India conducts successful anti-satellite missile operation, Prime Minister says

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(CNN)Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India has successfully conducted an anti-satellite missile test that put the country in a league of global “space powers.”

In a national address Wednesday, Modi said India had achieved a “historic feat” by shooting down its own low-orbit satellite with a missile in just three minutes.

Only three other countries — the US, Russia and China — have the capabilities to use an anti-satellite missile.

Lt. Gen. David D. Thompson, vice commander of US Air Force Space Command, confirmed the test took place and said the US was aware of the possibility that India would conduct it because of several announced flight bans and other information.

US forces were still tracking 270 different objects in the debris field from the test, but he said the number is set to grow as they collect more data. Thompson said the International Space Station was not at risk.

India’s space program has grown substantially over the past decade. In 2014, the nation put a satellite into orbit around Mars and the Indian Space Research Organization has announced that it will send a manned mission into space in the next three years.

Modi said the operation, called Mission Shakti — which stands for “power” in Hindi — would defend the country’s interests in space. The Foreign Ministry said that India had “no intention of entering into an arms race in outer space.”

Though Modi said Wednesday’s test was for India’s defense and security, it is likely to be seen as provocative by Pakistan and China.

A spokesperson for Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said “boasting of such capabilities is reminiscent of Don Quixote’s tilting against windmills,” meaning to fight imaginary enemies.

“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,” the statement said.

Opposition leaders dismissed the announcement as a publicity stunt.

Akhilesh Yadav, former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and one of Modi’s severest critics, said Modi’s announcement “got himself an hour of free TV” to “divert nation’s attention away from issues on ground.”

India’s feat comes after repeated warnings against China’s growing space military capabilities.

A report released last year by the Pentagon detailed that Russia and China are developing capabilities including “laser weapons to disrupt, degrade, or damage satellites and their sensors.”

The growth of China’s space capabilities and the need to help safeguard US satellites have been cited by the Trump administration as a reason why the US needs a space force.

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