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Editorial: Japan must beef up space surveillance capabilities to boost deterrence

  • May 25, 2020
  • , The Japan News , 6:16 p.m.
  • English Press

The government must prepare for changes in the space security environment.


The Defense Ministry has established the Space Operations Squadron within the Air Self-Defense Force with about 20 personnel. It is the first unit specializing in the field of space and is tasked with monitoring the movements of space debris and the satellites of other countries. The number of personnel will be increased to around 100 by fiscal 2023.


Military competition among major powers is intensifying in space.


China and Russia are pushing forward with the development of killer satellites that can attack the satellites of other countries. They have also conducted tests involving the destruction of their own satellites using missiles launched from the ground. The move is apparently aimed at countering the U.S. missile defense system and others that use satellites.


The SDF relies on information from U.S. early-warning satellites to guard against North Korean missiles. The SDF also independently uses communications satellites to coordinate liaisons and operations between various units.


If an attack renders such satellites unusable, the operation of missile warning systems and state-of-the-art fighter jets could be severely hampered.


Strengthening deterrence in outer space is an urgent task.


The Defense Ministry will deploy a radar system in Yamaguchi Prefecture and start its operation in fiscal 2023. It aims to launch a satellite by fiscal 2026. The system is designed to monitor from both the sky and the ground such activities as the approach of killer satellites.


It will be necessary to expand the squadron as its function takes shape. Efforts should be focused on the training of professional staff.


Cooperation with the United States will be important in dealing with space threats. Last year, the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump created the Space Force with about 16,000 people. It plans to deploy a satellite network to intercept the state-of-the-art weapons of China and Russia.


A system must be established for the sharing of information between Japan and the United States. It would be worth discussing an operation in which a Japanese satellite could take over the function of a U.S. satellite that has failed. It is desirable that the two countries deepen their cooperation in the alliance while maintaining interactions among personnel.


Japan has for many years advocated a peaceful use of space, restricting its use in the defense realm. With the enactment of the Basic Space Law in 2008, it has paved the way for the use of space for national security. It is important to improve response capabilities from a medium-term perspective.


Space debris, such as spent rockets and fragments, is increasing. It is feared that operational satellites could collide with debris and lose their functions. It is essential to keep track of the movements of artificial satellites and space debris.


The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has started developing a system to analyze the proximity of various commercial satellites and space debris using radar and optical telescopes. It is hoped that JAXA will share its knowledge with the SDF.


— This article appeared in the print version of The Yomiuri Shimbun on May 25, 2020.

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