’s defence and space establishments to develop anti-satellite missile capability which the foreign office claimed was not in violation of any international law or treaty to which New Delhi was a signatory.  

The timing of Modi’s announcement, however, has raised awkward questions politically as the Model Code of Conduct before elections prohibits all parties from making announcements that could prove electorally advantageous.

The opposition parties said the satellite missile test announcement was Modi’s latest bid to ‘garner television time’ and flex India’s military muscle as his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya BJP seeks to retain power in polls beginning on 11 April.