India declared itself a space power Wednesday after announcing that it has joined the list of just three other countries with the ability to take down a satellite in space. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a televised address described by the AP as "unexpected" that Indian scientists shot down one of its satellites in low-Earth orbit, just shy of 200 miles away. The US, Russia, and China are the only other nations that have employed such weapons. What you need to know:
- The history: Reuters reports the first anti-satellite test was conducted by the US in 1959 and demonstrated America's capabilities: Its missile could have destroyed a satellite but did not. The Soviet Union followed suit, and in 1985 the US destroyed one of its own satellites using a weapon launched from an F-15 fighter jet. Then for two decades, nothing. In 2007, China entered the ring.
- The mess: When China destroyed one of its satellites that year, the result was reportedly the formation of the biggest-ever cloud of space debris, one comprised of 3,000 pieces. India's foreign ministry said its test was held in low-Earth orbit to avoid the creation of such a cloud; the satellite remnants should fall to Earth in the near-term.
- What the test indicates: ...that India now has the capability to protect its space assets and to down an enemy satellite, though Modi says India doesn't intend to do the latter: He reiterated that India's policy is to not use weapons in space, reports the AP.
- The timing is significant: India will begin voting April 11 in what the New York Times notes is being described as mankind's biggest election, with almost 900 million registered voters. Modi and his party are trying to stay in power, and the announcement is seen as a bid to garner support by playing up the country's military might—especially in light of a March 2018 parliamentary report that flagged the county's overly "vintage" military equipment, per the Washington Post. The Times quotes a tweet from a well-regarded Indian political commentator who called it evident of "a poll-eve desperation we hadn't yet detected/suspected."
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