New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India had shot down a live satellite in space on Wednesday with an anti-satellite (A-SAT) missile, hailing the country's first test of such technology as a major breakthrough that establishes it as a space power.
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.
"India has made an unprecedented achievement today," Modi said, speaking in Hindi. "India registered its name as a space power."
The prime minister said India's action was not directed against any country.
Shooting down a low earth orbit satellite is a rare achievement for the country, he said.
The satellite was orbiting at an altitude of 300 km, he said, describing India as a space power.
Mission Shakti, which was led by the Defence Research and Development Organisation, was aimed at strengthening India's overall security, he said
Anti-satellite weapons allow for attacks on enemy satellites, blinding them or disrupting communications, as well as providing a technology base to intercept ballistic missiles.
The prime minister had advertised his address to the nation on Twitter, calling it an important message.
"Do watch the address on television, radio or social media," he said, setting off speculation across the country on what the topic was likely to be.
Earlier in the day, the Cabinet Committee on Security had met at the prime minister's residence.
After the news, China's foreign ministry said it hoped all countries "can earnestly protect lasting peace and tranquillity in space". The United States and Russia both declined to make any immediate comment.
A step forward
India has had a space programme for years, making earth imaging satellites and launch capabilities as a cheaper alternative to Western programmes.
India successfully sent a low-cost probe to Mars in 2014 and plans its first manned space mission by 2022.
The latest test, conducted from an island off its east coast, was aimed at protecting India's assets in space against foreign attacks, the government said.
"The capability achieved...provides credible deterrence against threats to our growing space-based assets from long-range missiles, and proliferation in the types and numbers of missiles," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
The three-minute test in the lower atmosphere ensured there was no debris in space and the remnants would "decay and fall back on to the earth within weeks", the ministry added.
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."
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.
China's test spurred India to develop its anti-satellite capability, said Ajay Lele, a senior fellow of the government-funded Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi.