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Defense Ministry eyes space as new missile detection frontier

Kyodo

The Defense Ministry plans to use space more effectively to detect early signs of ballistic missile launches by North Korea and bolster Japan’s defensive capabilities, a draft of its new space policy showed Friday.

In the basic policy to be formally adopted by the end of August, the ministry hopes to promote empirical research with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). It will also consider setting up a special force for space surveillance within the Self-Defense Forces, and developing smaller satellites that can be launched more easily, according to the draft.

Japan has four spy satellites. The Defense Ministry plans to load its infrared sensors onto a new JAXA satellite to conduct research and improve its image-analysis capabilities, the draft says.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is trying to change Japan’s formerly defense-only posture so Japan can be a “more proactive contributor to peace” and because North Korea has repeatedly defied international pressure by launching missiles and other projectiles. It is also gearing up for China’s possible militarization of space.

With the Constitution due to be reinterpreted, rather than formally amended, by the Cabinet to end its pacifist status, Japan and the United States are set to revise their defense cooperation guidelines by the end of the year, with bilateral cooperation in space expected to be one of the key items.

So far, Japan has enabled JAXA to do research on behalf of the nation’s defense since the law on the agency was revised, aiming for greater use of space under the nation’s defense guidelines. Joint Defense Ministry-JAXA research began in April 2013.

The draft states it is “extremely important to use space to prepare for various contingencies, including ballistic missiles.” It goes on to say there exist “grave threats to stable use of space,” citing factors such as an increase in space debris, and moves to develop weapons to shoot down satellites.

The ministry crafted the first basic policy in 2009 after Japan enacted the Basic Space Law in 2008.