NEW DELHI (AP) — India successfully test-fired an anti-satellite weapon Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in an unexpected announcement of military advancement that was broadcast live just weeks before a general election.
He said the destruction of a satellite in low-earth orbit by missile demonstrated India’s capacity as a “space power” alongside the U.S., Russia and China.
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. But Pakistan later shot down one of India’s Soviet-era fighter jets, prompting scrutiny of India’s aging military hardware.
In Washington, the vice commander of U.S. Air Force Space Command, Lt. Gen. David Thompson, told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that the Air Force detected the collision in space. It happened at 1:39 a.m. in Washington, or 10:30 a.m. in New Delhi.
Pallava Bagla, a science writer at the New Delhi Television Channel, said that by hitting the fast-moving satellite, India had crossed a significant threshold and demonstrated it could “bring down an enemy satellite in space.”
Modi said the anti-satellite 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.
Thompson said the Air Force detected about 270 objects in the debris field created by the collision and the number was likely to increase. He said the Air Force will inform satellite operators if any of those objects become a threat to satellites in orbit. “At this point in time the International Space Station is not at risk,” he said.
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