In a shift away from a nearly 40-year-old commitment to an exclusively nonmilitary space program, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party announced plans Tuesday to draft a bill that would authorize Japan’s military to use space for self-defense.

The bill, which would reverse the current policy limiting space projects to civilian purposes, will allow the Defense Agency to build and operate high-resolution reconnaissance satellites. The move was endorsed in a subcommittee meeting of the party’s Special Commission on Space Development, members said.

The bill will also encourage private companies to take part in space projects linked to national security, including development of reconnaissance satellites capable of detecting the launch of ballistic missiles, they said.

The party plans to draft the bill by August and submit it to the Diet at a subsequent ordinary session, which is expected to begin in early 2007, they said.

Japan has satellites operated by the Cabinet’s satellite intelligence center that gather intelligence on North Korean missile deployments, but officially, their main purpose is collection of data on natural disasters.

The current policy of limiting Japan’s space program to peaceful purposes dates back to a 1969 Diet resolution. The government has strictly interpreted the resolution to mean exclusively nonmilitary use of space, since the then chief of the now-defunct Science and Technology Agency presented the agency’s position on the matter to the Diet.

But the LDP is now eyeing a fundamental shift in the country’s space policy, saying the current restrictions have impeded Japan’s use of space for security purposes and industrial applications of space technology, the members said.

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