Determination to Actively Use Space for Self-Defense: Japan’s Space Policy (1)

Continuing the 21st Century Sputnik Shock series, whose first seven issues dealt with China’s space strategy, we are devoting the next few issues to Japan’s space policy. Of the G7 countries, Japan is the latest to actively engage in the use of space for national defense. Let us consider Japan’s space policy, which is facing a major change in approach in the face of growing uncertainty around the world.

The logic of a nuclear-weapon-free state

“Rapid Provision of Priority Positions in Space and Other Areas…”. In December 2018, the Council of Ministers approved a document entitled “On the Basic Principles of Defense Planning as of Fiscal Year 2019” (hereinafter referred to as “the Current Defense Principles”), the provisions of which go far beyond those set forth in all previous Basic Principles.

For the first time the use of outer space for defense purposes was mentioned in the “Basic Principles”, approved in December 2010, but then it was only about the need to use outer space for the collection of information. Three years later, at the same time as the first national security strategy, the basic principles (approved in December 2013), which preceded the current one, appeared. Collection of information using various satellites and reinforcement of command, control and intelligence capabilities, space surveillance with optical telescopes and radio telescopes and tracking to enable safe use of artificial satellites from Japan and its friendly countries (Space Situation Surveillance, SSA) – described thus, the policy of using outer space for defense helped to further intensify the development of outer space for defense purposes.

In the current defense principles, space is not only assigned the role of a place for gathering information and obtaining data – in the document, “new areas – space, cyber-electromagnetic space” are combined with traditional areas of defense capabilities – land, sea and air. An inter-clan interaction strategy has been introduced, which makes it possible to increase the overall defensive potential due to a synergistic effect. Its idea is to even yield to a potential adversary in one of the areas – on land, at sea, in the air, in space or in cyber and electromagnetic space, due to the organic combination of capabilities in all areas, for to ensure an overall superior position and comprehensive defense of Japan. At the same time, the requirement to “promptly ensure superiority in such new areas as space, as well as cyber and electromagnetic space” can be called a natural and inevitable conclusion of the logic of a nuclear-free state.


The need to provide measures and a place for organic use in the interest of national defense—along with improving the well-being and safety of human life—was realized in Japan almost simultaneously with respect to both space and cyberspace. But the leading world powers have regarded space as a place used for national defense for more than half a century, and all this time they have been thinking about what kind of international order they should form for this purpose, and how to achieve the maximum benefit for population and business at low cost.

For all countries, space is already a traditional area of ​​defense, while cyberspace can be called quite new. At the same time, in terms of security and defense, if we talk, for example, about the most advanced countries – members of the “big seven”, then Japan can probably be called the one that lags behind. This by no means happened because she started space activities later than the others. It’s just that until 2008, it wasn’t actually allowed to use space for defense purposes in Japan.

Space as a new war zone

At the same time, the advanced space forces go much further. When they regard outer space as a sphere of warfare and openly declare this, they are already beginning to prepare for armed clashes in outer space. Not to mention the US, Russia and China, France announced its space strategy in July 2019, suggesting that the right to defense may be used in outer space in the near future.

Fears that outer space could become a war zone began around 2007, when China destroyed its own aging satellite by launching an intermediate-range ballistic missile from Earth’s surface. During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union conducted tests of anti-satellite (ASAT) systems, but since 1986 they have mutually refrained from at least physically destroying satellites.

What was the reason for refusing to carry out such tests? There is an explanation according to which their dismissal was due to the fact that a further increase in the amount of “space debris” due to flying debris could make it difficult to use their own military satellites. Furthermore, since both powers’ nuclear strategy involved the use of satellites, there was probably a tacit understanding that refusing to attack the other side’s spacecraft was also beneficial in terms of mutual deterrence.

Illustration: space debris (© Aflo)
Illustration: space debris (© Aflo)

Although space served as a space that allowed for more effective use of military power on Earth, it actually managed to avoid the role of a zone of direct warfare, but just when the international community began to believe that space could be preserved as such a “sacred” limit” China has deliberately destroyed a satellite.

Russia has avoided practical physical kill tests, but examples have been reported since around 2013 that suggest it is flying and monitoring in a way that allows for the immediate encounter or takedown of objects such as US satellites. China is also enthusiastically pursuing activities leading to the improvement of its anti-satellite (ASAT) capabilities, including cyber attacks and targeting of satellites.

Meanwhile, in March 2019, India conducted a test to physically destroy its own small satellite, and this country’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, was quick to praise the success of this ASAT system, declaring that the country has turned into a space power. Outer space has not yet become a war zone in the literal sense of the word, since real military clashes have not yet occurred there, but calling it a “sacred frontier” is hardly appropriate. And France, with its latest strategy, makes it clear that in the current situation, all these clear threats should not be underestimated.

Active use of space and other areas to prevent and eliminate attacks

How is it intended to use space and other areas in the current defense strategy, where space, cyber and electromagnetic spaces are assigned to its specific new areas? Similar to the 2013 Principles, the current Basic Defense Principles define the following tasks for the Self-Defense Forces: 1) gather information important to Japan’s security; 2) to carry out constant and uninterrupted surveillance of outer space to prevent interference or damage to satellites used for communication, positioning and navigation, as well as other purposes; 3) in the event of obstacles, determine their nature and source, minimize damage and carry out rapid recovery.

The current defense principles elaborate on these provisions: “In the event of an attack on our country, in addition to the specified measures, stop and eliminate it with the help of space, cyber and electromagnetic space. This wording suggests: in the event that the territory of Japan is exposed to an armed attack, the self-defense forces of the Earth will eliminate the enemy, including using information prepared on the basis of data from communication, survey, positioning and navigation satellites. For the first time, data from space is assigned the role of an important element in the totality of the defense potential of the Earth .

What is needed, in the parlance of security personnel, is what is called the “militarization of space” (the use of outer space to build defense capabilities on Earth). In addition to updating the basic defense principles, five years have passed since the implementation of the basic plan for space development, and in 2020 this plan, which determines the policy for private and civil space development (adopted by the Strategic Office for Space Development in January 2015 and approved by the decision of the Cabinet of Ministers in April 2016 ) will also be updated.

When, in addition to the uncertainty of the international situation, the situation around Japan shows the possibility of rapid destabilization, serious changes are inevitably required in the work in space, which ensures security and prosperity on Earth.

Banner photo: metamorworks/PIXTA


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