Japan will launch new spying and navigation satellites to serve military purposes over the next decade, announcing a major departure from its solely peaceful space policy.
Hailed a "historic turning point" by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the shift in the country’s priorities is believed to be a response to growing capabilities of its Asian rivals China and India.
Experts believe Japan wants to reinforce its defence capabilities and gain independent capacity to navigate vehicles and weapon systems.
Currently operating only one positioning satellite, Japan said it would develop a fleet of seven such spacecraft. It will also build and launch further remote-sensing satellites designed to collect intelligence data, detect ships and military facilities of its adversaries, and spot submarines based on the temperature of the sea water.
The solely peaceful science and research focus of Japan’s space sector has been the leading principle of the country’s space endeavours since its early days. As embedded in Japan’s post-Second World War constitution, Japan deliberately chose not to invest in defence technology development.
Last year, however, for the first time since the war’s end, Japan’s Prime Minister Abe eased the post-war pacifist direction by allowing exports of arms and agreeing to let Japanese troops fight overseas.
"We've managed to compile a long-term and specific plan that fully takes into account our new security policy," Abe told a meeting of his ministers. "As the key principle of our space policy, this is something that marks a historic turning point.”
In a recently published report, Japan’s government explained the shift in the policy was a direct reaction to the changes in the security environment surrounding Japan.
“The importance of space is getting bigger for safeguarding our security," the government stated in the report.
"China is rapidly strengthening its space capabilities and developing anti-satellite weapons. It is said to be developing devices that obstruct satellites' functions with laser beams."
Relations between the two Asian super powers have deteriorated sharply in recent years as a result of a dispute over territorial claims in the East China Sea.
Apart from defence motives, Japan is also driven by commercial interests. The government report states the country would like to increase sales of its space-related hardware to $42bn over the next decade.
The government report didn’t provide an exact estimate of the current volume of international sales but it is believed the current value of Japan’s space exports is worth only about $2.5bn. The majority of the technology is manufactured by Mitsubishi Electric and NEC.