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Japan To Stand Up Space Domain Mission Unit In April 2020 To Counter Threats To Satellites

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

In remarks made marking the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security Between the United States and Japan at both a commemorative ceremony and in the Japanese Diet, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged that Japan will make efforts to counter threats in space and cyberspace and that the Japanese Self Defense Forces (SDF) will stand up its Space Domain Mission Unit (SDMU) in April 2020, with the aim of having it fully operational by 2022.

At a Tokyo ceremony on 19 January 2020 attended by Abe along with senior Japanese and U.S. officials, the Japanese Prime Minister said, “We have elevated the relationship to one in which each of us, the U.S. and Japan, protects the other, thereby giving further force to the alliance. Going forward, it is incumbent upon us to make it even more robust, to make it a pillar for safeguarding peace and security in both outer space and cyberspace.”

President Donald J. Trump sent a message as part of the ceremony’s proceedings that read, “As the security environment continues to evolve and new challenges arise, it is essential that our alliance further strengthen and deepen. I am confident that in the months and years ahead, Japan’s contributions to our mutual security will continue to grow, and the Alliance will continue to thrive.”

In a major policy speech in the Japanese Diet on 20 January 2020, the Prime Minister reiterated the increasing importance of space and cyberspace in Japanese national security considerations, saying that, “We will drastically bolster capability and systems in order to secure superiority,” in those strategic domains.

The Space Domain Mission Unit will be stood up at the Fuchu Air Base, located in the western suburbs of Tokyo, in April 2020 with 20 SDF personnel initially assigned to it. The SDMU is expected to be fully operational in 2022, and is expected to carry out space situational awareness (SSA) and passive counterspace operations in order to protect Japanese satellites from what Tokyo regards as a growing offensive counterspace threat from countries such as China, Russia, and North Korea.

An indication of how seriously Japan takes the threat against its satellites is the 50.6 billion Yen (U.S.$460 million) the Japanese government has earmarked for space activities in 2020, although this proposed budget is subject to amendments and approval by the Diet, Japan’s parliament.

Once operational, the SDMU will liaise and cooperate with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and U.S. Space Command.

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