Satellites have played a leading role in Russia’s continued invasion of Ukraine. By monitoring the ground from space, these orbiting artificial bodies have proven to be very effective in combat and have a great impact on the war situation. Before and during the Ukrainian war, satellite images revealed the scale and movements of the Russian military from moment to moment.
In addition, Ukrainians have secure access to the “Starlink” satellite Internet service provided by the space company SpaceX, which is headed by American businessman Elon Musk. They used Starlink not only as a means of obtaining wartime information, but also as a platform to broadcast detailed information on damage and casualties in Ukraine to the world via social media.
The Russian-Ukrainian War demonstrated why outer space is often referred to as the “fourth battlefield”, joining land, sea and sky as areas of battle.
However, Japan’s efforts to strengthen space security appear to be lagging far behind those of major countries such as the United States, China and Russia.
The diplomat recently spoke with General Kataoka Haruhiko, former Chief of Staff of the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) and current Vice President of the Japan Institute for Space and Security (JISS ), on what Japan should do to improve safety in space.
Kataoka stressed the need to formulate a “national space strategy” that spells out how Japan will approach space from a security perspective. He called for the early development and operation of such a space system through multilateral cooperation with the United States and other Western countries.
The interview was conducted in Japanese and has been translated into English.
In the Russian-Ukrainian war, satellite images of private telecommunications companies show their power by revealing the movement of the Russian army.
The US government provides Ukraine with real-time tactical information obtained by satellite and intercept. Space X, led by Elon Musk, has provided Starlink to Ukraine with more than 5,000 transmitters and receivers, ensuring a stable communications environment for the Ukrainian military.
Over the past five to six years, commercial activities in space have grown. Space X is a typical example. Now, even in the field of security, we are moving to a situation where we have to actively use commercial space activities. Civilian and military uses are becoming more integrated than ever. Dual use [of space technology] is an inevitable fate. It is quite difficult to separate.
Is it fair to say that Japan’s future space security policy will continue in unison with its only ally, the United States?
There is a crushing power gap between Japan and the United States As I always say, Japan cannot be like America, China or Russia. Japan has capabilities, but considering various elements such as budget and human resources, we will have to cooperate with the western world focusing on the United States or Five Eyes [Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K., and the U.S.] build space systems together.
Aiming for more accurate missile tracking as part of missile defense, Japan and the United States are already moving forward with plans to build a satellite constellation made up of a large number of small satellites.
Yes. After all, you have to go with the United States
There are two types of missile defense: early warning and missile tracking.
Missile early warning is the initial detection when [a missile is] spear. Missiles can be detected without problems because we deploy large satellites in stationary orbit and in polar orbit [passing over the north and south poles]. After that, the incoming missile can be tracked by ground radar.
A normal ballistic missile can be detected from a distance, but when it’s a hypersonic missile, it crawls below [radar] and can only be detected just before it reaches us. In order to solve this problem, the United States tries to detect and track the initial movement of the missile from space and proceeds to build the National Defense Space Architecture (NDSA) composed of small satellites in low orbit.
Thus, for the early warning part, there is no problem deploying large satellites in stationary or polar orbit. On the other hand, in the tracking part, the United States is currently planning to place the satellites in two layers, a tracking layer for tracking and a transport layer to send the detected data in a chain.
This requires a large number of satellites which must be placed in low orbit. This can never be built in Japan alone. With regard to missile defense, it is very important to determine how to distribute the roles of early warning, detection and follow-up with the United States
North Korea launched eight short-range ballistic missiles towards the Sea of Japan on June 5. If a network system for small satellite constellations is created, will it be possible to detect, track and intercept attacks from saturated missiles, including hypersonic missiles?
There is no situation where we cannot intercept [missiles] at all. However, if it is a saturated attack that fires dozens of shots instead of firing a single shot, the likelihood that we can intercept them will surely decrease. When we talk about hypersonic missiles, the odds will go down even further.
However, even if the probability [of interception] drops, it makes sense to raise the alarm to the public that a missile is flying our way. It is quite meaningful to provide notices with an alarm that the missile will fall here instead of acting as if it fell without [authorities] knowing something.
The United States is working on the ability to hit a ballistic missile that has soared into space with a small bullet fired from an artificial satellite.
Yes, there are plans to intercept a ballistic missile using satellites when it goes into space. However, this is the case when the missile arrives in space. Low altitude orbital missiles such as hypersonic missiles cannot be intercepted. These missiles can avoid interception by descending to the ground in an irregular trajectory. So that’s a big challenge we’re facing.
As the National Defense Strategy and the National Defense Space Strategy make clear, the United States plans to respond by choosing when and how when its own space assets come under attack. Being attacked in space does not mean a counterattack in space. The United States says it will fight back on the ground.
There are ground-launched missile attacks on satellites and there are satellite-to-satellite attacks.
What can be done to increase deterrence in space? What should we do to face together in space? What kind of response are we going to take in response to emergencies in space? What will the space operation look like? Japan must now discuss these points. This is inevitable when considering national strategies in space.
The Department of Defense plans to launch a Space Situational Awareness (SSA) satellite in 2026. This satellite doesn’t just monitor there; it’s getting closer, looking for suspicious satellites. As the operation begins, we must summarize the discussion of what our space strategy is and what is our right to self-defense in space.
In 2019, seven countries, namely the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Germany and France, began discussing the future of the Combined initiative Space Operations (CSpO) to build their ability to capture Space Domain Awareness (SDA) and promote data sharing. But unfortunately Japan did not join. We must participate in it as soon as possible and we must build multilateral space cooperation centered on the United States.
Additionally, there is an “Operation Olympic Defender” framework between the United States and the United Kingdom which jointly addresses threats in space, and Canada and Australia are now participating in this operation. In space, no country has sovereignty. Multilateral cooperation is a prerequisite.
Will the JASDF become the Space Self-Defense Force or the Space Force in the future?
The area of the space is currently [conceived of as reaching] about to reach a stationary orbit, but it will eventually expand to Mars. The surface of space extends to infinity. The area covered by the JASDF will be extremely broad. The name represents the corps, so it is better to change it to “Air and Space Force”.
The United States created a new space force, but France created the air and space force. Russia also made its aerospace forces. So just like them, Japan has to put the word “space” in the name.