By Shao Yongling
Japanese Defense Ministry’s draft budget for fiscal year 2020 states that it will set up a new military space unit to enhance space-related capabilities. What is the basic composition of the Japanese military space unit? And what is the purpose for establishing such a unit?
Japan plans to establish a military space unit, which sounds like a big deal. However, the number of the members in the unit is small. According to the plan, there are only 70 people at the beginning of the establishment. In the future, it could be increased to 100 people at most, which mainly consists of experts. Its combat equipment are ground-based radars and telescopes, and other surveillance systems that can be deployed in Earth orbit. The mission of the military space unit is to clean up space debris and monitor the actions that may attack or destroy Japanese satellites. The unit can also protect Japanese civil satellites from interference or interruptions. Currently, the system is under development and is expected to be officially put into operation in 2023. Therefore, all Japan did was to set up the unit first, and then wait for the equipment to come into service. This military space unit can have the corresponding combat capability only by the time the equipment is delivered in 2023.
Space has remained out of the real combat stage for a long time, while the use of space mostly stays at the level of satellites-providing-support for military operations on the fields of intelligence, meteorological and communications. However, the situation has changed in recent years. The latest news came from last month, with the US officially announced the establishment of the Space Command, which will be a major Command like other joint operations commands, and the set-up of a space force in the near future. For Japan, it has originally prepared to set up space forces in 2022, but then moved the deadline up to 2020. The direct cause is likely to be that as an important ally of the US in the Asia-Pacific region, Japan must keep up with the US, follow up in time to dock with the US space forces, and strengthen cooperation in space military deployment with the US.
However, it might not be difficult for Japan to build a military space unit, but whether it can truly achieve the expected space military capabilities will face a huge test. First of all, the number of people in its military space unit is very small, only 70, plus there is currently no military equipment. For Japan, the first possible test is how its performance will be like after being equipped in 2023. In addition, monitoring the space requires the deployment of corresponding monitoring equipment. Does Japan have the capability to send that from the ground into space? In the long run, this might be another huge test.
In general, it is difficult for Japan to develop too much in space.. For Japan's military space unit, a better positioning might be to assist the US military and be responsible for a certain area of the field. It will be very difficult if Japan wants to undertake this force by itself. As far as the future space offensive and defensive operations, or the current monitoring are concerned, Japan’s capabilities might be rather limited.
(The author Shao Yongling is a professor on international relationships and strategy under the PLA Rocket Force’s Academy of Commanding)
Disclaimer: This article is originally published on military.cnr.cn, and is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn.