Home Implications of Japan's First Military Communication Satellite Kirameki-2

Implications of Japan's First Military Communication Satellite Kirameki-2

East Asia is marked by numerous volatile security issues: struggle over unresolved territories; disputed sea and sea lanes; North Korea’s missile and nuclear programmes; piracy and insurgencies; and growing militarization of most of the countries in the region. Japan’s leaders have decided on a more proactive security stance.[i]

North Korean nuclear arms development and ballistic missile deployment are direct military threats against Japan along with the international community. North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals, a grave issue concerning the sovereignty of Japan and the lives and security of the Japanese people, is yet to be resolved. The development of nuclear weapons and missiles by North Korea is feared to bring about the transfer of such weapons and technologies to a third country or a non-state actor. In particular, transfers of fissile materials and nuclear-related technologies would endanger the entire international community, should they be made to countries in the Middle East and international terrorist groups through either an open or secret market.[ii]

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un announced that the nation had entered the “final stage of preparation for the test launch” of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). An ICBM test calls into question not just Japan’s physical security but also that of its formal ally, the United States. North Korea’s nuclear and missile issue therefore should be dealt with as a global security issue as well as a regional one.[iii]

Chinese military modernization is a new challenge for the defence of Japan and the Japan-U.S. alliance. China has been continuously increasing its defence budget at a high level, and has been rapidly reinforcing its military capabilities in a wide range of areas, without sufficient transparency. China has been pursuing the strategy of anti-access and area denial operations by rapidly strengthening its ballistic and cruise missile system, its underwater warfare system including submarines and advanced mines, its space warfare system, its computer-network-based capability, and its special operation forces.  In addition, China is rapidly expanding and intensifying its activities both in quality and quantity in the maritime and aerial domains in the region, including in the East and South China Seas.

Japan and China are locked in a territorial dispute in the East China Sea over a group of uninhabited islands known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. This territory is also claimed by Taiwan. Since 2012, China has used maritime law enforcement ships and aircraft to patrol near the islands in order to challenge Japan’s administration. Chinese officials continue to claim the islands are part of China’s territory and that China will resolutely respond to any perceived external provocation.[iv]

If China’s naval and air operational capability is extended beyond the first island chain in the East China Sea to the second island chain in the Western Pacific Ocean, its ability to block the access of U.S. Pacific Command will be enhanced, affecting the U.S. deterrence capability in the entire East Asian region.

Japan’s National Security Objectives

According to Japan’s Defence White Paper 2016, in order to safeguard Japan’s national interests and to fulfill Japan’s responsibilities in the international community, Japan will work to achieve the following national security objectives.

  • Strengthen the deterrence necessary for maintaining Japan’s peace and security and for ensuring its survival, thus deterring threats from directly reaching Japan, and defeating such threats and minimizing damage if by chance such threats should reach Japan.
  • Improve the security environment of the Asia-Pacific region and prevent the emergence of and reduce direct threats to Japan, through strengthening the Japan-U.S. Alliance, enhancing the trust and cooperative relationships between Japan and its partners within and outside the Asia Pacific region, and promoting practical security cooperation.
  • Improve the global security environment and build a peaceful, stable and prosperous international community by strengthening the international order based on universal values and rules, and by playing a leading role in the settlement of disputes.[v]

Japan’s Self Defence Policy

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has proposed significant changes in Japan’s defence policy to shift Japan away from an isolated, pacifistic defence posture to a more dynamic one based on bilateral and even multilateral relationships. The Japanese Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved a proposal that allows Japan to reinterpret Article 9 of the constitution with regards to collective self-defence (CSD), to include the defence of an ally under attack in its view on self-defence.[vi]Japan’s defence policy is now focused on expanding JSDF roles and missions as public perceptions of the JSDF have evolved.

Under the new policy, Japan’s powerful but low-profile military would be allowed to defend friends and allies under attack for the first time, even overseas. It is part of a new interpretation of Japan’s war-renouncing constitution that Abe has pushed since taking office 18 months ago.[vii]Until now, however, Japan's Self-Defence Forces (SDF) have operated on the premise that they could not come to the aid of friendly countries — like the U.S., for example — unless the Japanese were directly attacked as well.[viii]


On 24th January 2017, Japan launched its first military communication satellite (Kirameki-2)   to boost the broadband capacity of its Self Defence Forces. An H-IIA rocket carrying the Kirameki-2 defence communication satellite was launched by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture.

The Kirameki-2 satellite is one of three defence communications satellites that will replace three civilian satellites currently used by the SDF. The launch of the Kirameki-2 precedes that of the Kirameki-1, which is undergoing repair after it was damaged during transportation to a launch site in French Guiana in South America.[ix]

 The ministry expects to operate the new communications satellites, which use X-band technology, for about 15 years. The X-band frequency range is widely used for military communications.  The new satellites will allow military units to communicate on a high-speed and high-capacity network. The new satellites are also aimed at stepping up Japan's emergency response capability in case of natural disaster, China's maritime activity from southern Japanese waters to the South China Sea, as well as missile threats from North Korea.[x]

The ministry also plans to position the Kirameki-2 over the Indian Ocean and expects the satellite to also be utilized by SDF personnel taking part in U.N. peacekeeping operations in South Sudan and those participating in an anti-piracy mission in waters off Somalia.[xi]


These satellites are being put in place with an eye towards responding more effectively and efficiently to growing security challenges in the East China Sea region and from North Korea. China in the past has made some resolute investments in Space and has built a strong surveillance capability to monitor activity and developments in the region. China has built network of military communication satellites which is supported by its Tianlian data relay satellite constellation. China’s Haiyang series satellites are ocean monitoring satellites and these can monitor the dispute Senkaku/Diaoyu islands and Scarborough Shoal/Huangyan Island. In all, China has strengthened its force posture over the years in this region.[xii]

Japan, the main U.S. ally in Asia, is concerned that a recent increase in Chinese military activity in the area is a sign it is looking to extend its military influence from the neighboring South China Sea as a challenge to U.S. maritime dominance.In the nine months from April to December 2016, Japan scrambled fighter jets to counter Chinese aircraft approaching Japanese airspace 644 times, almost double the 373 times a year earlier.With Trump coming to power and making some aggressive remarks against Chinese interests, Japan which is an important ally of the US also need to watch China’s movescarefully and be prepared for any eventuality.

According to Defence Ministry officials, the new satellites will enhance direct communication among units of the Japanese Ground, Maritime and Air SDF through a high-speed and high-capacity network amid increased North Korean missile activity and potential threats to the nation’s remote islands. [xiii]The launch could be seen as Japan’s proactive part in the security of this region and also to prove itself as a military power to increasingly aggressive China.




[ii] Id

[v]Annual Report to Congress:  http://www.mod.go.jp/e/publ/w_paper/2016.html





[vii]Japan Ends Ban on Military Self-Defense: http://time.com/2946076/japan-ends-ban-on-military-self-defense/


[viii] Id


[ix]Japan launches first military communications satellite:




[x] Japan's military launches first communications satellite amid growing threats from China and North Korea: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4151078/Japans-military-launches-communications-satellite.html


[xii]Japan Launches First Military Communication Satellite: 



[xiii] Supra note7

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Anushree Dutta
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