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3-min read

After Mission Shakti, Take A Look at the A-SAT Capabilities of US, Russia and China

Modi said India executed a low-orbit satellite destruction in space on March 27, shooting down a live satellite with an A-SAT (anti-satellite) weapon in an operation called “Mission Shakti”.

News18.com

Updated:March 27, 2019, 4:11 PM IST
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After Mission Shakti, Take A Look at the A-SAT Capabilities of US, Russia and China
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New Delhi: In a live address to the nation on Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced India’s first anti-satellite programme and said the country is now capable of targeting hostile enemy satellites in space, making it an “elite space power”.

Modi said India executed a low-orbit satellite destruction in space on March 27, shooting down a live satellite with an A-SAT (anti-satellite) weapon in an operation called “Mission Shakti”. India became only the fourth country after the United States, Russia, and China to successfully develop and test anti-satellite weapon capabilities.

“India has achieved a phenomenal accomplishment today. India today registered its name as a ‘space power’. So far, Russia, the United States and China had achieved this status,” Modi said, reiterating that this development did not change India’s stand against the presence of weapons in space.

Here’s a look at the A-SAT programmes of the other three countries:

United States

The US began developing anti-satellite weaponry in the 1950s, resulting in its first A-SAT weapon called Bold Orion, an air-launched ballistic missile (ALBM) tested in 1959 against the Explorer 6 satellite. Following the partially successful test, the US started the Space Intercept (SPIN) programme under which the US Navy launched the Caleb rocket, aimed at furthering their anti-satellite weaponry development.

A year later, in 1963, an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) named Nike Zeus destroyed an orbiting satellite. The ABM was equipped with a nuclear warhead. Four years later, the Nike Zeus A-SAT programme was replaced by Thor, another A-SAT system developed by the US Air Force. The next system remained in deployment till 1975.

When several spy satellites belonging to the US and Russia were in orbit during the Cold War era, both countries competed with each other to develop advanced A-SAT capabilities. Following the Soviet Union’s demonstration of a co-orbital anti-satellite system, the then US President Jimmy Carter in 1978 directed the Air Force to develop new A-SAT systems altogether. The requirement was to develop air-launched missile that could be used against satellites in low Earth orbit.

This led to the development of the ASM-135 A-SAT, an air launched anti-satellite missile carried on a modified F-15 Eagle fighter aircraft. The first launch took place in 1984 and the first successful interception was done a year later.

In 2008, the US Navy destroyed a malfunctioning US spy satellite using a ship-fired RIM-161 Standard Missile 3, an ABM that also has A-SAT capabilities against satellites in low Earth orbit.

Russia

Russia, then the Soviet Union, had started working on A-SAT systems as residual capabilities of an anti-ballistic missile system in the 1950s. In 1960, under the leadership of Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Union outlined a rocket and spacecraft programme that served as the launch pad for the dedicated A-SAT programme called Istrebitel Sputnik. This programme was “co-orbital”, wherein a missile armed with explosives is launched into the same orbit as the target satellite and approaches close enough to destroy it.

The Soviet Union made a series of launches, testing a host of different rockets and missiles throughout the 1960s and declared their A-SAT system operational by 1973. It further experimented with ground-based laser A-SAT in the 1970s and a number US spy satellites were reportedly temporarily blinded in the 1970s and the 1980s. Under Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet Union expanded its A-SAT programme to allow attacks at higher altitudes, declaring it operational in 1979. The US responded, under President Carter, by starting its own testing.

In 1987, Mikhail Gorbachev visited the Baikonur Cosmodrome and observed a new A-SAT system called “Naryad”, launched by UR-100N intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). More recently, Russia conducted test flights of new direct ascent A-SAT missile Nudol in 2015, 2016 and 2018.

China

China has been working on A-SAT weaponry since 1964 under Program 640, which was initially set up to develop ABM and began an A-SAT programme in 1970. The plan was abandoned in 1980 and a new Program 863 was introduced in 1986.

After two failed attempts of a direct fire A-SAT weapon in 2005 and 2006, China demonstrated its ability to intercept a satellite when it fired a SC-19 missile into an aging weather satellite FengYun-1C and destroyed it on January 11, 2007. Chinese officials initially maintained silence but eventually claimed the test was an “experiment not targeted at any country”.

In 2008, China also released a microsatellite BX-1 that flew within 43 km of the International Space Station.

China has also been developing energy-based weaponry in the form of high-powered laser designed to damage or disable enemy satellites.
In 2010, China launched another SC-19 missile and destroyed a moving target, a ballistic missile launched by Beijing itself. The incident was believed to be an indication of further testing of China’s A-SAT capabilities.

In 2015, China confirmed it had tested its latest satellite-killing missile Dong Neng-3. The DN-3 A-SAT missile was tested in February 2018.
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