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US space command general defends India’s ASAT, senator adds to justification

US defense department on Thursday told lawmakers that India conducted an anti-satellite test because “they are concerned about threats to their nation from space”, adding to growing support and acceptance of a development that raised concerns in some quarters about the spatial debris it left behind.

“The first lesson form the Indian ASAT is a simple question — why they do they do that,” General John Hyten, head of the US strategic command, said in response to a question at a congressional hearing about Space Force, a newly created wing of US military favored by President Donald Trump.

It’s a simple answer, the general added, “they did that because they are concerned about threats to their nation from space and … they feel they should have a capability to defend them from space.”

Before the general could proceed to his second point, Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat who had initiated the exchange with a question, offered, a justification that India itself hadn’t used or cited yet publicly. “I think they have a second concern as well.” There are no rules about such tests as of now. and there will one day be rules and as often it happens, the senator continued, and when these rules are generally written they “benefit” those that already have the technology.

And then “we establish non-proliferation rules for everyone that doesn’t,” he said drawing a parallel, without naming it, to the Non-Proliferation Treaty that India has refused to sign because it allowed countries with nuclear weapons at the time discussions began about the pact — 1967 is the cut-off year — to continue to hold on to them as officially declared nuclear-weapon states, and prohibited the rest from acquiring them. India first tested a nuclear weapon seven years after, in 1974.

They are concerned abut the weaponization of the space and they want to get in their first, the senator said, “so when rules are created, they (India) are grand-fathered in (exempted from a new law or regulation) .” Senator Kaine is a strong supporter of US-India relations, and had begun his questioning by calling India an “ally”, though it is not one by a treaty or a pact.

General Hyten’s second point was about setting up “some king of international norms of behavior in space” and those norms should begin by addressing the question of debris — “I don’t want more debris”.. He went on to suggest that though the United Nations has been the forum where these issues have been debated so far, the United States should take the lead, along with its allies.

Issues about debris were pointed out by many US government agencies in response to the March 27 testing. NASA tracked 400 pieces of them and said 60 of them were larger than 10 cm in diameter and 24 of them had risen above the apogee of the International space station, increasing the risk of it being hit by debris by 44%.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine called the testing “a terrible, terrible thing” and suspended ongoing cooperation with ISRO. But he was out of step with the rest of the Trump administration. the very next day, he informed the Indian space agency the cooperation will continue uninterrupted, per “guidance” from the White House.

The state department had set the tone saying i the first US response that it “took note” of India’s statement regarding debris and that stated, “As part of our strong strategic partnership with India, we will continue to pursue shared interests in space and scientific and technical cooperation, including collaboration on safety and security in space.”