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Information Gathering Satellites - Development

On 06 November 1998 the cabinet decided to develop and launch four information-gathering satellites with reconnaissance capabilities by 2002, citing security concerns over North Korea's launching of a rocket over Japan. The government established a panel at the Cabinet Secretariat to discuss the budgetary and technical requirements for the satellites. The committee, headed by Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Teijiro Furukawa, involved representatives of the Cabinet Information Research Office and the Cabinet Office of National Security Affairs and Crisis Management. The Foreign Ministry, the Defense Agency, the Science and Technology Agency, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry and the Posts and Telecommunications Ministry were also represented on the committee.

Former Foreign Minister Taro Nakayama led a Liberal Democratic Party's satellite research team, visited the United States in November 1998 to gather information on whether the satellites will be produced domestically, imported from the United States or developed jointly with the United States. "U.S. technology is advanced and we hope both governments will discuss the issue," he said, implying the difficulties of developing satellites domestically.

On 21 December 1998 Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi's cabinet approved a draft budget for fiscal 1999 in which the Science and Technology Agency was allocated 6.8 billion yen for the plan. The agency will be in charge of making and launching the satellites. The Cabinet Secretariat, which will be in charge of the entire system, was allocated 1.4 billion yen in the draft budget. Related ministries were directed to "work in close cooperation" because the plan involves a considerable amount of funds and systematic backup. The Self Defence Agency convinced the Ministry of Finance to allocate up to $1.7 billion for the program. After gaining cabinet approval, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi's government would include funding for a study into the project in the supplementary budget for the fiscal year to March 2000.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka told a news conference it "will not be a reconnaissance satellite for defence." Japan may consider launching a "multi-purpose satellite" which could also be used for environmental protection and monitoring natural resources. Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi opened the 145th session of the Diet on 19 January 1999 with a speech in which he spelled out his views on the major issues facing the nation in the final year of the 20th century. The Prime Minister said "... in order to ensure the security of our nation in the international environment which surrounds us, I will take measures beginning with the introduction of information-gathering satellites in order to collect, analyze, and transmit information which can be of use in ensuring our national security and in managing crises."

Whether the satellites would be developed domestically or imported from the United States was initially undecided. The government wanted to develop the satellites domestically, while the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) wanted to import them to save time. In May 1999 the Japanese Government decided not to buy American satellites, but to have make Japanese industry develop the satellites. According to Secretary Nonaka, the reasons were that faster reaction would be possible, NASDA has the necessary technologies, and 1 meter resolution imagery would provide significant information. The US government had unofficially asked Japan to buy a US-made satellite. The Japanese government may eventually have to buy some US-made parts.

US Defense Secretary William Cohen said on 28 July 1999 that the US would support Japan's plans. In a Tokyo meeting with Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka, Cohen said the US will cooperate in the development of the intelligence-gathering satellites and wanted to discuss details at a working level.

In October 1999, the Japanese government had an exchange of notes with the US government on Japan's purchase of satellite parts and components from the United States. Reportedly the satellite parts and components Japan bought from the United States include: the device for controlling the optical sensor angle designed to locate ground objects; the data memory device for transmitting the image to the ground station and making analysis; and optical lens materials.

The Japanese Defense Agency (JDA) released its 1999 white paper on 27 July 1999. The paper said that the Government was working vigorously toward the introduction of Information Gathering Satellites. This satellite will orbit the Earth at an altitude of 400-600km and gather information on the Earth's surface. The launch of four satellites of two types-two with optical sensors and two with synthetic aperture radar (SAR)-is planned. A frequency of more than one observation of any given location by each type of satellite each day will be possible. The proposed system would cost $1.3 billion.

The optical sensors work like cameras in that they collect light from an observed object in a lens and gather information on the object's shape and other features. The Government intends to introduce optical sensors with resolution of 1m. (This is an indicator of sensor performance. In simple terms, a resolution of 1m means that objects of a size of 1m and larger can be recognized.) The SAR hits the Earth's surface with microwaves from the satellite. By observing the reflection, the device obtains information on the shape of the object reflecting the microwaves. This radar can make observations unaffected by the weather or nighttime darkness. The Government intends to introduce SAR with a resolution of 1-3m.

By using imagery data with a resolution of 1m, the Government believed it will be able to detect ballistic missile sites and to distinguish major maritime and air military assets such as warships and fighting aircraft from commercial ships and aircraft. If, at the time when such a satellite starts being utilized, its functions are deemed to be used commonly, then it will not be considered to be in violation of the aim of the Resolution on the Peaceful Use of Space, even if the SDF also uses it. Therefore, the Defense Agency believes that imagery data from the Information Gathering Satellites will be useful for assuring the security of Japan and looks forward to its commencement with great anticipation.

The budget for Japan's reconnaissance satellite may be as great as high as 260 billion yen (around US$2.6 billion, including expenses on R&D, launch, land requisition and construction). The research and development is undertaken by Japan's space development work group, with some technologies provided by the United States. The satellites will be LEO birds at orbits of 500 Km, and will make use of large satellite buses that could be partly based on a standard commercial bus or be used as a test bed for Mitsubishi's first commercial bus. H-2A rockets carrying information-gathering satellites weighing in at 1.5 metric tons were expected to be launched by early 2003.

The most likely sites for the reception stations were Tomakomai, Hokkaido, and an unspecified site in Kyushu's Kumamoto Prefecture. The control center, which handles operations and control, and the image information processing center, was to be set up in Japan's Defense Ministry's new commanding building completed in May 2000 in Ichigaya, Tokyo. A subcenter to back up the main control center would be built on a prefectural government lot in Kitauramachi, Ibaraki Prefecture. The government gave up the idea of building facilities in Okinawa Prefecture because of the military nature of the activities.

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Page last modified: 05-03-2020 18:23:14 ZULU