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India announced today that it has successfully tested a satellite-killing weapon. NPR's Geoff Brumfiel has more on the test and what it could mean for the region.
GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the test in a national address.
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PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA MODI: (Foreign language spoken).
BRUMFIEL: He says that India now stands tall as a space power. Vipin Narang is a political scientist at MIT. He says the test apparently used an Indian-made missile to strike an Indian-made satellite.
VIPIN NARANG: They launched a missile from their missile test site and intercepted the satellite, which was in orbit at 300 kilometers in space.
BRUMFIEL: Three hundred kilometers, or 186 miles, is actually a relatively low orbit.
NARANG: No pun intended, it's relatively low-hanging fruit in terms of a kill. But, you know, it is - it's only the fourth country that's demonstrated ASAT capabilities.
BRUMFIEL: The other three are China, Russia and the United States. Brian Weeden is with the Secure World Foundation. He says there's an anti-satellite arms race happening right now, and there are no arms control treaties to stop it. Organizations like the U.N. regularly talk about limiting weapons in space, but...
BRIAN WEEDEN: There really hasn't been any serious discussion about dealing with ground-based anti-satellite weapons.
BRUMFIEL: Weeden says the main danger is debris that can be created by hitting a satellite. A 2007 test by China spewed thousands of fragments into orbit. Many are still up there.
WEEDEN: And so the concern would be that if there's a future conflict between U.S. and China, U.S. and Russia, India and China or even India and Pakistan, that these weapons might be used.
BRUMFIEL: And low Earth orbit might become filled with deadly shrapnel that could knock out other non-military satellites. Vipin Narang says he sees another purpose behind India's test today. To strike the satellite, the Indian military used a kind of missile designed to intercept other missiles. Hitting a satellite is similar to striking an incoming warhead, so the test may actually be about missile defense. If that's the case, then it's also designed to send a message.
NARANG: They'll say it's not directed towards any other country, but this is clearly, I think, relevant to Pakistan.
BRUMFIEL: India's nuclear-armed rival in the region. Finally, today's test might have a domestic purpose. India will begin national elections in a few weeks' time. Narang says Modi's speech about India as a space power will burnish his reputation as strong on defense. Geoff Brumfiel, NPR News.
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