Feb. 21, the US military destroyed a defunct and out-of –control spy satellite US 193 with a specially designed SM3 ballistic missile with pin-point accuracy. It was an unprecedented mission for the navy, so extraordinary that the final go ahead to launch the missile was reserved for Defense Secretary Robert Gates rather than a military commander.
The event was described by the US as an effort to get rid of the huge reserve of toxic fuel of the satellite getting down on earth and causing unexpected health hazards to the humans. But the critics were not convinced. They saw it as a testing of the efficacy of the US missile defense system, an attempt to develop a new type of intercontinental missile and an attempt to destroy the sensitive data falling in to the enemy hands. Whatever the reasons are, the missile strike conveyed numerous signals for the world and it may well be the beginning of a domino effect culminating in arms race, tension and space militarization. Let us count upon and decipher the significances:-
- The satellite destruction put to rest all the assumptions that the STAR WAR was only a Ronald Reagan era phenomenon and it was over. The US, some days ago, rejected the Sino-Russian move for a treaty banning militarization of space. The US clearly wants to remain ahead, even in space.
- The event is bound to invite a comparison with the Chinese A-SAT (Anti-Satellite) test carried out in January last year However, the US strike was far more sophisticated as it targeted an out-of-control satellite hurtling towards earth with an increasing speed whereas the Chinese target was a defunct in orbit satellite with a constant speed.
- The target was not only the satellite but also perhaps Russia and China. This served as a strong reply to the Chinese A-sat test carried out in January last year. It was also a message to Russia which is declaring to have built special strategic weapons which can bamboozle and jeopardize the US missile defense system.
- The strike was also aimed at the domestic people. The Chinese A-Sat test unnerved the Americans. They must be feeling relieved that their country is engaged and well ahead in military space research and development.
- Despite the Russian huffs and puffs about developing new strategic weapons, the Americans are striding ahead with a confident pace. The missile strike implies they have accepted the Russian challenge.
- The modification of the kill missile and its success proved that the US missile defense system is a much more improved and sophisticated system which can target not only missiles but also speeding satellites.
- As the US spokesperson said, the strike proved the efficacy of the land, sea, air and space based sensors.
- The strike highlighted the level of co-operation that exists between NASA and the Strategic Command.
- The strike was a result of a well coordinated effort of the forces.
- The satellite destruction showed the technological preparation of the US against any exigencies, even from the space.
- The strike was carried out with a specially designed ballistic missile (SM 3). The software and other components were also modified. This hints at the existence of several new missiles designed for military space purposes.
- The successful strike of the satellite has proved the power of the US missile defense system. Critics argue that the concept of missile defense is flawed and it is akin to hitting a bullet with a bullet and hence it is almost impossible. But the fact that the missile was running in space at more than 44000 Km/hr and destroyed the target 210 Km above the earth proves the power of the system.
- The satellite strike will certainly intensify the arms race especially because China and Russia are suspicious about the US designs. Even joint collaboration between the two in this field can happen. France, too, can join the space race. India’s reactions may be interesting too.