The government intends to create a space monitoring division within the Self-Defense Forces by around 2019 and the Defense Ministry has already informed the United States, a source close to the bilateral relationship said Saturday.
Initially, the force will be tasked with monitoring dangerous debris floating in Earth’s orbit and with protecting satellites from collisions with such space junk, the source said.
The ministry has altered its strategy on the use of space to include the development of an observatory force along these lines, following the 2008 enactment of a law revising the principles for Japan’s nonmilitary activities in space.
Japan will provide the U.S. military with information obtained in the envisaged operation while seeking to strengthen bilateral cooperation in space, the source said.
According to the source, the ministry plans to operate the force via radar and telescope facilities in Okayama Prefecture acquired from Japan Space Forum, a Tokyo-based think tank that coordinates aerospace-related activities among industry, government and academic entities.
Japan Space Forum owns the Spaceguard Center radar facility in Kagamino as well as a telescope facility in Ihara, both in Okayama.
The ministry will jointly acquire the radar and telescope facilities with the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
The ministry is currently considering putting the new force together with assigned units from the Air Self-Defense Force to work on the space debris issue.
Japan and the United States have been paying close attention to this matter since 2007, when a missile launched from China destroyed one of its own satellites as a test. Around 3,000 fragments of space debris are at risk of colliding with reconnaissance or communications satellites, which, according to the source, Tokyo and Washington believe could pose a threat to global security.
At space development cooperation talks held in Washington in May, the Japanese and U.S. governments pledged to enhance cooperation on using satellites for debris monitoring and marine surveillance, and to swiftly strike a deal on the foundations of their reciprocal space operations.
It also was also agreed that JAXA should provide information to the U.S. Strategic Command.
Originally, the U.S. military had requested the use of the ASDF’s FPS5 ground-based radar missile detection and evasion radar system, currently operated in several places including Shimokoshiki Island in Kagoshima Prefecture and Yozadake in Okinawa.
But the Defense Ministry had concerns that the ASDF system may not be able to offer full protection against ballistic missiles if tied up with space monitoring duties, leading it to search for alternative options.