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27 Jan 2023

Japan launches intelligence satellite to monitor North Korean military activity

Japan launches intelligence satellite to monitor North Korean military activity
Image: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)
Originally posted on NK News

Japan launched an intelligence satellite Thursday as part of long-running efforts to monitor North Korean military activities and strengthen Tokyo’s response to natural disasters.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries launched the H-IIA No. 46 rocket carrying the IGS-Radar 7 satellite from Tanegashima Space Center in Japan’s southwest, subsequently confirming the reconnaissance satellite successfully separated from the rocket.

“The government intends to make maximum use of information gathering satellites, including Radar 7, and continue to do everything possible for Japan’s national security and crisis management,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in a statement Thursday after the satellite entered orbit.

The new satellite is the latest in a series of launches under the country’s Information Gathering Satellite (IGS) program run by the Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center (CSICE), which was established in 1998 after a North Korean missile flew over Japan.

According to Japanese media, the launch is part of the government’s plans to operate 10 IGS satellites at all times from 2028 for security and disaster management. CSICE currently has five operational radar satellites, three optical satellites that take photos of the Earth during daylight hours and a data relay satellite to transmit information quickly.  

The launch of the new satellite comes as Tokyo seeks to strengthen its military and intelligence capabilities to deter security threats such as North Korea’s increasing missile and nuclear development. Pyongyang launched a record number of missiles last year, including one that overflew Japan in October and prompted evacuation warnings.

In its new National Security Strategy (NSS) released last month, the Kishida administration called for the development of “counterstrike capabilities” to target enemy territory in the event of an armed attack on Japan with ballistic missiles, marking a significant shift in how Tokyo interprets the country’s pacifist constitution.

The NSS sought to draw a distinction between these “counterstrike capabilities and “preemptive strikes” by emphasizing that the proposed move is purely for “self-defense” when there are no other options left, but the DPRK nevertheless accused its former colonizer of once more trying to become an “aggressive military power.” 

Washington has backed Japan’s counterstrike push, but questions remain about how the government will pay for stronger defense capabilities. Japan took its defense budget to a record high last year and plans to double it by 2027 in line with the NSS, but NK Pro analysis indicates that the Japanese public may be reluctant to pay new taxes to fund these initiatives.

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