Photo/IllutrationThe Defense Ministry in Tokyo (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Tokyo is moving to deepen its collaboration with Washington in space defense with plans to station liaison officers at a key U.S. Air Force base in California.

Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya and U.S. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan reaffirmed at a meeting in Tokyo on June 4 that the two allies will work more closely in space-related issues.

Japan’s Self-Defense Forces plan to establish a unit specializing in space matters by the end of March 2023. Washington announced plans to create a “space force” by 2020.

According to officials close to the Defense Ministry, plans are afoot to station SDF liaison officers based on a permanent basis at the Combined Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base to share and coordinate information.

The SDF’s unit specializing in space matters will be deployed at the Air SDF’s Fuchu Air Base on the outskirts of Tokyo to gather intelligence on space debris that poses a potential danger to Japanese satellites as well as monitor satellite activity by countries such as China and Russia. The unit will operate around the clock and be fully operational in fiscal 2023.

Highly sophisticated ground radar will also be installed in Yamaguchi Prefecture for the purpose.

Surveillance will be carried out jointly with the government-affiliated Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

The unit will share information it gathers with the U.S. military through interlinking systems.

The SDF plans to nurture space specialists by establishing a new field of space domain so applicants can apply for that career path from the outset.

Japan is eager to make inroads in this field in light of a growing interdependence among allied countries on military matters, especially with regard to information collected in space, according to officials close to the Defense Ministry.

If glitches arise in satellite activity, such as in communications, positioning and image gathering, it can affect communications between SDF units and their ability to determine their locations and deploy the SDF’s early-warning system.

China and Russia are said to be developing what are known as “killer” satellites that would approach those launched by the United States and other countries to sabotage their activities.