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India launches anti-satellite missile

Launch of Ballistic Missile Defense Interceptor missile during an Anti-Satellite missile test 'Mission Shakti'

India claims it has become a space power now that it successfully test-fired an anti-satellite missile.

In a rare and first test of such technology, India shot down one of its own satellites in space - which is now being seen as a major breakthrough.

While some Australian experts are viewing this as Prime Minister Narendra Modi's bid to win the approaching election, others feel militarising space won't benefit any country in the long run.

India is getting ready for its first manned space mission in 2022.

But for now, the country with the world's second largest army is busy attracting international attention over putting its military capabilities in space.

In a  rare feat, India has deployed a space weapon - and has become only the fourth country to have done that.

Mission Shakti was an operation that involved shooting one of India's own satellites in space with an anti-satellite missile.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi says India has established itself as a space power with this major breakthrough.

"Today, India has registered its name as a space superpower, space power. Until now, only three countries in the world, America, Russia and China, had this capability. Now, India is the fourth country to have achieved this capability."

It comes just a few days after Pakistan showcased its missiles, tanks and aircraft on its national day.

Tensions between the two neighbouring countries flared after a terrorist attack killed 40 Indian paramilitary soldiers in the Indian-administered Kashmir region. 

Since then, senior leaders of both the nations have shared messages of maintaining peace in the region through the constant show of military power by both sides indicates a peaceful resolution is still at bay.

Academic fellow at the Australia India Institute Dr Pradeep Taneja says India's adventure in space could inspire Pakistan to catch-up.

But Dr Taneja says Pakistan must act wisely and not follow in India's steps as it has other more important issues to deal with.

"I think it will be a folly for Pakistan to try and match India in everything because India's economy is six times the size of Pakistan's. It will basically drive Pakistan into bankruptcy if Pakistan continues to try to match India in military technology. In other words, Pakistan will end up spending a lot more of its scarce resources on military rather than helping develop its economy, education and lifting people out of poverty."

While India's new space missile may be worrisome for Pakistan, Dr Taneja says it leaves Pakistan with limited defence options, forcing it to rely on its much-favoured ally in the region - China.

Dr Taneja says having preceded India in conducting such a missile test, China has an edge over its neighbour in space technology.

"China is already more advanced than India in terms of space technology. China conducted a test similar to India's at a higher altitude in 2007 - 12 years ago."

Just hours after India registered itself as a space power, Pakistan issued a call against military threats in outer space.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi says the space weapon has not been developed to attack any country.

"I want to reassure the world community that this new capability we have achieved, is not against anyone. This is just an initiative for the defence of the rapidly progressing Indian nation. India has always been against the use of weapons in space and this doesn't change that policy in any way."

While some may see Mr Modi's latest bid to flex India's military muscle simply as a technological achievement, it is also being viewed as his attempt to get re-elected in polls beginning April 11.

Dr Pradeep Taneja from the Australia India Institute, says India is a patriotic nation which has shown constant signs of buying into Mr Modi's national security based election campaign since the attack in Kashmir.

Dr Taneja says the space missile announcement could not have come at a better time for the prime minister's party ((B-J-P)). 

"Remember Prime Minister Modi is someone who does not miss a beat when it comes to public relations and when it comes to getting some media publicity, and particularly on national security issues. Already opinion polls are showing boosted Prime Minister Modi's standing in terms of national security issues. Whereas in this case, Prime Minister Modi made sort of a big media event. So there was a bit of drama that accompanied it."

While the world's biggest democracy gets ready to test the opinion of more than 900 million registered voters, space experts in Australia feel militarisation of space can wait.

Australian Centre for Space and Engineering Research Director Andrew Dempster says Australia does not have the capability demonstrated by India.

Professor Dempster says the Australian Space Agency is aimed at developing civilian capabilities in space rather than militarising it.

"What the Australian Space Agency is trying to do is to produce an Australian sustainable space industry that goes on to support the economy. So the idea would be we provide space assets that help our agriculture industry and mining industry and generally boost the economy."

 With US President Donald Trump setting up a space force, and China, Russia and India increasing investments in space - it is highly likely Australia would want to catch-up in the future.

But Professor Dempster feels Australia is better off without it.

"The philosophy behind a lot of the treaties about how outer space should be used is that it should be peaceful. The peaceful use of outer space is pretty much the only way it is going to remain usable. I think any talk of militarising space is counterproductive in the long run."

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