Indian Article Analyzes Japan’s Formidable Military Space-Based Observation Capabilities


Indian Article Analyzes Japan’s Formidable Military Space-Based Observation Capabilities
New Delhi Defence and Diplomacy in English 01 Oct 14 Vol 4 No1 pp 41-50
[Article by KK Nair, wing commander and research fellow at the Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi: “India’s Military Space Command: Lessons From Japan’s Proposed Military Space Force”]
Resilience is an outstanding characteristic of the Japanese, profoundly manifest in their space programme which has experienced sporadic bouts of spectacular failures, bringing it almost to the brink of collapse only to bounce back stronger and more resilient than ever before. Decisiveness is another remarkable attribute amply manifested in their military doctrines like the Kantai Kessen (decisive battle doctrine), the decisive interoperability doctrine as also in their reported political decisiveness.1
The above attributes of the Japanese are reflected in their space programme, begun post World War II (WW) by a people reeling under the degradation and humiliation of nuclear bombardment and military defeat. For a programme begun under such trying circumstances, the Japanese space programme, starting with a 200 grams “Pencil Rocket” has come a long way in the past five decades with Japan today recognised as a formidable space power to be reckoned with not just in Asia but in the entire world. Until the previous millennium, Japan was a formidable civilian space power. The geo-politics of the new millennium is in the process of converting it into an equally formidable military space power. Ever since the Japanese pacifist agenda was revised to enable military space capabilities with the passage of the Basic Space Law in 2008 and revision of the basic law of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in 2012, Japan’s evolution into a formidable military space power continues. Thus, Japan’s present decision to launch a space force by 2019 2 is but a natural progression of its revised agenda of containing the insecurities of the new millennium with the technologies of the new millennium. The revision is remarkable.
Equally remarkable is the comprehension of the issue, the decision and the apparent integration of air and space capabilities for aerospace defence. The alacrity to perceive change and adapt is equally manifest. All of the above is in sharp contrast to India, which has been seeking similar capabilities for over three decades. Prudence, hence, demands a brief look at the Japanese model, to examine, emulate and obtain similar capabilities to fulfil the demands of national security.
Following Japan’s defeat in WW II, the General Headquarters of the allied powers had banned Japanese armaments completely. Additionally, a resolution adopted by the Diet on May 9, 1969, in the House of Representatives relating to the basic principles of development and use of space, approved a narrow definition of Japan’s space development policy which prohibited the use of advanced space technology by the Japanese Defence Agency (JDA), thereby committing Japan to “peaceful uses of outer space” in the strictest sense.
At this stage, it may be pertinent to note that the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 was already in vogue as also a wider interpretation of “peaceful uses of outer space” that considered satellites used for communication, navigation, observation, etc., as peaceful, regardless of their military or civilian purposes.3
A number of military satellites were already in orbit and yet so stringent was the Japanese interpretation of “peaceful uses of outer space” that Japan’s 1969 space resolution had to be altered by the then Prime Minister (PM) Yasuhiro Nakasone to make it possible for Japan to use some space technologies for military purposes provided that the technology was commercially available. It was only then that Japan could use its JCSAT and Super bird satellites, both run by private companies for the land and sea forces to communicate with each other.4
The above, however, was perceived to be inadequate by the Japanese in view of North Korean belligerence as well as Chinese military advances. Thus, by 1994, Japan began a serious reconsideration of its long held policy prohibiting the use of space for military purposes. Finally, on August 31, 1998, North Korea ignited the simmering tensions, fears and concerns of Japan by launching a “Taepo-Dong” missile across northern Japan. The first part of the missile fell into the Japan Sea and the second part (and, probably, a third part) flew across the Japanese territory of Honshu and fell into the Pacific Ocean. By November 6,1998, the Cabinet decided to develop and launch four Information Gathering Satellites (IGS) with reconnaissance capabilities by 2002, citing security concerns over North Korea’s rocket launches.
By early 2000, Japanese impatience with the pacifist manifesto had reached a crescendo and a House of Representative research commission was established in January 2000 to revise the “Peace Constitution” that the occupying US forces had drafted nearly half a century earlier. Revising or abolishing the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution to enable the armed forces to execute the right to collective self-defence was the core issue of the commission’s 700-page report that was submitted to the Parliament in 2002.5
The above had significant implications on the overall Japanese policy and by September 2003, press reports indicated that Japanese officials wanted to have both of their big military space projects-a satellite imaging system and a multi-tiered missile defence system-fully operational in the next two to three years in addition to a Global Positioning System (GPS), an augmentation system that could be used for military communications and, if required, missile targeting, by the end of the decade.6
The above was a tall order and was fulfilled by organisational review and restructuring to ensure concerted efforts and timely dividends. The constitutional and legislative revisions ensured that the military space capabilities sought were provided well before the end of the next decade. The usual attributes of resilience and decisiveness were amply manifest. Vociferousness, unlike in the Indian case, was typically absent. Instead, what was manifest were capabilities spanning almost the entire spectrum of military space force enhancement missions like satellite navigation, satellite communication, satellite observation, etc. The achievement was remarkable and attributable in large measure to Japan’s ability to adapt to the changing times, the changing geo-politics and the security needs. Driving the adaptation was a review of Japan’s strategies, doctrines as also reorganisation of its national space organisation. The reorganisation was particularly relevant and is consequently examined in some detail below.
The fountainhead of the reorganisation was an enactment of the “Basic Law on Space” in May 2008 to regulate all space activities, public and private. This regulated all space activities, public and private, into a common strategic direction in line with Japan’s unique needs. In order to consolidate all space activities, once the basic space law was enacted, the strategic headquarters for space policy were established at the Cabinet level with the prime minister as chairman. Thereafter, to implement a comprehensive space strategy, the strategic headquarters released the “Basic Plan for Space Po1icy”7 that represented a shift of research from civil to military applications and also served as Japan’s basic space policy document for implementation of the basic law on space.8
In line with the above, various institutional structures were created to ensure that security needs were fulfilled, and satellites for security needs were accorded special attention and priority. With the basic law, strategy and policy in place, committees and working groups dedicated to specific systems like the Quasi Zenith Satellite System (QZSS) for fulfilling the position, navigation and timing needs as also the Information Gathering Satellite (IGS) system for observation from space were formed that put in concerted efforts to ensure that the systems were in place within the proposed timelines.
The results are astounding and most demonstratively apparent amongst the areas of application of satellites like observation, navigation, etc that enable militaries to perform their tasks more efficiently, safely and rapidly. Unlike the Indian case wherein the military sought space-based observation capabilities since the 1971 Indo-Pak War9 and received some fringe capabilities three decades later, the Japanese got what they sought within the next three years.
They apparently have not rested at that and keep adding capabilities, as evidenced from the statistics below. By any yardstick, their space-based observation capabilities for security purposes far exceed those of India. India, for that matter has no dedicated military observation satellites; all it has is a couple of dual-use satellites. By contrast, the Japanese achievement is remarkable.
The above satellites are for space-based surveillance and, to a very limited extent, early warning against missile launches. The configurations typically are a combination of two electro-optical satellites with one metre resolution or sub-metric resolution and two Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellites with resolution of one to three metres. Thus, what is missed visually is picked up by the radar. On the anvil also is Japan’s ongoing super low altitude test satellite programme to develop the 400-kg-class reconnaissance satellites that would use ion engines to dip into orbits as low as 230 km to take high-resolution images using radar or optical sensors. The security implications of such capabilities are apparent and, hence, any attempt to belabour the obvious is dispensed with.
In addition to that, Japan has formidable capabilities in space-based Position, Navigation and Timing (PNT) capabilities. Notwithstanding the availability of the US NAVSTAR navigation system, Japan has gone in for its own unique navigation system called the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS). The QZSS system augments the US NAVSTAR GPS system rather than replicate it. Three satellites, each 120˚ apart are placed in highly inclined, slightly elliptical, geosynchronous orbits. Because of this inclination, they are not geostationary; they do not remain in the same place in the sky. Instead, their ground traces are asymmetrical figure-8 patterns, designed to ensure that one satellite is almost directly overhead Japan at all times. The system enables Japan an enhanced coverage and accuracy over its area of interest as also a certain level of independence from the US system. The first QZSS satellite was launched in 2010 and the system is presently operational with plans afoot for an extension to a seven satellite constellation for increased coverage and accuracy.11
The contrast with India is starkly evident; the Indian Regional Navigational Satellite System (IRNSS) begun at the same time as the Japanese one and slated to be fully operational by mid-2014,12 is yet to be operationalised, with the launch of the third satellite that was due on October 10 being postponed. In addition to the above, with regards to dedicated military satellites for communications, Japan’s Ministry of Defence (MOD) is reportedly seeking the help of its country’s private sector to finance and build two geostationary communications satellites, provisionally due for launch in 2015 and 2016.13
All in all, with regards to the military mission of space-based force enhancement that aims at using satellites to enhance the capabilities of the military forces, a fair amount of progress has been achieved. The moot question would continue to be whether the North Korean missile is but a pretext, a perceived threat or a real threat, causing Japan to bolster its capabilities so significantly and rapidly. One may also surmise that it is the Chinese build-up that spurs the Japanese or perhaps it is the simple need to possess a modem military aerospace force capable of meeting the security challenges of the new millennium that causes the surge in Japanese military space capabilities. Either way, the extant and foreseeable capabilities are formidable and demonstrate the likely path the Japanese would take. It portends a lean, modem aerospace force capable of comprehensively fulfilling the security challenges of the new millennium. Japan fully comprehends that the threats of the new millennium are no longer confined just to its air space but have evolved higher to outer space. To prevail in its neighbourhood amongst the rising threat of ballistic missiles, it would need to counter challenges from both air and space. This realisation spurs the development and acquisition of capabilities for aerospace surveillance, as its space surveillance model demonstrates.
With the amendment of the Japanese basic space law in 2008, military use of space is no longer a taboo. At the same time, offensive uses of space continue to be frowned upon. Thus, while Anti-Satellites (ASATs) and other offensive weaponry may not be on the anvil, defensive counter-space capabilities aimed at protecting Japan’s assets in space are becoming increasingly visible. Protection of satellites entails not only mitigation against debris but also from man-made threats like hostile missiles and satellites.14
Protection demands the ability to be comprehensively aware of the situation in the entire vertical dimension of air and space. This ability is provided by a Space Situational Awareness (SSA) system.
SSA is the prime component of any defensive or offensive counter- space capability. The ability to observe, track and predict the position of space objects with some level of certainty is the most elementary capability to identify, categorise and mitigate aerospace threats. SSA capabilities are typically dual use and enable protection against natural threats like debris, asteroids and also man-made threats like ASATs, ballistic missiles, etc. Across the world, SSA capabilities are an amalgam of conventional air surveillance sensors and space surveillance sensors. Thus, the SSA system is nothing more than a mix of radars surveilling the air space complemented by special telescopes and radars surveilling outer space.
The Japanese SSA model is no different conceptually from other models across the world. Existing national air force capabilities are extended further upwards. The standard air defence radars are employed and complemented by specialist radars and telescopes for space surveillance. The same personnel employed on routine air surveillance missions are employed for space surveillance and the operational procedures in either case have little difference. The pressures of defending against threats from air and space are obviously well comprehended by the Japanese and, hence, instead of vacillating on organisational issues as in the case of India, the Japanese government has straightaway handed over the mission of SSA to the Japanese Air Force or Japanese Air Self-Defence Force (JADSF) since it believes space defence is an extension of the JADSF’s air defence function. Consequently, the JADSF which is solely responsible for air defence and is equipped with the command and control of the Japanese Aerospace Defence Ground System (JAKE), has now been directed to evolve further to comprehensively defend against threats from the entire vertical dimension of aerospace. Conceptually, as in case of the Indian Air Force (IAF), and perhaps most air forces across the world, the present JASDF system comprises ground air defence radars like the J/FPS-5, which is used for air and ballistic missile defence. A total of four J/FPS-5s are located in Japan as of 2013. These radars were originally developed to fulfil the primary air defence role of detecting and identifying air threats, and possess some incidental capability of detecting ballistic missiles that come from outer space. These form the base structure of the Japanese SSA.
On this base structure, are its space sensors. There are primarily two facilities providing SSA data: the Bisei Spaceguard Centre, which operates optical telescopes capable of tracking geostationary orbiting objects as small as one metre in diameter; and the Kurnisuiburu Spaceguard Centre, an S-band radar. The radar has a battery of phased array antennae which coordinate to scan the low earth orbit region to a distance of approximately 1,000 km. Thus, the system affords a rudimentary awareness of the situation in both Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) and Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The above are augmented by inputs from the US’ Space Situational Network (SSN) system.15
As of now, the above complement of four air defence radars for air surveillance, optical telescopes for surveillance of the upper atmosphere and LEO and a radar for surveillance of the GEO provide a rudimentary capability for aerospace surveillance and, consequently, aerospace defence. It would be safe to infer that incremental progressions on the above system would continue. Consequently, the proposed move “to launch a military space force by 2019 that would initially be tasked with protecting satellites from dangerous debris orbiting the Earth, may be seen as nothing more than an organisational construct aimed at facilitating operational progress. This is especially so since the Japanese now allude to space as the “fourth battlefield”.16
More radars and telescopes would be progressively acquired and piled upon existing conventional air defence radars. The challenges of seamless integration and operations would demand a ready force of suitable personnel, organisation, infrastructure, etc and, hence, the need for the proposed military space force. The above conjecture is further validated by the report that the Japanese Defence Ministry is looking at creating a new force using personnel from its JASDF. By contrast, in operational terms, the IAF has a much more formidable mix of ground and airborne radar systems unlike the archaic Japanese system. However, the IAF is constrained to air surveillance and is yet to make the transition to aerospace surveillance in any manner. India does not have any sensor enabling space surveillance though the number of satellites enabling military and civil services to India keeps rising.
By any yardstick, the number of Indian assets in space exceeds those of Japan. The number of adversaries also far exceeds those of Japan. The Japanese are attempting to leapfrog the entire span from air to space by employing ground and space surveillance sensors and existing personnel. At present, their system is rudimentary and there would be gaps in it. However, a system is in place. In our case, no system is in place. The Japanese model shows the way and there would be little to lose in considering an emulation of the same.
1. There is a variety of reports on political decisiveness. For the above context, see Jacob M Schlesinger, “Trading Places: Decisive Japan, Dysfunctional U S , Japan Real Time, October 1,2013.
2. Refer AFP, “Japan to Launch Military Space Force: Report”, AFP News, August 4,2014
3. For the arguments on the wider and narrow interpretation of peaceful uses, refer Max M.Mutschler, Arms Control in Space: Exploring Conditions for Preventive Arms Control (New York Palgrave Macmillan), ch. 5, pp.114-115; and Maj Elizabeth Waldrop, AFSPC/ JA “Weaponization of Outer Space: US National Policy”, High Frontier Magazine, vol.1, no 3, pp. 37-39.
4. Paul Kallender, “Japan Seeks Dual-Use Space Technology OK, Defense News, July 19,2004
5. Interim report on the Constitution of Japan, at…/interimreport.htm
6. Paul Kallender, “Japan Aims for Operational Military Space Systems by 2006”, Space News, September 2,2003.
7. For details, see text at site of Japanese Cabinet Office, “Basic Plan for Space Policy”, available at ,accessed on October 5,2014.
8. Ref Jana Robinson, “Europe-Japan Strategic Partnership: the Space Dimension”, Report 40, April 2012, ESPI Report, available at accessed on October 5, 2014.
9. Ref Sqn Ldr KK Nair, Space the Frontiers of Modern Defence (New Delhi: Knowledge World Publishers, 2003, p. 61
10. Data for the table has been obtained from a variety of sources including Global Security. Org, Gunter’s Space Page, Jonathan’s space report and notification from Japan in the UN register of objects launched into outer space.
11. Refer presentation of Cabinet Office, Government of Japan, “Quasi Zenith Satellite System”, at , accessed on October 7,2014.
12. Refer presentation of ISRO, N. Neelakantan, “Overview of Indian Satellite Navigation Programme”, at , accessed on October 7,2014.
13. Refer Paul Kallender-Umezu, “Japan asks Industry to Finance Military Support Satellite” Space News, February 13,2012 and Japan Press Service, “Defence Minis- to Own Military Satellites”, Japan Press Weekly, December 14, 2011.
14. For details, see Yasuo Otani, “Dual Use System Architecture for SSA using Design Structure Matrix” at
15. Warren Ferster, “US, Japan Sign Pact on Space Situational Awareness”, Space News, March 12, 2013.
16. Quoting Kyodo News Agency in AFT, “Japan to Launch Military Space Force: Report”, AFP News, August 4, 2014
[Description of Source: New Delhi Defence and Diplomacy in English — Quarterly academic journal published by the New Delhi-based Centre for Air Power Studies, established in October 2001 under an independent nonprofit, nongovernment trust Forum for National Security Studies.]

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