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Japan Mulls Maritime Domain Awareness Satellites For Monitoring China

The island of Uotsuri-Shima, the largest of the disputed Senkaku Islands. Image courtesy of the Government of Japan.

Japan is considering building a constellation of microsatellites for maritime domain awareness (MDA) operations over the South China Sea, East China Sea, and the Sea of Japan to monitor Chinese maritime and naval activities, especially around the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands.

An article from the Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun, quoted in Taiwan News, reported that this plan would allow for surveillance lasting significantly longer and at a drastically reduced cost.

A Japanese official was quoted by the Sankei Shimbun as saying that micro-satellites are likely to be used by Japan in the future, and this will become a global trend.

According to the report, Japan hopes to have a reconnaissance satellite constellation of ten satellites by 2026. It also indicates that international competition in this area is heating up. China already has 20 reconnaissance satellites, with at least one per day passing over Japan.

The Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands, which are located 170 kilometers northeast of Taiwan, are administered by Japan, despite competing territorial and sovereign claims by China and Taiwan. Japan views the Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands as increasingly under threat from Chinese encroachment.

While traditional satellites cost billions of U.S. dollars, the report suggests that micro satellites cost only several million. A constellation of satellites also opens greater scope for long-term surveillance, providing Japan with the capacity to track a vessel from the moment it leaves harbour.

The Sankei Shimbun suggests that synthetic aperture radar (SAR), radar that works in both poor weather conditions and at night can also be miniaturized to fit inside the satellites, and will be included in the Japanese project

Japanese satellite company iQPS Inc. are reportedly engaged in the plan, with a test launch planned for next summer.

The announcement comes as China announced that it intends to start launching its own ten-satellite constellation for maritime domain awareness over the South China Sea, East China Sea, and the Sea of Japan.

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