AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Japan-India space alliance raises eyebrows

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 12, 2008

ONE PLANK of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s foreign policy was to forge closer ties with regional free market democracies, including Australia and India. While there is nothing inherently unusual about such alliances–indeed, they are natural–the idea raised some eyebrows in Chinese circles, for geographical reasons alone.

Mr. Abe didn’t stay in office long enough to make any headway in formalizing such an alliance, but Japan and India continued to discuss their mutual interests. These discussions bore fruit last month when the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) agreed to expand cooperation for disaster management.

As this article in the Asian Times by Peter J. Brown notes:

Japan has been using its weather satellites to provide free weather data to countries throughout Asia for many years without any hint of controversy, but this is quite different from deploying a new generation of surveillance satellites to monitor disasters.
Virtually all existing satellite-based multinational disaster management initiatives such as the “International Charter, Space and Major Disasters” depend upon the ability of the signatories to engage in the rapid tasking of their respective surveillance satellites. In other words, quickly altering the flight patterns of the surveillance satellites in question so they zoom right over a disaster zone is essential to the success of the mission at hand.

And the capability to alter the flight patterns of surveillance satellites means that the satellites have an obvious potential for dual use.

The article states that the Chinese are wondering if the United States is behind this cooperative venture and are using it as a means of containing them. Perhaps that is the case, but it is also true that the Japanese and Indians are more than capable of coming up with the idea on their own, and have the incentive to do so.

Mr. Brown fills a limited space with a lot of information, and the resultant lack of focus makes the article difficult to read. He quotes several people who are following regional events, but not all of them are convincing. For example:

Dr Joan Johnson-Freese, chair of the Department of National Security Studies at the US Naval War College, does not believe the Japan-India space relationship is picking up steam. “The consensus-driven decision making process used in Japan means that pretty much everything moves at a glacial pace,” said Johnson-Freese.

Dr. Johnson-Freese should be in a position to know, but she doesn’t account for the possibility that the Japan-India space ties could already have been under discussion for quite some time. She also overlooks the potential of the Japanese to move much more quickly than glacier speed when they’re concerned about their security. Satellites in the region can also monitor North Korean moves, for example.

Mr. Brown also quotes Dr. Gregory Kulacki, senior analyst and China project manager at the Massachusetts-based Union of Concerned Scientists, about Chinese development of space:

While they would welcome the opportunity to be a competitive commercial space player, especially in the international launch services market where they have a strong advantage…

Perhaps I’m missing something, but if they have a strong advantage in the international launch services market, woundn’t they already have the opportunity to be competitive?

Says Dr. Johnson-Freese:

“China very much wants to be seen as both the leader of space efforts in Asia, and for developing nations. They are using their manned program to reap all the prestige awards it renders – which are considerable, if only in perceptions created – including that it is beating the US”.

Do people really think the Chinese are beating the Americans in a manned space program? The same Americans who flew to the moon and back 40 years ago and have been flying space shuttles for more than a quarter of a century?

But the article is still worth reading to gain an understanding of the growing Japanese interest in the possible military exploitation of space. Japan recently enacted the Space Basic Law, which incorporates considerations of the use of space for national security. And the Yomiuri Shimbun further revealed that the country is thinking of putting an early warning satellite into orbit that can detect the launch of enemy ballistic missiles.

It might be the case that the American input into Japanese strategic thinking is more limited than some suspect.

One Response to “Japan-India space alliance raises eyebrows”

  1. Martin F said

    Hmmm, KARI, the South Korean space agency recently decided to hook up with Mitsubishi for a Arirang 3 satellite launch (planned for 2011).

    I’d say let China worry.

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