The Defense Ministry's first communications satellite was launched Tuesday afternoon in a program aimed at upgrading the Self-Defense Forces' ability to better cope with security challenges.

An H-IIA rocket carrying the Kirameki-2 defense communication satellite was launched by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture.

The Kirameki-2 satellite is one of three defense communications satellites that will replace three civilian satellites currently used by the Self-Defense Forces.

According to Defense Ministry officials, the new satellites will enhance direct communication among units of the Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defense Forces through a high-speed and high-capacity network amid increased North Korean missile activity and potential threats to the nation's remote islands.

The ministry plans to position the Kirameki-2 over the Indian Ocean and expects the satellite to also be utilized by SDF personnel taking part in U.N. peacekeeping operations in South Sudan and those participating in an anti-piracy mission in waters off Somalia, it said.

The launch of the Kirameki-2 precedes that of the Kirameki-1, which is undergoing repair after it was damaged during transportation to a launch site in French Guiana in South America.

The launch of the Kirameki-1, originally set for July last year, is now scheduled for March 2018 at the earliest, while that of the Kirameki-3 is planned for the end of fiscal 2020, the officials said. The Kirameki-1 is expected to operate over the Pacific Ocean and the Kirameki-3 over Japan.

The total cost for Kirameki-1 and 2 is about ¥130 billion ($1.1 billion), they said.

The ministry expects to operate the new communications satellites, which use X-band radar technology, for about 15 years. The X-band frequency range is widely used for military communications.