India’s ASAT Test: US Highlights Shared Interests, Mutes Concern Over Space Debris

Though acting defence secretary Patrick Shanahan brought up the potential space debris created by tests like the one India conducted, the official response of the US to the Indian test was more affirmatory.

New Delhi: Following the anti-satellite test, the United States has not criticised India for shooting down a micro-satellite, and has also muted any concerns about space debris.

On Wednesday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi interrupted his ongoing re-election campaign to announce that India had successfully tested an anti-satellite missile against a live satellite. India would only be the fourth country to have used such an anti-satellite weapon after the United States, Russia and China, Modi said.

Earlier, acting defence secretary Patrick Shanahan had said in Florida on Wednesday that it was studying the outcome of the missile test. However, he had added that his view was that space should not be the setting to make a “mess”.

“My message would be: We all live in space, let’s not make it a mess. Space should be a place where we can conduct business. Space is a place where people should have the freedom to operate,” he said.

However, the official response to the Indian test was more affirmatory.

A US embassy spokesperson in Delhi said that Washington was very much aware of Indian prime minister’s announcement, but largely highlighted that both countries have “shared interests” in space. 

“As part of our strong strategic partnership with India, we will continue to pursue shared interests in space and scientific and technical cooperation, including collaboration on safety and security in space,” said the embassy spokesperson.

Also read: India Conducts ASAT Test, Shoots Down Low Earth Orbit Satellite

She noted that there issue of space debris “was an important concern” for US government, but also took cognisance of “Indian government statements that the test was designed to address space debris issues”.

The New Delhi government and Washington, which have generally close relations, have been in talks regarding the event, and India publicly issued an aircraft safety advisory before the launch, Eastburn added.

The US military’s Strategic Command was tracking more than 250 pieces of debris from India’s missile test and would issue “close-approach notifications as required until the debris enters the Earth’s atmosphere,” Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Dave Eastburn said.

Lieutenant General David Thompson, vice commander of US Air Force Space Command, added the International Space Station was not at risk at this point.

NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said in testimony before the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday that the consequences of anti-satellite weapons tests could be long-lasting. “If we wreck space, we’re not getting it back,” he said, without mentioning India by name.

Also read: Mission Shakti: India Likely Destroyed Microsat R Satellite in First ASAT Test

The Indian ministry of external played down any risk of debris from its missile test on Wednesday. “The test was done in the lower atmosphere to ensure that there is no space debris. Whatever debris that is generated will decay and fall back onto the earth within weeks,” said an information note issued by ministry of Wednesday.

As per experts, India’s test was conducted at about 300 kilometres through a kinetic kill vehicle.

China’s test in 2007 led to more international outrage as it was conduct at over 800 kilometre and produced over 14,000 pieces of debris.

(With inputs from Reuters)