New Delhi aptly abstained from supporting the US-led resolution. It should not lose sight of the importance of an A-SAT triad.
Notwithstanding the growing support for debris-generating kinetic ASAT to be curbed by way of a moratorium, New Delhi must resist committing to the latter unilaterally and multilaterally, either tacitly or explicitly. India’s options must be geared toward widening its kinetic capabilities against its adversaries’ orbiting spacecraft. The PRC alone is not the problem for New Delhi, but also, the collusive threat posed by China and Pakistan, which warrants additional tests. That apart, the American-sponsored resolution can be ignored, which the bulk of the worlds’ major space powers has done either by way of opposing it or abstaining from it. Secondly, the Biden administration’s decision to unilaterally adhere to a moratorium on KEW tests can easily be reversed by a future Republican administration. Indeed, Republicans have already expressed scepticism about the US’ self-imposed A-SAT ban, because the Russians and Chinese would not adhere to unilateral restraint in the conduct of kinetic A-SATs, when it was announced in April 2022. Consequently, they have been vindicated by Moscow and Beijing’s opposition to the UNGA resolution against kinetic A-SATs passed in December 2022. What should India do? India should conduct a ship-based kinetic A-SAT as well as develop and test an air-launched KEW. As was the case with its March 2019 ground-launched direct ascent KEW test destroying one of its own defunct satellites, India should execute low orbital altitude sea and air-launched A-SATs, which would significantly limit debris fallout. The March 2019 test was conducted by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) at an altitude of 300 kilometers (Kms), which created debris of around 400 pieces, most or 95 percent of which fell back to earth within the first month of the test. As of today, in all likelihood, almost all the debris cloud generated by the Indian test has decayed posing no real hazard to orbiting spacecraft. As long as India’s KEW tests are well outside or under the most crowded orbits located at 800 km above the earth, New Delhi can proceed. The Indian A-SAT test of March 2019 was nowhere as dangerous in terms of debris fallout as the Chinese and Russian A-SATs of January 2007 and November 2021 respectively. Alternatively, in order to address concerns about space debris generation, New Delhi could also carry out both the sea-launched and air-launched A-SATs against “empty points” in space involving a kinetic missile travelling through a zone or predetermined point in space obviating and substituting for the destruction of an actual spacecraft. To achieve this India also needs better sensor technology to precisely track the kinetic projectiles and identify the “empty points” through which they would pass. The missile will also need to be reconfigured and its software modified for kinetic interception. The Dhanush Ship-based Ballistic Missile (ShLBM) is a good candidate and currently deployed on the Indian Navy’ (IN) Off-shore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) of the Sukanya Class. The DRDO and the IN must determine whether the missile can also be adapted for launch from the Visakhapatnam Class guided missile destroyers, which are the most advanced destroyers in the Indian Navy’ (IN) surface fleet. Alternatively, a whole new kinetic interceptor missile may need to be developed for launch from a surface vessel, which should ideally be a guided missile destroyer.
China and Russia among the most consequential space military powers and also veto-wielding permanent members of the UNSC voted against this US-sponsored resolution.
A corollary to the above is that strengthening India’s A-SAT capabilities from sea-based and air-launched platforms creates options for the country in wartime, giving flexibility and creating redundancy. New Delhi aptly abstained from supporting the resolution, but it should not lose sight of the importance of an A-SAT triad. Whatever benefits may be of the UNGA resolution passed last December, India must keep its powder dry and fulfil its counter-space KEW requirements. Although arms control against debris-generating A-SATs is necessary, it is premature. Thus, New Delhi must resist putting the cart before the horse.
The Indian A-SAT test of March 2019 was nowhere as dangerous in terms of debris fallout as the Chinese and Russian A-SATs of January 2007 and November 2021 respectively.
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Kartik Bommakanti is a Senior Fellow with the Strategic Studies Programme. Kartik specialises in space military issues and his research is primarily centred on the ...Read More +