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Japan Prepares for GPS Failure with Quasi-Zenith Satellites

Quasi-Zenith satellite orbit

The Japanese government is to begin use of a quasi-zenith satellite system to provide a failover solution for support of its Self Defence Force (SDF) in the event of a malfunction on the U.S. GPS system. This move comes amid fears that China and Russia and their development of anti-satellite capabilities that will enable them to attack satellites in orbit.

There are four quasi-zenith satellites in orbit at present and the satellites operate by sending radio waves from space to determine the position of a location on the earth. It is reported that the system could be available to the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force by fiscal year 2021.

The military is highly dependent upon GPS signals for location information in their daily operations. Any attack on the GPS system would cause loss of signals and this could have extreme implications for the SDF and negatively affect operations.

The quasi-zenith satellites have a range of capabilities, including evading jamming and signal spoofing due to their Japanese-made on-board technology. The satellites have been operational since last November above Japan and parts of Asia-Oceania. It is expected that seven satellites will be operational be fiscal year 2023 and this would mean that use of the U.S. GPS system will no longer be necessary. The Japanese government is already operating receivers for the satellite radio waves on a vessel and submarine. It is expected that the installation will gradually be expanded to include destroyers, submarines, aircraft and helicopters.

The government is also exploring how the SDF and Japan-based U.S. forces can utilise the satellite system as part of its new five-year defence programme.

The government also plans to consider how to enable the SDF and the U.S. forces in Japan to jointly use the quasi-zenith satellites.

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