TOKYO — In a bid to bolster its space communications infrastructure, Japan’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) is asking the country’s private sector to finance and build two geostationary communications satellites provisionally due for launch in 2015 and 2016 to support Japan’s ground forces, navy and overseas peacekeeping missions.
The two satellites are to be funded under a so-called Private Finance Initiative (PFI) under which the MoD will give a total of 122.4 billion yen ($1.6 billion) to a private holding company, called a Special Purposes Company, that will be established in October, said Atsuhiko Fujishige, director of the MoD’s Development and Procurement Planning Office.
The Special Purposes Company, which will be set up by a consortium of Japanese aerospace and satellite communications companies, will procure, launch and operate the two satellites using government funding, which will be provided in annual installments through 2030, Fujishige said.
The two satellites, which will be purchased from a Japanese vendor, will replace the current arrangement where MoD leases transponders on commercial geostationary communications satellites, a system that has been in place since the 1980s. The MoD currently leases transponders, through a company called MCC Corp., on several commercial satellites owned by Japan’s only commercial satellite broadcasting and communications provider, Sky Perfect JSat Corp. of Tokyo. Fujishige said the MoD spends about 7 billion yen annually leasing transponders.
By creating the PFI, the defense ministry is looking to get purpose-built satellites of its own without having to pay a lump sum to buy the satellites. Fujishige compared the PFI to a “long-term loan” that allows for the government to pay for the satellites over many years.
The Special Purpose Company, for its part, will own the satellites and be permitted to use the surplus capacity for commercial purposes, Fujishige said.
The satellites would provide encrypted X-band-based uplink and downlink communications, include no intersatellite links and be equipped with spot beams to enable communications with peacekeepers and other far-flung units around the Asia-Pacific region, according to Hitoshi Kurosawa, a member of the MoD’s Information and Communication, Follow-up Research Division.
In a statement, the MoD said it will issue a tender in April for the satellites and service. MoD expects companies interested in bidding to form consortiums. MoD will select the winning bid in September and the consortium behind the bid will be expected to form the Special Purposes Company soon after, probably in October, according to the statement. Once that happens, the Special Purposes Company will sign a contract with MoD to develop the satellites and provide service under the PFI arrangement.
Norihiro Sakamoto, a research fellow at the Tokyo Foundation, said that the PFI is an effective way for the MoD to fund a dedicated satellite system without breaking its space communications budget.
Sakamoto said that the most likely investors in the PFI include Sky Perfect JSat and satellite builders Mitsubishi Electric Corp. and NEC Corp. Sakamoto said Mitsubishi Electric was likely to build the satellites as it is the only Japanese vendor with proven and commercially successful geostationary communications satellites, based on the DS2000 platform, which has won several commercial orders.