After a short suspension last year, Japan successfully resumed its military communications satellite program on Tuesday.
Amid China’s increasing maritime activities and North Korea’s missile threat, the Kirameki-2 satellite – Japan’s first military communications satellite – is designed to upgrade the communications networks for the country's Self Defense Forces.
It lifted off on an H-2A rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan, and successfully entered its designated orbit after separating from the rocket, according to Japan’s Defense Ministry.
The new satellite, one of the three so-called X-band satellites planned to replace the three civilian ones currently used by the Japanese military, will strengthen military units’ ability to communicate on a high-speed and high-capacity network.
The first satellite, the Kirameki-1, was planned to go into space last July, but was damaged during transport to a launch port in French Guiana. It is currently undergoing repair and is scheduled for launch next year.
As the main US ally in Asia grows increasingly alarmed by China’s military activity in the region and missile threats from North Korea, the new satellites will also expand Japan’s capacity to communicate across more territory in an emergency.
The island nation is in the midst of a territorial dispute with its neighbors in the East China Sea over a group of uninhabited islands that China calls the Diaoyu, while Japan calls them the Senkaku. According to a UN report in 1969, the islets may contain sizable petroleum reserves, which renewed territorial interests in the region.
Tensions between China and Japan escalated in 2016, with Japan scrambling to meet new challenges both in air and in the sea. Japan's Ministry of Defense announced Friday that Chinese aircraft approached Japanese airspace 644 times between April and December, almost doubling the number from the previous year. In December, in what China called a routine exercise, China sent out its first aircraft carrier with several warships into the passage between the Japanese Southwestern islands and the Pacific.
The new satellite program is also seen as part of the effort for Japan to assume a stronger security role in Asia under right-leaning Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which caused nuclear accidents and more than 15,000 fatalities, Japan also hopes to use the new satellites for emergency response in the case of a natural disaster.
They could also help Japanese troops in overseas operations, including its international peacekeeping operations in South Sudan and Somali.
This story includes materials from the Associated Press and Reuters.