Space as a new territory of military clashes

Modern weapons do not work without space systems

The new fundamentals of defense and the medium-term plan of defense policy, which are planned to be developed by the end of this year, should highlight cyberspace and outer space as separate important items. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also notes that “it is important to maintain excellence in emerging fields such as cyber and outer space.” In this regard, the prospect of Japan’s defense policy in outer space attracts special attention, since this issue has never before been brought up.

Compared to other countries, Japan’s space development followed its own special path. In 1969, with the establishment of the National Space Exploration Agency (NASDA), the Japanese parliament passed the “Resolution on the Peaceful Uses of Space”, according to which Japanese space development was conducted “only for peaceful purposes”. The resolution was modeled after the Nuclear Fundamentals Act, and similar to the nuclear non-interference of the Self-Defense Forces, in relation to outer space, it was assumed that they would refrain not only from research and development, but also from the possession, management and use of space systems. For this reason, Japan’s space development has been promoted exclusively for civilian purposes. Regarding the use of space for defense purposes, it was only in the 1980s that the use of services such as communication and data transmission via commercial satellites was approved. National defense and space thus had no common ground for a long time.

But modern weapon systems are virtually impossible to use without using space systems. The GPS global positioning system, which is increasingly penetrating our daily lives, is an American military system that provides services essential for the deployment of military operations – determining the position of troops, conducting flights of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), etc. In addition, for remote control, drones cannot do without satellite communication networks. Additionally, locating targets and understanding the strategic environment requires satellite imagery, which requires appropriate ground-based infrastructure to launch and control them.

In other words, the decisive factor for modern military superiority is the state of space systems and the ability to use them in practice. At the same time, the space region, which takes on such decisive importance, is extremely vulnerable. In outer space, in orbit near the Earth, at a speed of about 28 thousand kilometers per hour, the stages of launch vehicles, satellites and other so-called space debris rotate. Collision of the satellite with such debris threatens destruction or loss of functionality.

“Space forces” to protect infrastructure

To be able to launch a satellite into space in defiance of Earth’s gravity, it must be as light as possible. This eliminates the ability to protect him from external blows by wearing thick armor. In other words, in the absence of protection against space debris, there is no alternative but to control the satellite in such a way that collisions are avoided. To do this, the defense ministries of various countries, and primarily the United States, monitor the state of outer space (the so-called SSA, space situational awareness), track debris from orbit and prepare the data necessary to prevent collisions. But SSA observation can only track debris and debris as large as 10 centimeters in diameter, and there is no way to avoid smaller space debris. Therefore, there is also a potential risk of losing the functions of military satellites due to collisions with space debris.

An even bigger problem is possible deliberate actions to destroy satellites. In 2007, China conducted an anti-satellite system test (ASAT), which demonstrated the ability to shoot down a satellite with a missile from the surface of the Earth. During the Cold War, ASAT was tested by the United States and the Soviet Union, and in these days of the critical importance of space systems, having an anti-satellite capability has become even more important.

In other words, if there is a worsening of the confrontation between the US and China, with an increase in the risk of a military clash, there is a possibility that space systems will become the primary targets of attacks. At the same time, the weakening of the functionality of the space systems through an attack, which makes it possible to radically weaken the military potential of the enemy, together with the risk of causing human losses, since military satellites are unmanned units, and since they are located hundreds of kilometers from the surface of the Earth, does not mean to establish that what really happens to them and who carries out the attack is not an easy task.

If it is relatively easy to identify an attacker in the case of a physical attack on satellites (for example, using the ASAT system), then in the event of a cyber attack on satellites or weakening their functionality through jamming, it is extremely difficult to determine the source of the attack . It is difficult to destroy the enemy and protect one’s own systems in outer space in the same way as it is done at sea or in the air. Elements of space systems, orbiting the Earth, inevitably fly over enemy territory; in addition, the enemy can attack by launching satellites to attack directly in space. Therefore, in the strategic plan, it seems quite rational to attack space systems at the stage before combat operations.

In an effort to increase the value of the space systems and overcome their weaknesses, each country, and especially those with strategic interests around the world and with the ability to project the power of the United States and China, are forming their armed forces to increase their strategic capabilities in space. The announcement by US President Donald Trump on the creation of the Space Force (Space Force) is seen as an obvious attempt to reform to stimulate research and development of space systems, overcoming their weaknesses through distributed functionality, as well as multiple launches of compact systems. satellites and the formation of military space systems using the technology “constellation” – the simultaneous control of the coordinated actions of many satellites, and to form an appropriate procurement mechanism, etc. And even if the words “space forces” are associated with Star Wars film saga or anime cartoon “Space Battleship Yamato”, modern rather, the space force plays a role similar to maintenance personnel responsible for the development and maintenance of space infrastructure functions.

New legislation as an opportunity to engage in space development for defense purposes

The fact that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, under the current circumstances, in the context of defining the fundamentals of defense policy, declared the “vital importance of maintaining superiority” in outer space, apparently indicates the realization that Japanese defense systems should also have a capability equivalent to modern warfare methods. Meanwhile, due to the Resolution on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, Japan has until recently been virtually not engaged in the exploration and use of outer space for defense purposes.

In 2008, the Constitution on Outer Space was adopted, thanks to which it became possible to develop and explore space for defense purposes, which was previously prevented by the “Resolution on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space”. But compared to the US, China and other countries, the scale of this work is negligible. At the moment, there are no satellites belonging to the Ministry of Defense or the Self-Defense Forces – only the Kirameki X-band communication satellites are in their exclusive use.

The 32nd H2A launch vehicle launches Kirameki-2 X-band communications satellite from the Ministry of Defense of Japan, 24 January 2017, Pref. Kagoshima, Tanegashima Space Research Center (photo courtesy of Jiji Press)

The Outer Space Basic Law defines the need to “conform to the principles of pacifism in the Japanese Constitution” (Article 2) and “serve international peace and security together with the security of our country” (Article 3). Based on this law, it was expected that the Ministry of Defense and the Self-Defense Forces would actively use space systems, but in reality almost all their equipment is designed to be used in the absence of space support, and since, unlike the United States or China, there is no need for long-range power projection, priority the formation of space systems is still low.

In addition, generally speaking, the government, experiencing an acute shortage of financial resources and still more or less inclined to increase defense spending, is forced to limit itself mainly to purchasing funds to counter the growing power of China and missile threats from North Korea, acquiring anti-missile systems , F -35, etc., in other words, it is in a position that does not promote the inclination to allocate funds for the construction of space systems.

Under these circumstances, Prime Minister Abe’s statement about the “crucial importance of maintaining superiority” is evidence of a sense of danger and the need to keep the country’s strategic capabilities in space from falling behind the United States, China and others. Earlier, with the launch of the first artificial Earth satellite, the start of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union led to a level of technological capability rising beyond the reach of others, with the side effect of achieving a meteoric rise in high-tech industries. It is likely that the formation of a strategic space potential by the United States and China could lead to a similar result. Therefore, it is likely that the lag in this competition will become a problem that will affect the overall technological potential of the country.

Build space systems in cooperation with allies

At the same time, Japan’s defense doctrine does not in any way require the projection of military power over long distances, but that it means sending a contingent of the Self-Defense Forces, if necessary, to some point on the planet to gain strategic advantages. Under these conditions, simply engaging in the creation of space systems would mean burying treasure in the ground.

In the space sphere, Japan should rather think that if the space systems of friendly countries, and primarily the United States, Japan’s ally in the defense alliance, come under attack, this will also affect its defense potential. Just as cooperation is already underway with the United States, Australia and European countries on SSA, even when creating and developing their own Japanese space systems, it is necessary, in addition to using them in the interest of Japan’s defense, at the same time to provide for the possibility of providing Japanese space systems in event of an attack on space objects allies to prevent such attacks from reducing the strategic potential of the entire alliance as a whole.

More specifically, it is necessary to strive to ensure that Japan “maintains superiority” not alone, but together with its allies, using in the defense structure the satellites it already has to collect information, as well as the quasi-aircraft satellites “Mitibiki”, etc. ., and in addition to considering the possibilities of their use together with their allies, take into account the needs of the allies in the further development of their space systems.

Title illustration: perming/PIXTA

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