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Japan is latest country to build its own 'space defence' force with £355 million unit

Rob Waugh
Contributor
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers his policy speech at the lower house of the parliament on January 20, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan (Photo by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images)

It’s not quite Star Wars, but the idea of space war moved a little closer to reality today as Japan became the latest nation to announce a space defence unit.

The £355 million unit will launch in 2022, and is built to protect against missiles and other new space technology.

Concerns are growing that China and Russia are seeking ways to interfere with, disable or destroy satellites.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the new unit will work closely with its US counterpart, recently launched by President Donald Trump.

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The Space Domain Mission Unit will start in April as part of Japan's Air Self-Defence Force, Mr Abe said in a policy speech marking the start of the year's parliamentary session.

"We will drastically bolster capability and system in order to secure superiority" in those areas, he said.

The space unit will be added to an existing air base at Fuchu in the western suburbs of Tokyo, where about 20 people will be staffed ahead of a full launch in 2022.

The role of the space unit is to conduct satellite-based navigation and communications for other troops in the field, rather than being on the ground.

Mr Abe's Cabinet in December approved 50.6 billion yen (£355 million) budget in space-related projects, pending parliamentary approval.

President Donald Trump applauds as the flag for the new the U.S. Space Command is revealed in the Rose Garden at the White House August 29, 2019 (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The unit will cooperate with the US Space Command that Mr Trump established in August, as well as the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Part of Mr Abe's plan while in office is to achieve his long-cherished goal of revising Japan's US-drafted constitution that prohibits use of force in settling international disputes.

Despite Mr Abe's push, chances are fading for the revision due to a lack of public interest and the opposition's focus on other controversial issues such as Japan's recent dispatch of naval troops to Middle East and questionable public record-keeping at Mr Abe's annual cherry blossom-viewing parties.

The speech came as Japan and its US allies marked the 60th anniversary of a treaty that has been the basis for their postwar defense alliance.

Abe's grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, who was prime minister at the time, signed the treaty in Washington on January 19, 1960 with President Dwight Eisenhower.

The treaty allows for the stationing of tens of thousands of U.S. troops and the deployment of American warships in Japan. 

In exchange, the U.S. is obligated to protect Japan in case of enemy attack.

"We have elevated the relationship to one in which each of us, the US and Japan, protects the other, thereby giving further force to the alliance," Abe said in his opening remarks. 

"Going forward, it is incumbent upon us to make it even more robust, to make it a pillar for safeguarding peace and security in both outer space and cyberspace."