Japan Considers Early Warning Satellite; Tokyo Annoyed N. Korean Vehicle Called a ‘Rocket’
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada told members of the country’s legislature on April 9 that Japan should within five years develop an infrared early warning satellite to monitor North Korean missile launches.
Such a proposal would not have been possible before May 2008, when the Diet passed the Basic Law on Space, overturning the legislature’s 1969 resolution preventing the military use of space.
That meant that the Information Gathering Satellite program, begun after North Korea first sent a missile over Japan in 1998, could develop only optical and radar satellites. The program was run by the Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center, an arm of the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office.
The 2008 law, which created the Strategic Headquarters for Space Development, chaired by the prime minister, allows the development of more useful infrared satellites.
Japan relied on U.S. satellites to watch the April 5 launch of a North Korean rocket, adding to frustration over the country’s dependence on U.S. intelligence.
“Since North Korean missiles can reach Japan in less than 10 minutes, MoD [Ministry of Defense] people would like to have their own early warning satellite so that they can shorten the time of transmission of information,” said Masashi Nishihara, president of the Tokyo-based Research Institute for Peace and Security.
Nishihara also said that information on what is going on in North Korea should not be “controlled” by the United States.
“North Korea is our neighbor, and we should be able to tell by ourselves what is happening inside North Korea,” he said. “A little bit nationalistic, but quite reasonable, I think. Japan now has the Space Basic Law, which allows for an early warning satellite.”
There also is debate about whether North Korea launched a “missile,” which would violate a United Nations resolution, or merely a “rocket.”
Passed in 2006, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1718 bars North Korea from conducting further nuclear tests or launching a “ballistic missile.”
Yoichiro Sato of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies said some in Tokyo were annoyed after some Washington officials called it a rocket, leading to concerns that a “rocket” will not be interpreted as a violation of the resolution. A rocket is defined as unguided, while a missile is defined as guided.
Some U.S. analysts have further complicated the semantic debate by saying North Korea fired a “space launch vehicle” that carried a “communications satellite.” Sato said that the United States was “fiddling” on Japan’s interpretation of the launch as a ballistic missile.
“In a more hostile environment, Japan prefers to have an independent intelligence capability, given the perception that the objectivity of U.S.-supplied intelligence is in question,” he said.