TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan is shifting its space program toward potential military uses in a new policy hailed on Friday as a “historic turning point” by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who wants to strengthen defence and boost exports.
The move comes as emerging powers such as China and India join the United States to expand space activities for commercial and security purposes.
Last year, Abe eased a postwar curb on arms exports and on allowing troops to fight overseas, as part of a more robust military and diplomatic posture for Japan.
“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.”
The new measures will see Tokyo increase its fleet of global-positioning satellites to seven over the next decade, up from one now, to make Japan independent of other countries for uses from navigating vehicles to guiding weapons systems.
Japan will also step up the number of its information gathering satellites, which collect pictures of vessels and military facilities and measure sea surface temperatures for submarine detection, from four now.
It did not say how many of these latter satellites it would add, however.
“The security environment surrounding Japan is getting tougher, and the importance of space is getting bigger for safeguarding our security,” the government said in a report.
“China is rapidly strengthening its space capabilities and developing anti-satellite weapons,” it added. “It is said to be developing devices that obstruct satellites’ functions with laser beams.”
Sino-Japanese ties have deteriorated sharply in recent years, prompted by a territorial dispute over a group of tiny islets in the East China Sea.
Patrol ships and fighter jets from both countries routinely shadow each other near the islands, stoking fears that an accidental collision could lead to a wider clash.
Japan is targeting sales of five trillion yen ($42 billion) of space-related hardware over the next decade by stimulating domestic demand and helping manufacturers win overseas orders, the report said.
It did not give a comparative figure for the past 10 years. But such sales are estimated to total a little more than 300 billion yen annually now, a Cabinet Secretariat official said.
Japan’s major satellite manufacturers include Mitsubishi Electric Corp and NEC Corp.
Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Clarence Fernandez