Japan launches satellite to modernise military communications
The Japanese defence ministry’s first communications satellite was successfully placed in orbit on Tuesday, as part of the country’s efforts to upgrade the Self-Defence Forces’ (SDF) communications network to better deal with security challenges.
Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the military is operating further from Japan’s home islands as it takes on a bigger role to counter growing Chinese military activity in the region. In particular, it is attempting to reinforce an island chain stretching along the southern edge of the East China Sea.
The H-2A rocket carrying the Kirameki-2 defence communications satellite was launched at 4.44pm from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Tanegashima Space Centre in Kagoshima Prefecture, southwestern Japan.
The satellite is one of the three defence ministry-operated communications satellites to be used by Japanese troops, which currently rely on civilian satellites that have some constraints. The project cost for all three satellites is about 230 billion yen (HK$15 billion), according to the ministry.
The new satellites will facilitate direct communications among units of the Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defence Forces through a high-speed, high-capacity network, serving as a communications infrastructure to counter the North Korean missile threat and defend remote islands, according to ministry officials.
The new satellites cannot perform surveillance functions. The Japanese government has other operational spy satellites. The ministry plans to operate the Kirameki-2 over the Indian Ocean and expects it to be also used by SDF personnel taking part in UN peacekeeping operations in South Sudan and an anti-piracy mission off Somalia, they said.
The importance of the SDF’s communications infrastructure has increased following enactment of legislation authorising the SDF to engage in expanded activity overseas to contribute more to regional and global peace and security.
Japan and China are locked in a territorial dispute in the East China Sea over a group of uninhabited islands known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. The two countries are also at odds over the exploitation of gas fields that straddle exclusive economic zones claimed by both.
Japan, the main US ally in Asia, is concerned that a recent increase in Chinese military activity in the area is a sign it is looking to extend its military influence from the neighbouring South China Sea as a challenge to US maritime dominance.
The launch of the Kirameki-2 precedes that of the Kirameki-1, which is undergoing repairs after it was damaged during transportation to a launch site in French Guiana in South America.
Additional reporting by Reuters