Japan’s government is eyeing the launch of a satellite interceptor as a means to counter attack satellites under development in China and Russia. A formal decision is expected by the end of the next fiscal year – which would be March 31, 2021 – in order to conduct a launch in the mid-2020s.
Japanese leadership worries that a so-called killer satellite would be used to disrupt and disable its own satellite networks. China has been rumored to have developed such a prototype, a model equipped with an aim-able robot arm. Back in July 2014 it conducted a successful anti-satellite (ASAT) test. Russia, meanwhile, is believed to have launched multiple anti-satellite systems since 2013.
China and Russia each occupy Japan’s strategic periphery and both retain territorial disputes with Tokyo. Japan is strategically aligned with the U.S. and, along with other nations in the Indo-Pacific region, shares Washington’s national security concerns over inter-state strategic competition.
Thus space occupies the multi-domain areas of concern for Tokyo. Under Japan’s latest National Defense Guidelines (2019) and Medium-Term Defense Program (2019-2023), space forms a crucial aspect of the country’s strategic thinking. The latter document calls for the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) to stand up an Air Self-Defense Force squadron specifically for space. This squadron will be charged with constant monitoring of the space environment, with domain superiority through all phases from peacetime to armed conflict its charge.
For the current fiscal year, the Japanese Defense Ministry is conducting research on ways to disable satellites via technological avenues such as robotic arms, electromagnetic waves, and cyberattack. The findings from this research, plus other considerations, will be used to formulate a government decision by the end of 2020 as to which avenue to pursue going forward.