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India shoots down satellite in space; Modi hails major breakthrough

India shoots down satellite in space; Modi hails major breakthrough

NEW DELHI: India has shot down a satellite in space with an anti-satellite missile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Wednesday, hailing the test as a major breakthrough in its space program.

Modi made the announcement in a television address to the nation. He said India would only be the fourth country to have used such an anti-satellite weapon after the United States, Russia and China.

Such capabilities have raised fears of the weaponization of space and setting off a race between rival powers.

“Some time ago, our scientists, shot down a live satellite 300 kilometers away in space, in low-earth orbit,” Modi said, calling it a historic feat.

“India has made an unprecedented achievement today,” he said, speaking in Hindi. “India registered its name as a space power.”

Modi faces a general election next month. He went on Twitter earlier to announce his plan for a national broadcast, saying he had an important announcement to make.

India has had a space program for years, making earth imaging satellites and launch capabilities as a cheaper alternative to Western programs.

Brahma Chellaney, a security expert at New Delhi’s Centre of Policy Research, said the United States, Russia and China were pursuing anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons.

“Space is being turned into a battlefront, making counter-space capabilities critical. In this light, India’s successful “kill” with an ASAT weapon is significant.”

No comment was immediately available from old rival Pakistan. There was also no immediate reaction from China’s foreign or defense ministries.

China destroyed a satellite in 2007, creating the largest orbital debris cloud in history, with more than 3,000 objects, according to the Secure World Foundation.

Ajay Lele, a senior fellow at the government-funded Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi, said India was spurred into the anti-satellite program by China’s test.

Indian defense scientists have sought political approval for live tests but successive governments had baulked, fearing international condemnation, an Indian defense official said.

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