Mission Shakti: Paradigm shift in India’s Defence Strategy

India has undertaken these tests when the major superpowers – the U.S. Russia, China – have moved on to the research, development and testing of high-energy laser anti-satellite weapons systems.

Written by March 29, 2019 14:45

India scientist made a spectacular success in demonstrating their capability of indigenously developing the missile-based anti-satellite weapon called Shakti. It was successfully tested and the identified satellite in the space was hit with precision and destroyed. The scientists, the defence department and the entire government were excited on this achievement so much so that Prime Minister Modi took the unusual decision of himself announcing the country’s great achievement in providing a weapon that will ensure the space security of India by destroying the possible satellite-based attack.

India’s Defence Research Development Organization (DRDO) has long maintained that it possesses all the necessary building blocks for an anti-satellite missile. The successful test held this week is a testimony to the technical skills and initiative of our scientists and technocrats. Like the nuclear tests of 1998, an anti-satellite test needed political will and geostrategic prudence. India has been using its satellites in military operations, most recently in Balakot. The time was right for an anti-satellite demonstration. Mission Shakti, therefore, is a milestone and dramatically strengthens India’s defence preparedness for space-based warfare. It also puts our space deterrence on at par with our nuclear deterrence especially significant given that satellite technology is now indispensable to the big powers.

With the Shakti defence mechanism in her defence kitty, India is now part of a rarefied club of global space powers. The U.S. Russia and China have already demonstrated the capability for missile-based anti-satellite weapons. This mechanism has political implications as well because the strength of a developed nation in contemporary terminology lies in its military power based on modern technology

The mission is a continuum, the outcome of years of hard work by scientists and engineers at the DRDO, who have focused on missile target-seekers, exo-atmospheric kill vehicles, intercontinental ballistic who have been keeping pace with the changing times and have not left India groping in the dark. It has to be remembered that new and modern weaponry, which India was constrained to buy from abroad came with the stuff minus the technology. The transfer of technology was a far cry and if any country showed the willingness of selling the arms that we urgently required, it did so without making any commitment of providing us with the technology. We have instances when developed countries attached forbidding conditions to the transfer of technology and we had no option but to decline to go for it on their conditions.

What is more significant about this feat is that the technology employed in forging the Shakti missile is indigenous and for that credit should go to our scientists and engineers For decades, India has been denied technology mastered by the developed countries in the west. The nuclear and missile control regimes imposed on developing countries forced us to research and develop the technology at home. This has proved a blessing in disguise. DRDO, the Department of Space and the Department of Atomic Energy – together with the strategic trio – have developed a promising defence-space-industrial complex.

The DRDO is a world leader in missile technology, with full-spectrum missile capabilities. It undertook the first Agni V in 2012, and the next logical step – the Anti-Satellite test was awaited. Most conventional intercontinental ballistic missiles fly at low altitudes towards its target. The latest Agni V test, in December 2018, was undertaken on an atypical lofted trajectory, i.e. attaining higher altitudes (a larger apogee) than conventionally done. This was a preparation for hitting lofty or higher targets – like a satellite.

In this effort, the DRDO has been working with the country’s public and private sector companies, such as Electronic Corporation of India, Bharat Dynamics, Alpha Design Technologies. They build active and passive infrared seekers, and millimetre-wave radar seekers, which are critical elements of anti-satellite weapons, and the precision striking capacity that they demand. Some of these seekers are now part of India’s tactical weapons arsenal. It is very likely the same type of sensors were used in the Mission Shakti anti-satellite tests.

India has undertaken these tests when the major superpowers – the U.S. Russia, China – have moved on to the research, development and testing of high-energy laser anti-satellite weapons systems. They expect the first high-energy laser based anti-satellite tests to be undertaken to start in the 2020s and our country joins that club as well after this week’s success.

The next step is to intensify the synergies between the MoD and the emerging space and defence industry. Forming an integrated Defence Space Agency, as Defence Minister announced in 2017, is long overdue. In fact, she must expand into India’s first defence space force, along with the lines of the U.S. Space Force or China’s PLA Strategic Support Force which are responsible for space warfare. Conditions have come up when India must pay attention to the vulnerability of her northern border – a long one with China particularly when Tibet passed into the hands of the Chinese.

The political fallout of our country’s achievement in space technology and the manufacture of a protective weapon is of far-reaching consequences. China never makes a secret of her designs of showing down India because she feels that India is steadily gaining power, influence and the art of managing her affairs as a world power. The defence achievement we have made today is a clear signal o China that she can no more continue to be in the wishful thinking of harassing India either through an intrusion into her borders or through blackmailing her by her superior military power. We have recently seen that China has made no secret of her support to the terrorism that springs from the soil of our neighbour to the west. The repeated effort of saving the known terrorist puts a question arak on her sincerity towards fighting global terrorism. As Indi grows in power and influence, China will have to cut down her penchant for sword-rattling against India. In that sense also this achievement is a landmark in India inching towards world power status.

(The writer is former Director of Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University)