Friday, March 11, 2011

Should India Conduct An ASAT Test?


This was the question that the panel in DC (including me) was trying to answer .... The meeting was organised by the Secure World Foundation, and very well attended by the Pentagon, State Department, US Military .... The meeting was chaired by Peter Garretson of the US Air Force.

You can read a media report here.

India’s space program, managed by the Indian Space Research Organization, has very strong civil roots and has done much to improve the everyday lives of its citizens. However, India’s space efforts have taken on a more military tone with help from their own missile defense system.

India may actually conduct an ASAT test .... It doesn't want to miss the boat again, as it did in the nuclear arena ....



The Secure World Foundation (SWF) hosted a special panel discussion on Tuesday to examine India's military space efforts and how their plans could influence overall Asian security.

The event, held at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, was a follow-up from a SWF co-sponsored conference held in January in New Delhi intended to understand the primary forces behind India’s increasingly militarized space program.

India’s space program, managed by the Indian Space Research Organization, has very strong civil roots and has done much to improve the everyday lives of its citizens. However, India’s space efforts have taken on a more military tone with help from their own missile defense system.

India has been working on its own missile defense system and has held six test intercepts since November 2006; four were reported to be successful. The most recent test was performed on Sunday. Following that test, India’s Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister, V.K. Saraswat, said India has “all the technologies and building blocks which can be used for anti-satellite (ASAT) missions” in the low-earth and polar orbits. ASAT weapons are launched into space to incapacitate or destroy satellites for strategic military purposes.

“A missile defense program can very easily be used as a technology demonstartor program for an ASAT capability,” said Victoria Samson, director of SWF’s Washington office.

The United States demonstrated this in 2008 when they fired a modified SM-3 missile from a Navy ship and destroyed a military satellite named USA 193 in orbit.

Space security is a growing interest in India.

“We know how important space has a role today, starting from your cell phones and other gadgets that you use,” Bharath Gopalaswamy told the audience at the event. Gopalaswamy is a researcher in the Arms Control and Non-proliferation Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

In order to take out a 50-foot by 50-foot wall during World War II it would require 12,000 bombs, Gopalaswamy said. With today’s precision-guided munitions, that use Global Positioning System satellites to navigate, you just need one bomb.

“Every country values its space assets extremely highly,” Gopalaswamy said, “you want to protect them and you want to defend them. If I were the military, I would be saying I want all options on the table.”

India’s scientific community is open to having an ASAT test, according to Gopalaswamy. “They said test it, but be careful, about where you test it and how you test it.”

“India might do an ASAT test in the next five to 10 years,” said Rajeswari Rajagopalan, senior fellow at Observer Reseach Foundation, New Delhi.

But is ASAT development the biggest threat to satellites?

Increasing awareness of space debris and continued efforts to develop and implement international measures to tackle the problem is a major concern for all countries.

Significant on-orbit collisions, such as the collision of the French military satellite Cerise with a portion of an Ariane rocket in 1996, and Russia’s Cosmos 2251 crashing into Iridium 33 in 2009, have encouraged the recognition of space debris as a significant threat.

“As it stands today, in space, the probability of debris hitting a satellite is more than an adversary taking your satellite down,” Gopalaswamy said.

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