Japan's launch of its fourth spy satellite last February and the upcoming launch of two Israeli spy satellites underscore the high level of tension at Asia's flashpoints, and the key role in national security played by Asia's relatively few military spy satellites, and by its more numerous "dual use" satellites.
Unabated security concerns are also driving the growth of Asia's defense industries, and opens the door to international firms with products leveraging satellite's advantages. Japan, China and India remain among the world's largest defense spenders, and their defense budgets are on the rise.
IGS-2B, Japan's second satellite with Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) capable of "seeing" through clouds and smoke, was launched by an H-2A launch vehicle from the Tanageshima launch center.
This radar spy intends to satisfy Japan's need for real time information and warning about ballistic missile launches by communist North Korea. It joins IGS-1B, another imaging radar satellite and two in-orbit photoreconnaissance satellites (IGS-1A and -2A) also monitoring North Korea.
These four low Earth orbit spy satellites, all made in Japan by Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, cost over $2 billion. They constitute Japan's single largest defense hardware expenditure in decades, and are among the most expensive spy satellites built outside the USA.
Japan's spy satellite program was initiated after North Korea launched a ballistic missile in 1998 that flew over Japan.
Despite recent news that North Korea intends to return to the six-nation talks aimed at curbing its nascent nuclear program, Japan will push forward with launching two more improved spy satellites, thereby enhancing a satellite constellation watching over North Korea's nuclear facilities at Yongbyong and elsewhere.
The existing constellation now orbits at a speed of 29,000 kilometers per hour along different axes. The grainy quality their "high resolution" cameras, however, fall short of that available on other spy satellites such as India's dual use Technology Experiment Satellite (TES). This satellite's camera with a resolution of one-meter can tell an SUV from a pickup, and today spies on Pakistan and on NATO in Afghanistan.
As a result, Japan, intends to launch third and fourth-generation spy satellites by 2011 that will feature marked improvements over the existing fleet. These new birds will be lighter, capable of faster acquisition and have cameras so good they can tell whether a North Korean MIG jet fighter has missiles or expendable fuel tanks under its wings.
Japan's obsession with national security, and with satellites as its first line of defense, is matched in Asia only by Israel. The Jewish state counts on a single sophisticated photoreconnaissance satellite to stand watch over neighbors such as Iran and Syria.
This lone spy sat, Ofek-5, will soon be joined by Ofek-7 and a SAR satellite called TechSAR with all-weather imaging capabilities. Both are to be orbited later this year or in early 2008. The Ofeks are high-resolution imaging satellites used solely for military intelligence purposes. India will launch Ofek-7 on one of its polar satellite launch vehicles.
Israel then intends to loft Amos-3, its third military communications satellite, making 2007-2008 the most intense years in the history of its military satellites.
By 2008, Japan and Israel should have 10 military satellites in orbit. This number does not include military-civilian, or dual use, satellites such as Israel's two Eros (Earth Remote Observation Satellite) remote sensing satellites whose major client is the Israeli Ministry of Defense.
Israel intends to upgrade the quality of its future spy sats by developing what are considered the next generation of nanosatellites (10 kg) and microsatellites (100 kg) compared to existing satellites that weigh over 1,000 kg.
These new satellites will be launched from specially configured Israeli jets in much the same way air-to-air missiles are launched. Scientists at Rafael and Israel's Armament Development Authority are examining technology to upgrade existing missiles with more powerful engines and install microsatellites in their noses. Israel expects to have these small satellites available by 2008. Israel's defense industry will build these small satellites.
No military satellites
Elsewhere in Asia, the military satellite picture remains quite different, but only because of clever word plays. China and India do not "officially" operate military spy satellites, but they do have dual use "remote sensing" and "weather" satellites that further blur the distinction between military and civilian satellites.
Japan steadfastly refuses to call its satellites spy satellites, but instead refers to them by the polite phrase, Information Gathering Satellites (IGS). Australia only rents out transponders for military use on civilian satellites such as the Optus and Defense C1 satellite.
KoreaSat 5 is South Korea's first satellite with military communications as a primary objective. It was launched into orbit in August 2006 and at last gives South Korea's military a system that offers secure critical communications. KoreaSat 5 is, however, a dual use satellite that also provides Direct-to-Home (DTH) services to thousands of paying subscribers in South Korea.
That leaves Israel as Asia's sole country that admits to operating dedicated military satellites, which can be defined as those that take high resolution pictures, eavesdrop on electronic signals, intercept radio conversations, have infrared vision, carry radar or relay communications to be used by military or national security agencies.
Asian milsats today
Asian nations with military and dual use satellites remain gripped by perceived threats to their national security from neighboring countries. Terrorism appears less of a concern to these nations than are the large armies across their borders capable of fighting a ghastly conventional war.
It is China chary over another war against India but bellicose against Taiwan; Japan anxious over North Korea and its ballistic missiles; South Korea primed for a fight against North Korea; Israel seeking to ensure its existence against its Muslim neighbors; Australia casting a suspicious eye at Indonesia; India cautious of another war against Pakistan.
As the major threats faced by these countries come from conventional military forces, their response is also conventional. And any soldier worth his salt understands that if one knows his enemy as well as himself, one need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
Satellites feed the soldiers' primordial need to know the enemy by supplying intelligence and early warning.
In China's case, however, her lack of modern military satellites of any type not only blinds her, but also seems to diminish the credibility of the threat posed by her massive conventional forces.
Satellite guided weapons have demonstrated incredible accuracy in Iraq and Afghanistan and China is unfortunate in not having stockpiles of these weapons and the satellites to guide them, which the US and Taiwan applaud.
China is modernizing what surface-to-surface (SSM) missiles it has, albeit slowly. It is fielding increasing numbers of more accurate SSMs against Taiwan with guidance systems using the U.S. GPS or the Russian Glonass positioning satellites.
China now has close to a thousand SSMs aimed at Taiwan, which China considers a rogue province. China says it is strengthening its military muscle to defeat any attempt by Taiwan to declare independence.
Military analysts say the Chinese have improved the guidance system of their Dong Feng (East Wind) DF-11 and DF-15 short range ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan. Over 250 DF-11s and DF-15s are in position against Taiwan and constitute the most numerous and newest missile types deployed. The DF-15 or M-9 is the most accurate Chinese missile, with a circular error probability of some 90 meters when GPS guided, but there are only 200 of them arrayed against Taiwan.
Not even one Hawk battery
A recent study by Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense says that a single Hawk missile defense battery can withstand an attack by up to 275 DF-15s. The report concluded that China does not have enough DF-15s to destroy even one Hawk battery. Hence, Taiwan's confidence in surviving a missile attack by China no matter how intense.
Even were all DF-15s satellite guided, thousands would be needed to overwhelm Taiwan's American supplied missile defense systems that include the more accurate Patriot PAC-2. Then China has to take into account the counter threat from American spy satellites providing targeting information for Taiwanese and U.S. missiles.
China recognizes the sad state of its offensive capability, and has increased its annual defense spending by almost 18 percent to $45 billion this year as a remedy. The budget represents the largest increase in military spending in five years. The Chinese leadership said China needed to spend more on its military to upgrade its weak armed forces and counter any Taiwanese move toward independence.
The sharp spike in military outlays follows a 15 percent budget increase in 2006 as the People's Liberation Army tries to streamline its massive ground forces and deploy new missiles, warships and aircraft. In the meantime, Taiwan remains safe from Chinese attack.
The rise of China's military fueled by its strong economy is causing continued anxiety in Japan and South Korea. Even hawkish Australia is worried. The mood in Japan is believed to be moving away from the policy against developing nuclear weapon, though largely because of the recent nuclear test by North Korea, which is subservient to China.
After double-digit increases in annual defense outlays over much of the past 15 years, China is on track to become a major military power, but not quite powerful enough to damage U.S. interests severely. Some military experts said China was actually spending up to three times more on its military than the official figure.
China's defenses are weak
It is interesting to note that one of the Communist Party's justifications for the huge jump in China's defense spending was the need to modernize China's armed forces, and the claim that China's defenses are weak. One can appreciate the accuracy of these statements when one looks at China's military satellites.
China's lack of satellites to guide its offensive weapons is matched by a similar sad state of its reconnaissance satellites. China currently has no spy satellite fleet as the last of its photoreconnaissance satellites switched off in 1996.
Instead, China relies on imaging intelligence bought from commercial satellite companies in the USA and Europe. And to some extent on its civilian Fengyun "weather satellites" that are suspected of being used militarily.
U.S. intelligence also believes the Ziyuan series of remote sensing satellites are really spysats with false identities as civilian Earth-monitoring systems. They said these satellites, named Ziyuan-2, are secretly designated Jianbing-3, a military designation for spy satellites.
The Ziyuans could be used for planning combat missions, targeting missiles at U.S. forces in Japan or preparing aircraft strikes against Taiwan. Western military analysts also believe China's Beidou navigation system and its three satellites (the Chinese equivalent of GPS) can also provide targeting information for Chinese missiles.
In the future, however, analysts expect China to launch more high-technology space platforms, including even-higher-resolution imagery satellites, electronic signals intelligence satellites and military communications satellites.
These new "space toys" are bound to add to the growing apprehension in the West about China's deeper intentions in space exploration. China's destruction of one of its derelict Fengyun satellites using a ground launched ballistic missile last January stoked fears of China preparing space as the first battleground in any war involving the USA. The Bush administration then suspended plans to develop joint space ventures with China.
India: no milsats yet, but . . .
India does not operate a single military satellite, but will soon. What it does have, however, are some very capable remote sensing satellite whose high resolution cameras compare with the U.S.' best.
TES, built by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), and its one-meter resolution camera leads India in providing high quality imagery. TES is the precursor to India's proposed first military satellite and has proven to India the value of a sharp-eyed lookout in space.
During the start of the war in Afghanistan waged by the US-led international coalition forces in 2001, TES reportedly beamed one-meter high-resolution images of troop movements and coalition armored columns to India.
The pressing need for a spy satellite was strongly driven home, however, during the gory fight against Pakistan for the Kargil region in mid-1999. In the aftermath of that bloodbath, India came to the conclusion that satellite imagery could have warned them beforehand of Pakistani incursions, and avoided the much of the bloody fighting that followed.
One Indian military analyst cuttingly noted that India was so far behind in space based military systems that it would only realize its satellites had been destroyed by China when told so by the USA.
India's fleet of dual use, photo imagery satellites include Resourcesat-1 launched in October 2003 and considered India's most sophisticated remote sensing satellite to date. There's the 2.5 meter, high-resolution Cartosat-1 satellite equipped with two cameras able to point at an object from two different angles. Another mapping satellite, Cartosat-2, which has 1-meter resolution and a 120 gigabyte storage capacity for captured images, launched in January 2007.
Military satellites in the pipeline
In September 2005, India announced that a military space-based reconnaissance system was in an advanced stage of development and is expected to be operational by 2007. To this end, the Indian military has requested an exclusively military telecommunications satellite, and satellites with high-resolution cameras. The system was to have been operational by 2005, but the defense minister said validation of technologies took more time than anticipated.
India's extensive ground-based surveillance and coordination systems linked to its remote sensing satellites, would enable the country to keep a watch on any activity in its neighborhood. India is continuing to develop a broad-based space program with indigenous launch vehicles, satellites and control facilities, all of which will also be of great assistance to its upcoming Chandrayaan Moon exploration program.
Chandrayaan will use a modified PSLV rocket to send a small probe into lunar orbit, from where it will survey the surface of the Moon in an attempt to locate resources. Other countries including the US have expressed interest in attaching their own payloads to the mission. India and China along with the USA and the EU are engaged in the "Second Moon Race" whose finish line will see man again set foot on the Moon by the next decade.
Australia and Pakistan milsats
Australia's Optus and Defence C1 satellite is a dual use satellite. It carries a mixed payload that will serve the needs of its owner, Singtel Optus Pty Ltd, and the Australian Department of Defence.
Launched in 2003, it operates on four different frequency bands: commercial services in Ku-band for Singtel Optus; and military communications at UHF, X and Ka-bands for the Australian Department of Defence.
Optus and Defence C1 is one of the most advanced communications satellites, carrying a total of 16 antennas that provide 18 beams across Australia, New Zealand and the Asia-Pacific region, and global beams covering from India to Hawaii. The military Ka-band payload has four 33-MHz active transponders and one spare. X-band telecommunications links provided via the satellite will be used by the military for medium to high data rate one- and two-way video, as well as voice and data communications.
The Australian government said it was negotiating with the U.S. on a plan to build a military satellite communications facility on Australia's west coast.
Pakistan is forging ahead with long delayed plans to launch its first dual use satellite, Paksat-1R. It has, however, decided to achieve this aim with the help of Telesat Canada, a leading satellite operator.
Pakistan and Telesat this March signed a consulting contract in which Telesat will assist the Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco), Pakistan's
national space agency, procure and launch Paksat-1R, which will replace Paksat-1 in 2010. Pakistan has long made known its intention to have a military reconnaissance satellite because of its uneasy relationship with India.
Opportunities and Challenges
The leaders in Asia's satellite industry are also its biggest military spenders. Japan, South Korea, Israel, China and India have long been among the world's top arms buyers for decades.
And since satellites play key roles in attaining their national security objectives, the fortunes of their defense industries impact on their satellite industries, as well.
Except for China, these countries have built military-industrial complexes that tolerate foreign participation in their satellite and defense industries. As a communist state, China does not allow foreign investment or participation in its defense industries. China, however, has partnered with a few foreign countries such as France and Israel in weapons development involving technology transfers.
It is in the rapidly advancing field of information technology where much of the change sweeping Asia's satellite industry is taking place, and where business opportunities abound.
The Indian government now allows private sector participation in the defense industry at up to 100 percent for Indian companies, and with foreign direct investment permissible up to 26 percent for the manufacture of all types of defense equipment within the country.
Private companies are allowed to apply either individually or by joint ventures. Preference is given to original equipment manufacturers or design establishments and those having a good track record as suppliers.
India's civilian and dual use satellites are the domain of ISRO, which has developed, built and launched practically all of India's satellites in partnership with domestic Indian companies, and a few foreign ones.
Whether ISRO plays the key role in India's military satellites is unclear, however. Some Indian military leaders are opting for a military unit to take charge of all aspects of building, launching and maintaining military satellites.
Should this take place, India stands on the verge of creating a military satellite industry that can be a serious competitor to the U.S. and the European Union.
Japan's "old boys club" continues to dominate its satellite and defense industries. Nearly 60 percent of Japanese defense contracts were awarded to five large corporations: Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Toshiba Corporation, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries Corporation and Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, builder of the IGS spy satellites. Competition for contracts has intensified as larger portions of the defense budget are allotted to procurement.
Japanese corporations are marketing mainly dual-use electronics subcomponents, vehicles, and transport and communications equipment. They also provide components for missiles and aircraft produced overseas, especially in the United States. Japan is keeping military expenditure at only 1% of GDP.
Japan's posture is a defensive one with no weapons of mass destruction, no long-range bombers, no middle or long-range missiles, no aircraft carriers and no nuclear submarines. Japan, however, has considerable conventional weapons, and wants to use its Self-Defence Forces for peacekeeping operations.
Taiwan, while having no military satellites of its own, relies on U.S. military satellites as the cornerstones of any successful defense against invasion by China. It also has two remote sensing satellites, RocSat-1 and -2.
RocSat-2 can take pictures of Earth objects as small as two meters across. The satellite orbits the earth 14 times a day, including two passes over Taiwan, at 890 kilometers altitude.
Only this March, Taiwan made headlines with its offer to rent or buy one of Israel's dual use Eros satellites, the newest of which is capable of taking sharp pictures of surface objects as small as 70 centimeters (28 inches).
Described by some military analysts as reconnaissance or spy satellites, the two in-orbit Eros satellites-Eros A and Eros B-are owned and operated by the Israeli company, ImageSat International. Taiwan is reportedly interested in the older Eros A that carries a high-resolution camera capable of discerning objects 1.8 meters across. The satellite is in low Earth orbit and carries a price tag of $300 million, according to sources. The newer Eros B can identify objects 70 centimeters across and is now used to monitor Iran's nuclear program.
Eros A, launched in December 2000, and Eros B, which became operational in June 2006, also provide imaging intelligence to the Israeli government. Each of the satellites passes over Israel and neighboring states four times a day.
Eros A has a planned lifespan of 10 years in orbit and is scheduled to remain in service until 2010, when it will be replaced by the more advanced Eros C.
Taiwan has placed its salvation in the hands of information technology (IT). Taiwan is building a national defense capability that emphasizes quality over quantity by fielding a C4ISR system in conjunction with defensive weapons. Taiwan believes the key to any successful national defense is information superiority over China.
Taiwan believes information superiority is essential since China's threats include synchronized, multi-faceted, surprise and quick attacks by the People's Liberation Army. Information warfare is expected to precede any attack. Taiwan, therefore, sees information superiority as crucial to achieving victory in combat.
The country's focus on IT as its savior is mirrored in its defense acquisitions. In the near future, Taiwan's most urgent defense requirements are the integration tasks between current platforms and weapons within and among Taiwan's armed forces. Taiwan's long-range defense plans include integrated battlefield management and C4ISR upgrades.
Taiwan has a strong private-sector industrial base. As a result of the lifting of restrictions on outsourcing contracts for military suppliers, qualified private plants for manufacturing and maintenance have been established under a competitive environment. Over 200 private firms accept contracts to develop and manufacture roughly 1,000 parts for military aircraft, missiles, avionics and armored vehicles.
The Potential for Ground Equipment Sales
Taiwan's reliance on IT, and on satellites, has led it to award ViaSat, Inc. a $12 million contract for the latter's Multifunctional Information Distribution System (MIDS) terminals, a battlefield tactical radio system.
Taiwan is purchasing 70 LVT(1) configuration terminals plus spares under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) Program through the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command. The order will be for the Taiwan Ministry of National Defense.
Taiwan has a large fleet of combat aircraft and ViaSat sees this initial award as an entry point for future business in Taiwan. MIDS LVT is part of a tactical radio system that collects data from many sources and displays an electronic overview of the battlefield using secure, high capacity, jam resistant, digital data and voice.
The system is used on US Navy, US Air Force, US Army platforms and military platforms of other nations. ViaSat is one of two U.S. government-qualified manufacturers of Link-16 MIDS airborne terminals and is the only qualified manufacturer of the LVT(2) ground-based terminal.
In January 2007, Taiwan awarded Integral Systems, Inc. a sole-source contract to upgrade Taiwan 's National Space Organization's (NSPO) existing mission operations system to simultaneously operate the NSPO's new Argo satellite and RocSats-1 and -2.
The contract calls for Integral Systems to provide all of the software required to fly Argo and the two RocSats, including commanding, telemetry processing, orbit analysis, scheduling, and tracking station automation, using one single command and control system.
Despite its dual use nature, KoreaSat-5 (or Mugunghwa 5) is widely considered South Korea's first military satellite. It carries 12 military transponders and its launch is historic in that it ushered in South Korea's military satellite era.
It will also be a starting point for South Korea's military network-centric warfare capability. As can be expected from a revolutionary system, KoreaSat-5 will generate hardware and software necessary to exploit its unique capabilities.