This is the fourth Basic Space Plan since 2009 (average life expectancy is three years), which seems to be odd for the mid-term plan.
By Kazuto Suzuki
The Cabinet of Abe Administration has adopted a new Basic Space Plan on June 30. The Basic Space Plan is supposed to be mid- to long-term plan for Japan’s space activities with budgetary implications. This is the fourth Basic Space Plan since 2009 (average life expectancy is three years), which seems to be odd for the mid-term plan. It is largely because the change of government in 2012 has let a new Plan in 2013, and then new security-related legislation established in 2015 required to have a greater role of space, the plan was amended in 2015. This suggests that Japanese space strategy is still in a transitional period and subjected to the change of national grand strategy. In other words, Japanese space plan is flexibly meeting the needs from its strategic decision.
The new Basic Space Plan has a broader aim to achieve “autonomous space utilization power”. Although the Plan is a programmatic spending plan, the focus on this Plan is not how much the government spends on which technology or satellites. Instead, it aims to make space contributing to achieving national goals such as maintaining and strengthening the alliance and expanding space utilization which would lead to technological development. Especially, the Plan proposes international collaboration for building mega-constellation for early-warning satellites as a complementary program for the US SBIRS (Space-Based Infrared System) for detecting missile launch. It also calls for dialogue for international rulemaking on Space Traffic Management (STM) and global use of Low Earth Orbits. As for space exploration, Japan has committed to participate in US-led Artemis program, particularly on the Lunar Gateway elements. Participation in Artemis program is not just for sending Japanese astronauts to the lunar surface, but also it would contribute to strengthening the overall alliance with the United States.
Among these new programs, there are many aspects that can lead to further collaboration between Japan and India. The first one is the mega-constellation early-warning satellites. Although it is aiming to detect missile launches from North Korea in the first place, it is a global system which can be used for monitoring missile launch all over the globe. It, of course, includes Chinese and Russian launches. The key issue is that if we depend on the early warning by a limited number of satellites (for example, Japan depends heavily on one US satellite in geostationary orbit), the risk of losing this satellite will have significant impact on missile defense capabilities. Thus, it is inevitable to build an alternative early warning system which would mitigate the risk of losing such a system and enhances missile detecting capabilities. It is beneficial not only for Japan but also for India, and it would also provide an opportunity for developing small satellite technology. Although it inherently tied to US missile detection system, if India considers such mega-constellation satellite system as back-up or secondary early warning system, it is worth contributing.
The other implication for Japan-India relationship is Japan’s ambition to the lunar landing. Although the Plan specifically mentions Artemis program, but there is some skepticism whether it will go on as projected. There is a strong concern that this program was politically driven by Trump Administration, and the plan for lunar landing by American astronauts by 2024 seems too ambitious. There is also a looming concern that this program may be terminated if Mr Trump loses in the coming election. Thus, it is important for the Japanese government to have a more secured partner and program for achieving its goal for sending astronauts on the Moon. India will come to this picture. In fact, JAXA and ISRO are in discussion on separate lunar landing and exploration program, which is not yet mentioned in the Basic Space Plan. I hope this would supplement the Artemis program, and if possible, it would be wonderful to go to the Moon with the US and with India.
(The author is Professor of International Political Economy, Graduate School of Public Policy, Hokkaido University. Views expressed are personal).