by KYLE MIZOKAMI
Japan’s answer to NASA — JAXA — is slated to add defense and intelligence tasks to its traditionally civilian role. Kyodo explains:
A government panel on space program strategy plans to revise a law to allow the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to step outside its current commitment to peaceful projects and become involved in the use of space for national security.
Following the panel’s decision Friday, JAXA would be allowed to cooperate in developing spy and early warning satellites if the amendment bill is approved during the ordinary Diet session that convenes later this month.
The controversial move, however, is likely to provoke opposition to the military use of space.
The nation’s space program was based on a 1969 Diet resolution limiting it to nonmilitary fields in principle.
But a basic space program act enacted in 2008 stipulates that the program should contribute to security, permitting the use of space for defense purposes. (Link)
Japan maintains five spy satellites: three optical satellites and, as of December 12th, two radar satellites. In the United States, civilian and military space are both large enough to warrant separate programs. In Japan however, it just makes sense to have one agency control both areas. One possible concern with the merger is that military space in general is notoriously secretive and thus a spinner of red tape, which could slow down JAXA’s other civilian-oriented programs.
Along with the recent arms ban export relaxation, the decision to fold military missions into JAXA is part of a broad push towards mainstreaming defense and security in Japan.