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Air Warfare

Japanese satellites to track hypersonic weapons

10th May 2021 - 00:43 GMT | by Koji Miyake in Tokyo


Japan could cooperate with the US on the latter’s Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor. (Northrop Grumman)

As China's military fields hypersonic glide vehicles, Japan is seeking to use satellites to detect and track them.

Japan’s MoD budgeted JPY170 million ($1.5 million) for early-stage research into satellite constellations in its FY2021 budget. The future constellation will track hypersonic weapons that are hard for current ballistic missile defence systems to detect.

Multiple Japanese microsatellites in low orbit will monitor targets one after the other to achieve continuous monitoring. Even if one satellite loses functionality, other satellites will be able to step in.

In recent years, the vulnerability of expensive satellites has become an issue. They increase space debris, and some nations are developing attack methods to neutralise them, such as killer satellites, anti-satellite missiles and laser irradiation.

The business of providing communication services by using multiple microsatellites has already progressed in the private sector. In Japan, companies such as Canon Electronics and Space One have entered the market. Mega constellations have become a trend in both the military and civilian sectors.

To achieve microsatellites, the following technological developments are necessary: antenna technology that stores the synthetic aperture radar (SAR) antenna during rocket firings; electric and heat technology for signal power amplifiers that use high power and generate high heat; power system technology to store in batteries large amounts of energy generated by solar cells, and which discharge rapidly when the SAR is active; and high-capacity data transmission and storage.

US Strategic Command stated that in the future, it would no longer develop big, heavy satellites that are easy targets. The US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is already planning a Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor, where 1,000 satellites with infrared sensors are deployed in low orbit.

It is impossible for Japan’s budget to introduce so many satellites, so the MoD will cooperate with the MDA.

Meanwhile, the battle for satellite technology is already occurring in cyberspace. Japan’s Metropolitan Police Department stated on 20 April that around 200 research institutes, including the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and defence-related companies such as Mitsubishi Electric and NEC, had been cyber-attacked.

According to the police investigation, these attacks might have been done by the Tick hacker group under orders from the People’s Liberation Army.

In the past, government organisations and companies have been targeted by cyberattacks, and confidential data relating to artificial satellites might have been leaked. Delays in cybersecurity measures by the Japanese government and defence companies have been highlighted repeatedly, but they have not fundamentally improved.

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