India Just Shot Down a Satellite for the First Time, Joining 'Super League' of Space Powers

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Wednesday that the country had successfully shot down a low-orbit satellite, joining what he called the "super league" of space powers.

Speaking in an unprecedented national address, broadcast simultaneously across all of India's TV stations and supplemented on social media, Modi confirmed that India had become the fourth country in the world, after the United States, Russia and China, to successfully deploy the weapons technology.

"In the journey of every nation there are moments that bring utmost pride and have a historic impact on generations to come. One such moment is today," the premier said.

"This is a big moment for India, something all of us should be proud of. We are not just capable to defend on land, water and air but now also in space. I congratulate all scientists who have made this possible and made India a much stronger nation," he said, according to NDTV.

India Satellite
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's addresses the nation on a local news channel in New Delhi on March 27, the day India destroyed a low-orbiting satellite in a missile test, which put the country in the space "super league," said the prime minister. Prakash SINGH / AFP

India's ASAT missiles, which Modi said had been developed entirely inside India, destroyed their target, an unspecified satellite, within three minutes of launch. Reuters reported that the United States first deployed ASAT technology in 1959 when satellites themselves were relatively new.

In 1985, U.S. military carried out its last anti-satellite missile test using the AGM-135, fired from an F-15 fighter to destroy an American satellite. Following the Cold War race for weapons technology, no further tests were carried out until 2007, when China proved the efficacy of its own ASAT weapons systems.

Security analysts have placed the missile test in the context of recent unease between India and its neighbor Pakistan. Air strikes ordered by Modi last month targeting a militant camp in Pakistan led to retaliatory raids by Islamabad, escalating tensions between the two regional nuclear rivals. China, meanwhile, has looked to capitalize on the growing hostilities.

"I don't think Pakistan has acquired that level of accomplishment yet by itself, but Pakistan is no longer seen alone," Uday Bhaskar, director of Society for Policy Studies a Delhi-based think-tank, told Reuters. "Pakistan and China have a very deep strategic kind of partnership. So some kind of sharing of capabilities can't be ignored," he added.

Modi was careful to point out in his address that the missile test had not targeted a satellite owed by another nation.

Domestic rivals to India's Hindu nationalist prime minister criticized the timing of the missile test, which came less than a month before the country's weeks-long general election. Akhilesh Yadav, a politician with the democratic socialist Samajwadi Party, said Modi had used the missile launch to distract from economic and unemployment issues that were the focus of protests in the Indian capital of New Delhi last month.