China's ASAT Test and Its Impact on Asia

'Chinese R&D on fundamental AntiSATellite (ASAT) technologies has been going on since the 1960s. The Chinese since then have concentrated ASAT efforts in developing ground based high energy weapons, ground or air launched interceptor missiles'that destroy their targets through explosion or ballistic impact...Feasibility and maturity of such programmes are likely to have significant implications for satellites the world over'. So goes the warning and prediction of Squadron Leader KK Nair in his book, Space The Frontiers of Modern Defence.

The book was released last year. Not much heed was paid to his warning then. As a matter of fact, the trend was to vilify the Americans on space weaponization and laud China's 'peaceful uses of outer space'.

A confused silence characterizes India's response to China's ASAT test of January 11, as it did following the Chinese aggression of 1962. National space and security agencies have not been very forthcoming about the issue. As a matter of fact, until the entire west went into a general pandemonium on the issue, India never woke up to it. It took over a week plus for the national media to wake up to the test, and even now the matter elicits no more than a yawn.

The Chinese have done precisely what the Squadron Leader predicted: They used a ballistic missile to destroy an aging weather satellite by ballistic impact. Prior to this, there were unconfirmed reports of China using lasers to temporarily blind US satellites.

All said and done, China's ASAT test is an ominous signal aimed at obtaining multiple advantages. With the ASAT test, they have demonstrated the capability to get an asymmetric advantage against super powers like the US and also a symmetric (or conventional) advantage against Asian rivals like Japan, India etc. The message to both is loud and clear. With regards to super powers like the US, the Chinese would be hesitant to get into an actual armed conflict in space or on earth. But, the same is not true in case of lesser nations like India, Japan, Taiwan etc. It is vastly superior to the rest of Asia in conventional and unconventional military and other terms. It also has a demonstrated history of throwing its weight around totally unmindful of public opinion or outrage. The fact that as in case of 1962, Tianemann Square etc, the Chinese have sought to totally ignore international outrage signifies their strong commitment to finally do as they please.

The Chinese military machinery in technological and numerical terms is vastly superior to all other nations in Asia. With regards to India, the balance of power is grossly in its favor. While the Indian military is still formidable and capable of rebutting any Chinese misadventure on our borders, the same cannot be said about space.

To put it bluntly, China could blind or destroy any of our satellites and we might not even know about it till the US tells us. The matter is very grave. Something has to be done. As suggested by the Squadron Leader in his book, some kind of an agency for 'securing our interests in space' needs to be set up. It can be an aerospace command, an armospace command, a navospace command or whatever, but an agency has to be there. Let us not forget that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. We need to be ever-vigilant for contingencies in space as well as on earth. 


More by :  S. S. Malik

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