India’s Operation Shakti: Another Farcical Surgical Strike but This Time in Space

Who said this: “No matter how skillful you are, you cannot invent a product advantage which doesn’t exist. And if you do, and it’s just a gimmick, it’s going to fall apart anyway.”

Indian PM Narendra Modi announced on March 27, 2019 that India successfully fired a ground-based anti-satellite weapon (ASAT) against a satellite in low Earth orbit (LEO). Under mission Shakti, India had demonstrated a capability of anti-satellite that means killing a satellite at an altitude of 300km above the earth.

In a series of tweets, PM Modi told that operation Shakti was a highly complex one, conducted at extremely high speed with remarkable precision. It shows the remarkable dexterity of India’s outstanding scientists and the success of our space program. PM Modi didn’t simply stop there. He went further to swiftly claim that India has become one of the four countries in the world, the other three being the USA, Russia and China which have the anti-satellite capability.

What to say about Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley who exaggerated the claim in these words: “With this capability, we’ve created a deterrence and implying our adversary (Pakistan) should take notice of it.”

I’m totally oblivious of the fact that why in Modi’s India it’s become a fashion to make a mountain out of a molehill. Why it’s so that all the Chowkidars of India—the word “Chowkidar” as a twitter hashtag of PM Modi following the suit by all his ministers—are used to blow their own trumpet on the achievements which are usually a tall talk.

In this so-called operation Shakti too, it’s gimmickry rather than reality that’s in full swing. A gimmickry on the eve of upcoming general elections. An electoral stunt particularly in the post 27th February saga, when in face of the PAF aerial encounter, the Indian myth of so-called conventional superiority laid bare before the whole world. In fact, this latest weaponization of space is all but Indian buffoonery to grab more domestic votes other than any new security implication for Pakistan.

Now let’s discuss about this ‘gigantic’ achievement of India in detail.

First of all, if anti-satellite missile capability was demonstrated by India at 300 km, it’s no more than a technological demonstrator. Because if it’s a technological demonstrator, it provided no deterrence value. The question of deterrence and technological demonstrator begets another puzzle: Was this real or was this simulated? The purpose here is not to pooh-pooh Indian government but the very fact that PM Modi himself addressed to his nation about such an important development. PM Modi called for even recording to be shown that yes actually it’s not a simulation.

Now what actually he said and what actually would have been done. The low Earth orbit (LEO), which he mentioned to, is anything 160km above the earth’s surface and until 2000km. Now it stands to the reason if it’s LEO, most the military satellites which are there in the LEO, would be there at the higher end of the LEO so presuming nothing below 800km. It implies what we are looking at is a minimum of 800km altitude above the sea-level by reminding the fact that space is just 100km above the sea-level.

When the PM Modi says that this mission was done by hitting a satellite at 300km, the first point of contention is how many of military satellites will India find today at the altitude of 300km above the earth’s surface? Which actually means if India is really serious to demonstrate the technological capability, it should have minimum gone to 800km which in turn implies that India perhaps doesn’t have the high energy propulsion capability. The high energy propulsion dilemma of India depicts that the so-called experiment was something that was done in hurry. That was merely another BJP electoral shenanigan and was nothing to do with anything like a real technological advancement.

Now let’s cast a cursory glance upon deterrence claim in sync with this anti-satellite missile capability. Even run-of-the-mill ex-telecom engineer, like me, who has studied the subject of satellite communication during the course of degree knows very well about the fact: That hitting a satellite is always easier than intercepting a missile. For a satellite always travels in a fixed orbit whereas a ballistic missile because of various aerodynamic changes and other factors, particularly if it’s a MIRV, may not follow a predictable trajectory. Hence in a way if India has a propulsion capability to propel ASAT at least 1000km altitude above the earth’s surface, then India could have been cogently said yes that they have a something credible to hit any incoming hostile ballistic missile or any enemy’s military satellite. At this stage, so this is a thing very premature to be bragged upon.

For sake of comparison, which China (India’s supposed adversary even there’s no comparison of India with China at all) in year 2013 demonstrated was a sub-orbital capability. What does this mean? For satellites, the space is divided into three orbits. Lowest and nearest to the earth surface is LEO on range between 200km and 2000km. At the mid exists is Middle Earth Orbit (MEO). While the highest and farthest from earth is the higher end orbit (GEO) which stands at the highest altitude of 35000km. China actually hit the satellite across the entire range that is from lower earth to Polar earth (MEO) and even beyond that to the Higher End Orbit. The robust propulsion capability of China made it capable to employ best anti-missile defense shield.

To sum it up, when PM Modi actually makes this sort of declaration about ASAT and says this deterrence, it’s only for consumption of domestic audience. For the discerning view is, of the people who actually understand, this is just another Indian bullshit. In a quest to quit from the so-called conventional superiority dilemma vis-à-vis Pakistan, PM Modi launched this time another farcical surgical strike not into Pakistan but in space.

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