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Japan Is Preparing To Launch Its Own Space Force

April 25, 2020

Via Wikimedia Commons.

The annual Defense Programs and Budget of Japan report provides a helpful overview of the country’s national security goals and the resources needed for achieving these. But the 2020 edition shared by the defense ministry goes above and beyond expectations with its detailed outline for a “space operations squadron.” Found on page 4 and 5 of the report are “Priorities for…cross-domain operations” that emphasize the need to protect Japan’s orbiting satellites from hostile acts. Six “capabilities” or objectives are enumerated along with their anticipated costs. The defense ministry pegs total spending for these objectives at, when converted to the present exchange rate, $470 million.

The entirety of Defense Programs and Budget of Japan – Overview of FY2020 Budget Request spans 66 pages and readers will appreciate how it breaks down the Japanese military’s short-term requirements in easy-to-read sections. As an exercise in transparency Defense Programs and Budget of Japan is unique for its contents and accompanying media. Few countries deliver sensitive public documents with the same level of openness. For example, when cross-domain operations are discussed on page 4 an illustration clarifies the four main threats Japan’s satellites face. These are anti-satellite missiles; communication jamming; ground-based laser disruption; and other satellites colliding with them on purpose.

The six capabilities the defense ministry wants for its outer space operations include:

  1. Establish a “space operations squadron” along with two “planning sections” who will embark on a “space operations course” with US Air Force personnel in Colorado.
  2. Determine ways to conduct electronic warfare from orbit and acquire a “space situational awareness” or SSA satellite to observe potential threats; the threats being ground-based missiles and lasers as well as other satellites.
  3. Further research on “information gathering” with a focus on “infrared sensing…and broadband.”
  4. Enhancing satellite communications by adopting to X-band comms satellite and accessing commercial satellites.
  5. Using data from commercial satellites for tasks such as maritime surveillance.
  6. Acquire knowledge related to space policy by training with the USAF.

It may seem premature to describe the Japanese defense ministry’s newfound fixation on outer space a “space force”–itself a term that inspires ridicule and varying degrees of bewilderment–but the mission it will perform is deadly serious. Japan’s security is now under threat from China, North Korea, and Russia, making it a frontline state in the new cold war pitting the US against Eurasian powers. Of the three, China and Russia have proven anti-satellite capabilities and are building their militaries to achieve overmatch versus the US. Japan can’t ignore this rivalry because its territorial waters are a potential battleground in an armed clash between the PLAN and US Navy. North Korea, on the other hand, has a devastating nuclear missile arsenal that can be used on Japan’s population in a future conflict scenario.

When the creation of the US Space Force was announced in late 2019 its goal was misunderstood by many as a branch assigned to serve outside the Earth’s orbit. But its true mission is protecting the US’ satellite network and communications infrastructure orbiting the planet since these assets also serve the world economy. Of course, the US’ orbital infrastructure have military purposes too and it’s imperative these are made safe from attempts to either disable or outright neutralize them. Japan’s government certainly grasps their role within a new alliance system whose purpose is deterring an aggressive China. Building its own satellite capabilities along with the resources for countering hostile acts against these assets is another means of protecting itself and its powerful economy in a tense neighborhood.

Defense Programs and Budget of Japan – Overview of FY2020 Budget Request is available as a free download from Japan’s defense ministry.

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