TEMPO.CO, New Delhi - India shot down one of its satellites in space with an anti-satellite missile on Wednesday, March 27, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, hailing the country's first test of such technology as a major breakthrough that establishes it as a space power.
India would only be the fourth country to have used such an anti-satellite weapon after the United States, Russia and China, said Modi, who heads into general elections next month.
"Our scientists shot down a live satellite 300 kilometers away in space, in low-earth orbit," Modi said in a television broadcast.
"India has made an unprecedented achievement today," he added, speaking in Hindi. "India registered its name as a space power."
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.
Such capabilities have raised fears of the weaponization of space and setting off a race between rivals.
After the news, China's foreign ministry said it hoped all countries "can earnestly protect lasting peace and tranquility in space". The United States and Russia both declined to make any immediate comment.
In a statement, India's neighbor and arch-rival Pakistan said space is the "common heritage of mankind and every nation has the responsibility to avoid actions which can lead to the militarization of this arena."
Tension flared last month between the nuclear-armed foes after a militant attack in the disputed region of Kashmir.
India has had a space programme for years, making earth imaging satellites and launch capabilities as a cheaper alternative to Western programmes.
It 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.
Indian defense scientists had sought political approval for live tests but successive governments had balked, fearing international condemnation, an Indian defense official said.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. mission in Geneva, which handles disarmament issues, had no immediate comment.