Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday that the Air Self-Defense Force may “evolve into the Air and Space SDF” in the future, stressing the need to strengthen the country’s defense capabilities in outer space.
Referring to the planned launch of a space operation unit inside the ASDF in fiscal 2020, which starts next April, Abe said at an annual gathering of some 180 high-ranking SDF officers at the Defense Ministry that it is “not a pipe dream” for Japan to have such combined forces.
The envisaged unit is set to be created amid an intensifying race among major powers such as the United States, Russia and China to develop technologies in that domain.
The new troops will be tasked with monitoring radio interference, space debris and other countries’ satellites, which can pose threats to Japanese surveillance satellites. The unit is initially expected to be staffed with about 70 personnel.
The ministry asked for ¥52.4 billion in August for its fiscal 2020 budget to boost its outer space capability, including through the establishment of the space operation unit.
At the meeting on Tuesday, Abe pointed to a rapidly changing security environment, including a recent string of North Korean missile launches, and also called for cyberdefense capabilities to be reinforced.
The prime minister refrained, however, from referring to his long-cherished goal of amending the nation’s postwar Constitution in order to clarify the legal status of the SDF under its war-renouncing Article 9.
Abe has called for an explicit reference to the SDF to be added to the Constitution to eliminate the possibility of Japan’s troops being seen as “unconstitutional.” The article currently bans the possession of military forces and “war potential.”
New Defense Minister Taro Kono, who assumed the post in a Cabinet reshuffle last Wednesday, also attended the gathering.
In September last year, Abe indirectly showed his eagerness to revise the supreme law in a speech to the SDF’s top brass, vowing to create “an environment where all SDF personnel can fulfill their duties with great pride.”
His inclination toward constitutional revision suggested in the speech was later criticized by opposition politicians, who said it was “in breach of (the prime minister’s) legal obligation to respect and uphold the Constitution.”