Japan will launch by fiscal 2002 four information-gathering satellites that can also be used for reconnaissance purposes, according to a decision reached at Friday’s Cabinet meeting, officials said.

The decision is a result of North Korea’s firing of a rocket on Aug. 31 in which stages of it passed through Japanese airspace on the way to the Pacific.

The government plans to allocate funds for the research and development of the information satellites in a third supplementary budget for fiscal 1998 and in the forthcoming fiscal 1999 budget, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka told a news conference following the meeting.

To study development and use of the satellites, the government will establish a committee consisting of officials from related government ministries and agencies within the Cabinet Secretariat, Nonaka said. “The government plans to launch those satellites to gather necessary information for our country’s diplomacy and defense security and to deal with crisis management in case of large-scale disasters,” he said.

The nation’s most influential business group already appears to have such a committee.

A report issued by the Defense Production Committee of the Federation of Economic Organizations (Keidanren) urged the government in September, a week after the rocket launch, to pursue a unified “C4I” system of command, control, communications, computers and intelligence to tighten the nation’s air defense network.

The powerful business lobby also suggested the Defense Agency establish a real-time intelligence system that uses its own reconnaissance satellites.

If built, the information satellites would not violate a 1969 Diet resolution that bars Japan from launching any object into space for purposes other than peaceful ones, the top government spokesman said.

According to a government interpretation made at a meeting of the House of Councilors’ Budget Committee in February 1985, the word “peaceful purposes” spelled out in the Diet resolution applies to circumstances in which satellites are not used for general purposes, and only in such situations does it allow their limited use by the Self-Defense Forces, Nonaka said. “As long as the use of the satellites for these purposes is allowed, the government considers it acceptable for the SDF to use them,” he said.

Defense Agency chief Fukushiro Nukaga said the agency will support the government’s plan for the information satellites to be produced domestically, which will be good news for some ailing technology firms.

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