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Japanese Military Space: MoD To Allocate 100 Personnel For Space Domain Mission Unit By FY2022; Seeks Replacement For Lost WorldView-4

Japan as photographed by Envisat. Photograph courtesy of the European Space Agency.

Japan’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) has revealed that it will assign 100 military personnel to its Space Domain Mission Unit that is expected to be stood up by Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 and will based at the Fuchu Air Base, operated by the Japanese Air Self-Defence Force (JASDF), west of Tokyo.

It is also understood that the number of personnel assigned to the Space Domain Mission Unit may increase over the coming years as Japan is expected to participate in a growing number of space-centric joint operations with allies such as the United States, as well as some European countries.

The Space Domain Mission Unit is part of a number of initiatives that stem from the new Japanese National Defence Programme Guidelines released at the beginning of 2019. The guidelines were drawn up in order to address growing threats in space, cyberspace, and the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS).

The Japanese government is increasingly aware of, and concerned with, space debris as a growing threat to its satellites orbiting Earth, as the volume orbiting at very high speeds has grown markedly in recent years.

The Space Domain Mission Unit will essentially carry out space situational awareness (SSA) operations. The SSA system is being created to address the space debris threat and collect intelligence on foreign space capabilities, such as those of China, that Japan, the U.S., and other friends and allies believe is developing antisatellite (ASAT) and counterspace weapons and technologies.

The Japanese MoD has requested 26.8 billion yen (U.S.$238 million) for the Space Domain Mission Unit in the next fiscal year’s budget.

The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will help operate the Space Domain Mission Unit, and the Japanese MoD will share information collected by the facility with U.S. forces.

A radar capable of monitoring activities in Earth orbit at an altitude of at least 5,800 kilometres will be built near the city of Sanyo-Onoda in Japan’s Yamaguchi Prefecture at the former site of a Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) receiving station.

In additional Japanese national security space news, the loss of the WorldView-4 commercial Earth observation satellite, operated by Maxar Technologies company DigitalGlobe, has reportedly had an adverse impact on Japan’s satellite reconnaissance architecture. As a client of DigitalGlobe, the Japanese MoD has had to rely more on Japan’s Intelligence Gathering Satellites (IGS) operated by the Cabinet Office, a civilian entity, placing a strain on the architecture’s tasking priorities.

It is believed that the MoD is seeking an alternative to the lost WorldView-4 and is looking for a capability that allows it to have priority tasking for reconnaissance over countries such as China, North Korea, and Russia, as well as over disputed territories in the East and South China Seas.

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