India became the fourth country to successfully use an anti-satellite weapon after it shot down one of its low earth orbit satellites Wednesday – an act Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed as the country’s first demonstration of its “space power.”
Modi, in an unexpected announcement just weeks before a general election, said scientists shot the live satellite located more than 185 miles away.
“India has made an unprecedented achievement today,” he said, speaking in Hindi. “India registered its name as a space power.”
Indian has had a space program for years, making earth imagine satellites and launch capabilities as a cheaper alternative to Western programs.
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With its launch on Wednesday, it became only the fourth country to have used such an anti-satellite weapon after the United States, Russia, and China, Modi added.
The Indian foreign ministry said the test lasted 3 minutes and was done in the lower atmosphere to ensure there was no debris in space and that whatever was left would “decay and fall back into Earth within weeks.”
“The capability achieved through the anti-satellite missile test provides credible deterrence against threats to our growing space-based assets from long-range missiles, and proliferation in the types and numbers of missiles,” the foreign ministry said in the statement.
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Pallava Bagla, a science writer at the New Delhi Television Channel, said that by successfully hitting the fast-moving satellite, India had crossed a “very significant threshold.”
“India demonstrated that we can, if threatened, bring down an enemy satellite in space,” Bagla said.
China’s foreign ministry said it hoped all countries “can earnestly protect lasting peace and tranquility in space”. The U.S. and Russia both declined to make any immediate comment, Reuters reported.
The announcement is Modi’s latest bid to flex India’s military muscle as his party seeks to retain power in polls beginning April 11.
After 40 Indian soldiers were killed in a February suicide bombing in disputed Kashmir, India said it retaliated with a “surgical strike” on a terrorist camp in Pakistan.
Afterward, in an air skirmish, Pakistan shot down one of India’s Soviet-era fighter jets, prompting scrutiny of India’s aging military hardware.
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Modi said Wednesday that the new capability is “not against anyone,” and that India’s policy remains against the use of weapons in space.
Earlier this month, acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan argued for a 2020 Pentagon budget shaped by national security threats posed by China, including anti-satellite weapons.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.