By Hanzawa Naohisa
The Ministry of Defense (MOD) has begun research on technology to block the radio waves of artificial satellites, sources have revealed. Paralyzing satellite communications can cause devastating damage to enemies, so this research is very significant as it holds the key to Japan’s ability to defend itself. Japan lags behind China and Russia, which have taken the lead in the space domain, and has many challenges ahead, including training professionals for this new domain.
It is already common knowledge among national militaries around the globe that “having the upper hand in the use of space is beneficial for ground combat.”
By harnessing satellites, a nation can observe, communicate, and position itself anywhere on Earth, and China and Russia are focusing on blocking other countries’ use of space to secure a military advantage. They are stepping up development and testing of (1) equipment that interferes with communications between satellites and ground-based facilities; (2) missiles and laser weapons that destroy satellites; and (3) attack satellites that have robotic arms capable of capturing other satellites.
To counter China and Russia, the government has set the goal of “building capabilities to interfere with counterparts’ command, control, communications, and information functions in the domains of space and the electromagnetic spectrum” and has designated it as a key objective to strengthen Self-Defense Forces (SDF) capabilities in space in the Medium-Term Defense Program (MTDP; FY2019–FY2023). This is the equivalent of China’s and Russia’s “equipment that interferes with communications between satellites and ground-based facilities,” mentioned earlier. The government is initiating research on satellite jamming.
However, the work is not proceeding at a speed that will make up for Japan’s late start. The research on satellite jamming will be completed at the end of this fiscal year, but it is thought to be impossible to have equipment based on the research outcomes by FY2023 and achieve the “building capabilities to interfere” specified in the MTDP. A high-ranking SDF official comments that the method of studying interfering with each country’s military is “like starting with research on the glove (receiver) to study the bat (jammer).”
The MTDP also designates human resources development as a pillar for the space domain, and a high-ranking MOD official points out that “this is why Japan lags behind others.”
The Japan Air Self-Defense Force has launched the Space Operations Squadron, but its mission for now is to monitor space. Meanwhile, the Maritime Self-Defense Force is spearheading research on satellite jamming. Efforts by all three branches of the SDF and the MOD’s Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency are indispensable to strengthen Japan’s operational capabilities in space.
The MOD career officials in charge of coordinating the work shoulder a major responsibility, but there are essentially no career officials familiar with the domain of space. This is because career officials are rotated through a wide range of departments over the course of about two years. Even if they are in charge of space at one point, they are repeatedly transferred to completely different departments around the time they have acquired some degree of expertise.
The space domain is highly specialized, and technological innovations are made all the time. Moreover, trends overseas change rapidly, so jack-of-all-trades career officials cannot handle it skillfully. There is an urgent need for Japan to introduce a personnel system that develops specialized career officials who are well-versed in policy, operations, and technology and can lead not only the MOD but also the entire government.