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Pentagon defends India’s ASAT test, says New Delhi concerned about ‘threats’ in space

The test made India the fourth country in the world after the US, Russia and China to have ASAT capabilities.

SNS | New Delhi |

India is concerned about the “threats” it faces in space, the Pentagon has said, defending New Delhi for recently testing the anti-satellite or ASAT missile capabilities. On March 27, India achieved a historic feat by shooting down its own low-orbit satellite with a ground-to-space missile, making the country a space power.

The test made India the fourth country in the world after the US, Russia and China to have ASAT capabilities.

“The first lesson from the Indian ASAT is just the simple question of why did they do that. And the answer should be, I think to all the committee looking at it, is that they did that because they are concerned about threats to their nation from space,” US Strategic Command Commander General John E Hyten told members of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

“And therefore, they feel they have to have a capability to defend themselves in space,” General Hyten told Senate Armed Services Committee while responding to a question from Senators on the need for India to carry out the anti-satellite missile test.

Days after the test, NASA branded India’s destruction of one of its satellites a “terrible thing” that had created 400 pieces of orbital debris and led to new dangers for astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine had claimed that about 60 pieces were tracked and out of which 24 are going above the apogee of the ISS.

General Hyten advocated for the development of some kind of international norms of behaviour in space.

“And where those norms of behaviour should begin, from my opinion, is with debris, because as the combatant commander responsible for space today, I don’t want more debris,” said the top Pentagon commander.

Raising the issue, Senator Tim Kaine said India announced last month that it had successfully conducted a test of an anti-satellite weapon.

“So, they had something in low earth orbit. They used an anti-satellite weapon to down it, and it resulted in – the estimate is right now 400 pieces of debris, 24 which are large enough to potentially pose a threat to the International Space Station,” he claimed.

“There have been other instances like this. There was a Chinese – a similar effort in 2007 that led to the catalogued 100,000 pieces of debris, many of which are still observing in debris fields that pose danger to other assets in space,” he said.

“There was a collision in ’09 between a working US satellite and a sort of defunct Soviet era satellite that kind of a fender bender that produced debris. Then this debris causes challenges,” he added.

“If we think that space is going to be more of a traffic jam, more satellites for all kinds of purposes up there, what should we be thinking about as a Senate in this committee or in Foreign Relations about sort of the rules?” he asked.

“What should the rules environment be, and what should we be doing to try to promote rules? India is an ally. We’re not talking about an adversary doing something. We’re talking about them testing some capacity, but then that creates challenges for all kinds of uses of space. How should we be solving problems like that?” Senator Kaine asked.

Hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement, the US expressed concern over the issue of space debris.

According to a report in Reuters, acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan had warned any nation contemplating anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons tests like the one India carried out on Wednesday that they risk making a “mess” in space because of debris fields they can leave behind.

Titled as Mission Shakti operation, the indigenously-built anti-satellite ASAT missile successfully destroyed a target satellite in the Low Earth Orbit (LWO).

The Ministry of External Affairs in its statement said that India’s space capabilities do not threaten any country nor are they directed against anyone.

(With agency inputs)