Modi declares India a "space superpower" as satellite downed by missile

Photo: AFP

India said Wednesday it shot down a low-orbiting satellite in a missile test that proved the nation was among the world's most advanced space superpowers.

In a rare address to the nation just weeks out from a national election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India had joined the United States, Russia and China in accomplishing the feat.

A missile fired from a testing facility in Odisha, eastern India, downed the live satellite in orbit at around 300 kilometres (185 miles) in "a difficult operation" that lasted around three minutes, the prime minister said.

"This is a proud moment for India," the prime minister said, in his first televised national address since late 2016.

"India has registered its name in the list of space superpowers. Until now, only three countries had achieved this feat."

It comes a month after Indian and Pakistani fighter jets engaged in a dogfight over the disputed border in Kashmir, in a serious military escalation between the nuclear-armed rivals.

An Indian jet was shot down and a pilot captured by Pakistan, which had launched retaliatory air raids after Indian planes bombed Pakistani territory for the first time in decades.

Modi said the missile test against the satellite was peaceful, and not designed to create "an atmosphere of war".

"I want to assure the world community that the new capability is not against anyone. This is to secure and defend the fast-growing India."

But analysts said the test would not go unnoticed in China and Pakistan, India's chief rivals in the nuclear-armed region, and could be interpreted as a show of New Delhi's advancing military capabilities.

"This is less about shooting down satellites and more about proving high-altitude 'hit-to-kill' proficiency, which is the core competency required to get good at a range of things - including defence against nuclear-capable ballistic missiles," Ankit Panda, of the Federation of American Scientists, told AFP.

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