Saturday, May 10, 2008

Boldly going where Japan has never gone before

Thanks to an agreement between the LDP, the DPJ, and Komeito, on Friday the HR's Cabinet committee passed a bill that revises Japanese space policy, lifting the 1969 ban on the military use of space. The bill, expected to pass the HR on Tuesday, will create a NASA-style agency attached to the cabinet as a modification of JAXA. As Asahi reports, the bill will also permit Japan to deploy higher resolution spy satellites (Japan is currently limited to commercial-grade satellites).

After passing the HR this coming week, the bill will pass to the HC, where it is expected to pass, although it is worth noting that on this issue, as on other defense issues, there are dissenting opinions within the DPJ, including (I would suspect) members from the party's left-wing-heavy HC caucus.

There are a few relevant questions about this bill.

First, why is the DPJ signing on to this initiative? I suspect that the DPJ is inclined to support this because it gives Japan military capability independent of the US. With higher resolution satellites, Japan would be that much less reliant on the US for information in the event of a crisis (say, a missile launch from North Korea). With the DPJ interested in more autonomy, it is little surprise that the party supports the development of more advanced Japanese space assets.

Second, why now? Is this just another step in Japan's "Sputnik moment," the prolonged reaction to North Korea's 1998 Taepodong launch?


Janne Morén said...

Why? Reconnaissance is important for any country, and having your own capability rather than relying totally on an outside provider is a matter of security in itself; in addition it is a defensive, not offensive capability, which makes it rather more palatable - and less threatening - than an offensive weapon system would be. And while the main use would be military, there is some benefit to that kind of capability for disaster management and such a s well.

Why now? This kind of capability is getting cheaper and better all the time. Why did you (or your workplace) decide to get personal computers at the time you did? Perhaps ten years ago, the cost of building, launching and maintaining such a system was not cost-effective for the results you got. But hardware is getting cheaper, and vastly more capable; launches too are much cheaper today than they used to be. So you can now build a smaller, more capable, more reliable satellite system with much better performance than you used to. I fully expect many more countries following suit.

Anonymous said...

It shows how shaken up the Japanese government has been by the explosion of a nuclear device in N Korea. Like politicians everywhere when the chips are down, the DPJ will cave in to public pressure.

tornadoes28 said...

Either of those reasons are good reasons.

Another even bigger reason. China.

If Japan wants to continue to be a technilogical world leader, they need to start concentrating on space, not just cars and electronics. China will overtake them in the technology of space if Japan sits idle.