Asia Defense

Japan Plans First Military Communications Satellite Launch

Japan anticipates the operationalization of a space-based X-band military communication satellite network.

Japan Plans First Military Communications Satellite Launch
Credit: SeaWiFS Project, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, and ORBIMAGE

Japan is set to launch its first military communications satellite next week. The Japanese satellite, known as the Kirameki-2, will be launched from Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture.

The launch in question was announced in November 2016 by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which will coordinate the launch with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the country’s civilian space agency. Japanese military satellite plans were announced in early 2013, when the Ministry of Defense announced (PDF) a scheme for the construction, launch, and operation of a satellite network through 2030.

According to a press release, the launch vehicle will be an H-IIA liquid-fueled rocket. The  satellite in question is described as an “X-band defense telecommunication satellite.”

The launch window is 4:44 pm through 5:58 pm local time on January 24, 2017. The launch of a first X-band satellite was delayed after a “a mishap with a blue tarpaulin damaged sensitive antennas during transportation to Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana” earlier this year, according to Reuters.

According to one Japanese Defense Ministry source who spoke to Reuters at the time of the delay, the purpose of the satellite network will be to help streamline Japanese military communications systems: “When we need to shift units to the southwest and troops are moving down from the north, we need a stable communications link.”

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According to reports at the time, the damage to the first X-band satellite, which was originally planned as auxiliary payload on another JSAT satellite, the Superbird-8, is expected to delay the launch by more than a year and possibly up to two years. The satellite being launched on Tuesday is the second of a planned three-satellite network and comprises an exclusively military payload. The Superbird-8/Kirameki-1 satellite is now expected to launch in 2018.

Contrary to one early report, the planned satellite launch has nothing to do with Japan’s growing concern about a North Korean ballistic missile threat and does not provide any augmentation to existing land- and sea-based Japanese missile defense capabilities. Though Tokyo’s concerns about a North Korean ballistic missile threat has grown, Japan does not possess a satellite-based missile defense reconnaissance capability like that of the U.S. Air Force, which fields a space-based early warning system.

North Korea tested 24 ballistic missiles last year and is close to capable of striking Japan with a nuclear device with reliable accuracy. To counter the North Korean threat, Japan has increased trilateral information sharing on missile defense, carried out multiple exercises, issued open intercept orders, and plans on carrying out its first civilian evacuation drills preparing for a ballistic missile strike. In terms of missile defense, Japan currently fields Aegis-equipped destroyers as well as land-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptors, and is considering purchase of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system from the United States.