Law Would Give Japanese Sats a Military Role
By WENDELL MINNICK, TAIPEI
It has been a busy time for Japan’s satellite program. In just over 30 days Japan has lost one bird and launched its fourth into space.
The “No. 1 radar satellite,” launched in March 2003, malfunctioned on March 25, one year short of its projected five-year lifespan.
Japan also launched its fourth surveillance satellite Feb. 24. Prompted by the launch of a North Korean ballistic missile over Japan in 1998, the four satellites are part of a $1.66 billion program to deploy two optical and two radar platforms. The optical satellites only have a resolution of one meter, below normal by most spy sat standards.
Traditionally, Japan has divorced military applications from peaceful space exploration and development. This is in accordance with the 1969 Diet resolution that created the National Space Development Agency, predecessor of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). It declared that Japan would seek only peaceful uses for satellites, and it placed them under control of the Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center, not the military.
“As of today, Japan has no space policy other than that for science and technology,” said Lance Gatling, a space and missile specialist and consultant with Gatling Associates, Tokyo.
New Role, Prestige for Space
But that may change if the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) passes the Space Basic Law this session. The law would revise the 1969 resolution, bring the military into the equation, create a Space Strategy Headquarters and upgrade the JAXA into an executive agency.
“This may include a new Cabinet-level minister for space activities and a review of the current ‘peace purposes only’ limitation on space utilization,” said Gatling.
The proposed law is made up of three tenets:
• Using space for self-defense purposes.
• Promoting space research and development.
• Advancing a space industry.
“The LDP proposal reportedly includes the establishment of a ‘Space Strategy Headquarters’ to promote comprehensive space policies, and one of the three main pillars for its missions includes ‘reinforcing the nation’s security through the development and utilization of space,’” said Sumihiko Kawamura, deputy director of The Okazaki Institute, Tokyo.
“However, I believe this particular clause is to articulate a widely increased scope of military use. It is certain that the headquarters will promote space-related research and development and the development of the space industry, but is not likely to be responsible for military strategic planning/operations.”
Peter Woolley, author of “Geography and Japan’s Strategic Choices,” argues that the 1969 resolution has been so twisted and reinterpreted that it hardly serves the purpose for which it was intended.
“It has been suggested that the current satellite program is in danger of contravening the 1969 resolution to use satellites only for nonmilitary purposes. But the resolution, like many others concerning defense, has enough elasticity to allow for information-gathering about possible threats, both natural and man-made. When it comes to technology, the line is very wide and very gray between military and nonmilitary uses,” said Woolley.
Gatling expects the bill to pass “and policy will quickly focus on early warning, reconnaissance and military communications satellites. One possible additional measure will be efforts to increase cooperation with the United States, both military and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.”
Response to Pyongyang
Part of the impetus for change was North Korea’s saber rattling. In 1998, Pyongyang launched a ballistic missile over the main island of Japan. The event shifted Tokyo’s attitude toward defense issues. Another factor was Washington signaling that Japan take more responsibility for its own defense.
“The 1998 decision to introduce the Information Gathering Satellite [IGS] system of imaging and synthetic aperture radar satellites was based on this understanding,” said Gatling.
Prior to 2003, Japan was almost totally reliant on foreign commercial satellites and U.S. government satellites to monitor potential threats. Tokyo is now looking at filling the gaps in its surveillance and reversing a history of being a customer to one of provider of satellite intelligence.
“Japan’s surveillance satellites are not very good in accuracy, therefore, Japan needs to carefully examine replacements. Japan needs to review them collectively. At the moment, Japan needs to use foreign commercial satellites, or we cannot obtain precise pictures,” said Naoki Akiyama, director of the Tokyo-based Congressional National Security Research Group.
China’s recent anti-satellite (ASAT) test also has shaken Tokyo.
“Japan needs to tighten its guard until Chinese strategy becomes clear. China made an official statement that they are not going to commit to ASAT anymore. However, it is very doubtful,” said Akiyama.
Beyond the North Korea and China threats, redundancy has become the keyword for a more effective Japanese surveillance satellite program.
“North Korea’s missile program makes more coverage, including cloud-penetrating radar, desirable. ASAT weaponry on the horizon makes redundancy more valuable,” Woolley said. “When it comes to satellites, the more the merrier. Redundancy and coverage are valuable. The more coverage, the better to monitor threats. The more redundancy, the more reliable the information stream.”
The next optical satellite scheduled for launch will be in 2009, with another radar satellite in 2011. Sources in Japan say there also have been calls to develop early warning satellites capable of monitoring missile launches from North Korea and China as part of Japan’s renewed interest in ballistic missile defense systems.