Sanjay Kumar writes: On 24 Jan 2017, Japan launched its first military communication satellite – Kirameki-2 to boost the broadband capacity of its Defence Forces. It is the first of three satellites that will replace civilian satellites currently being used by Japan’s military. These X-band satellites will quadruple broadband capacity and will allow military units to communicate on a high-speed and high-capacity network.
The Kirameki-1 was supposed to be launched in July 2016, but was damaged during transport to a launch pad in French Guiana. It is undergoing repairs and is scheduled for launch next year.
These satellites are being put in place with an eye towards responding more effectively and efficiently to growing security challenges in the South China Sea and East China Sea region. Japan and China are locked in a territorial dispute in the East China Sea over a group of uninhabited islands known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. The two countries are also at disagreement over the exploitation of gas fields that straddle economic zones claimed by both.
The new satellites are also aimed at stepping up Japan’s emergency response capability in case of natural disaster, as well as missile threats from North Korea. The satellites are also planned for use by Japanese troops operating overseas as part of international peacekeeping operations.
China in the past has made some resolute investments in Space and has built a strong surveillance capability to monitor activity and developments in the region. Starting from almost no live surveillance capability ten odd years back, today PLA has the capability to observe targets from space for real time operations. China has operationalized its own regional Beidou system and it is being used by the PLA, for positioning and manoeuvring, tracking forces and secure communications.
China also has built network of military communication satellites which is supported by its Tianlian data relay satellite constellation; thus enhancing its ability to provide near-real-time ISR data to locate, track, and target hostile ships / platforms operating in the region. China’s Haiyang series satellites are ocean monitoring satellites and these can monitor the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands and Scarborough Shoal/Huangyan Island. In all, China has strengthened its force posture over the years in this region.
With the new US President Donald Trump making some aggressive remarks against Chinese interests; Japan which is an important ally of US also need to watch carefully China’s moves and be prepared for any eventuality. Emerging – economic and security dynamics of the region – possess new challenges for Japan. The launch could be seen as Japan’s step towards preparing itself for an increasingly aggressive China in the region. The increase in Japanese military engagements and force posturing demands secured and robust communications at larger distances, however; this test may be an indication, that Japan wants to take a more proactive part in the security of this region.