By Takushi Ohashi
The Ministry of Defense (MOD) is advancing its initiatives in outer space. The FY 2021 budget proposal to be approved by the Cabinet on Dec. 21 will emphasize appropriations to reinforce the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) in the area of space. An SDF officer has been dispatched on an informal basis to the Combined Force Space Component at a U.S. Air Force base since October 2020. On Dec. 16, the “Space Operations Squadron” of the Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF) opened its training at the SDF base in Fuchu, Tokyo, for the first time to the press. With many threats in space, including space debris, the SDF has positioned space as a “new domain” alongside its ground, maritime, and air branches.
ASDF Lieutenant Colonel Toshihide Ajiki, who heads the squadron, said to the press after the training that “even more training is necessary to understand how often such events actually occur in space.” The squadron was launched in May 2020. Its primary mission is space situational analysis (SSA), including monitoring space debris. In fiscal 2021, a “space operations group” will be newly launched with about 70 members. The squadron will report to the new group.
During the Dec. 16 training, it was revealed that U.S. and Chinese artificial satellites came in close proximity to each other on Dec. 7. A U.S. commercial satellite and a Chinese earth observation satellite came within 5.6 kilometers of one another above the African continent that day.
There are communications satellites and positioning satellites operating in space. Such satellites are the basis of all SDF strategies. It will be difficult to implement operations if artificial satellites or debris collide into such satellites. Threats in space are increasing. China and Russia are said to be developing anti-satellite missiles, which can destroy satellites, and killer satellites, which can capture and disable satellites.
Amid this situation, the MOD is rushing to develop an SSA system and plans to launch it in FY 2023. To date, there has been a lack of collaboration with the U.S. and other countries “advanced in space.” Liaison officers from several countries engage in information exchange information at the U.S. Vandenberg Air Base’s multinational Combined Space Operations Center, but the SDF had not deployed a liaison officer to the center.
The ASDF deployed an officer to Vandenberg in October 2020 on a “business trip” status, not as a liaison officer. The data that the officer can currently access for the space squadron to analyze is limited to data released by the U.S. military.
The MOD plans to promote the SDF officer at Vandenberg to liaison officer as soon as possible, so that the officer can access other nations’ raw data.