Military Efforts Help Drive Proposed Spending Boost in Japan

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TOKYO — Japan’s Cabinet is asking the nation’s finance ministry for a 19.4 percent increase, to 327 billion yen ($3.05 billion), in space spending for the upcoming fiscal year to support projects that include a laser-optical data-relay satellite and a civilian Earth-observing satellite carrying a missile warning sensor as a hosted payload.

The request, which encompasses the space activity of 11 government ministries, also includes 13.7 billion yen to complete a seven-satellite Quasi Zenith regional navigation system and 13 billion yen for the next-generation H-3 launcher, scheduled for a 2020 debut, according to budget documents released by the Office of National Space Policy (ONSP), a part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet that is responsible for drafting space budgets.

Notably, however, the budget contains no funding for a proposed constellation of satellites for maritime domain awareness, although sources suggested that a number of new and ongoing satellite technology efforts could eventually feed into that program. The finance ministry in December rejected the ONSP’s 8 billion yen request for the Maritime Domain Awareness constellation for fiscal year 2014 on the grounds that it was poorly defined.

For the first time since 2009, the space budget request is being made separately from the defense ministry’s request for missile defense activities. When missile defense funding is included, the total request jumps to 358.4 billion yen, compared with 324.2 billion yen last year, for a total combined increase of 10.5 percent, according to ONSP figures.

Japan’s fiscal year runs from April through March. The proposed budget is subject to final approval by the finance ministry, which typically trims requests, although sources here said most of the spending activities proposed for 2015 are likely to be approved.

The education ministry, which includes the Japan Aerospace Development Agency, represents the largest share of the total request, at 186 billion yen. That part of the proposed budget, representing a 21.6 percent increase from last year, includes funds for at least three new projects: 5 billion yen for an Advanced Land Observing Satellite (ALOS)-3, which also could carry an experimental missile warning sensor; 3.2 billion yen for the optical data-relay satellite for intersatellite links; and 3 billion yen to develop a new, flexible satellite platform weighing 150 kilograms that could be launched quickly in response to contingencies.

Another 2.1 billion yen was requested for the ongoing Super Low Altitude Test Satellite program to develop 400-kilogram-class reconnaissance satellites that would use ion engines to dip into orbits as low as 230 kilometers to take high-resolution images using radar or optical sensors.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet Secretariat, which runs the Information Gathering Satellite (IGS) reconnaissance satellite program, has asked for 69.7 billion yen, a 14.3 percent increase. The IGS program was hatched to keep closer tabs on North Korea and currently consists of four in-orbit satellites.

The economy and trade ministry, meanwhile, hopes to more than double its budget, to 5.7 billion yen, for projects including development of a 500-kilogram-class medium-resolution dual-use radar satellite and work on a hyperspectral sensor.

In contrast to last year’s request, the ONSP appears to have carefully coordinated the proposed activities this time around, meaning none of the programs should be cut, said Takafumi Matsui, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo and deputy chairman of the Space Policy Commission, which coordinates space policy for the Cabinet, reporting directly to Abe.

Matsui said the budget reflects a growing sense within Japan’s national security establishment that space must be more closely integrated into the nation’s defense strategy, which calls for closer cooperation with the U.S. military and bolstering communications and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

The foundation for this lies in the five-year Basic Plan of January 2012, which among other things eroded some of Japan’s traditional policy barriers to military space activities.

In an update to that plan released Aug. 20, the Space Policy Commission said Japan should deploy a “full” seven-satellite Quasi-Zenith Satellite System as early as possible. Seven satellites would enable the system to operate as a stand-alone regional GPS system.

The policy also prioritized reinforcing the IGS system with more satellites, and developing and deploying relay satellites to deal with increased data demands.

“The new policy is a new concept; the previous Basic Plan listed up everything. This time we are pursuing a more integrated approach,” Matsui said.

Hiroshi Imazu, chairman of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Special Committee on Space and Maritime Development, told SpaceNews that the party wanted Japan to double its IGS fleet to eight satellites, develop a maritime surveillance constellation and rapidly advance discussions on how Japan could contribute to U.S. missile warning capabilities. Imazu said the midterm plan “almost fully reflected” the party’s focus on national security first, industrial policy second and science third.

Masaru Uji, general manager at the Society of Japanese Aerospace Companies, welcomed the request as an achievable investment in Japan’s space industry. He agreed that this year’s request stands a much better chance of approval due to better coordination between the ONSP and the ministries, including the finance ministry. “I believe no main items will be cut by the Ministry of Finance,” Uji said.

Uji also suggested that ALOS-3 could have a role in the maritime surveillance mission. “ALOS-3 is good for industry and useful for Japan but there is no fixed concept for the [Maritime Domain Awareness] constellation. There are wide number of ideas under discussion and nothing has really been decided yet,” he said.