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India Will Fight In Outer Space With Its Own Missiles

January 27, 2020

Via Indian media.

This year’s Republic Day celebration in Delhi had a stronger emphasis on national pride than hard power. Even if the Indian military did have a modest parade, much of its current equipment is at least 30 years old, and there were few genuine surprises. But a real standout at the January 26 event was the DRDO’s ASAT carried by a massive launch vehicle. The ASAT or anti-satellite missile grabbed headlines in early 2019 after an initial test launch dubbed “Mission Shakti” where it struck a low orbit target. The March 27 ASAT test was hailed by India’s government as a major technological breakthrough and further proof of India’s growing technological prowess.

The ASAT from 2019 was described as a three-stage missile powered by two solid rocket boosters. Its performance meant India now formed a quartet–together with China, Russia, and the United States–of world powers with anti-satellite weapons. India is a late arrival, however, since anti-satellite capabilities are a relic of the Cold War when both the Soviet Union and the US sought different options to disable each other’s space infrastructure. The Chinese PLA caught up with the former rivals in 2007 by destroying a satellite using a ground launched ballistic missile. The present trend for acquiring anti-satellite weapons (France is rumored to have plans for its own) is a reaction to the amount of critical infrastructure orbiting the planet.

Although India’s state-owned military industries struggle with domestic programs advances in missile technology since the 1990s are notable. Offensive surface-to-surface missile technology based on road mobile platforms are able to deter China and Pakistan. Defensive missile technology, on the other hand, remains a work in progress but shows a lot of promise. India’s entire airspace is now covered by multilayered defenses composed of foreign and local systems. The success of the Akash short and medium-range SAM, for example, meant the Soviet vintage SA-3 and SA-6 SAMs have a better replacement. But Delhi is betting on the Russian-made S-400 Triumf–a theater air defense system operated by China and Turkey–and a joint venture between the DRDO and IAI from Israel to assemble a genuine anti-ballistic missile shield over the country.

If the DRDO maintains a schedule of anti-satellite tests throughout the 2020s these may take different forms. Once the current ASAT platform is matured its next iteration could either be another missile delivered by fixed wing aircraft or an attempt to outfit a naval vessel such as a destroyer or even a missile capable submarine with an interceptor. Pursuing these innovations is a clear sign India is catching up to Russia and the US, who each have a half century head start in anti-satellite operations, whose long-term outcome is securing India’s place in a multipolar world. There are some who believe a multipolar world is now in place, with the US struggling to maintain its once singular position in the global order, but countries eager for regional influence face enormous costs achieving this.

The eventual conflict between China and India, for example, is bound to last decades and the technological aspect of this rivalry will be intense. The competition seems uneven at present but this won’t matter in the coming years as two giant economies decouple and mobilize their immense resources for achieving national goals.

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