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NEWS | Dec. 20, 2022

Three Years of Space Force- Reflections and the Future for Bilateral Space Operations in Japan

By Gunnery Sgt. Jonathan Wright United States Forces Japan

YOKOTA AIR BASE, TOKYO, Japan -- In 1921, Italian General Giulio Douhet claimed that “he who controls the air controls everything,” speaking to the importance of air superiority in armed conflict. More than one century later, his theory can still be applied to a much higher ground, and in the case of the region at the forefront of prioritization to both the United Stated and Japan, the importance of competition in space has not been lost.

On the United States Space Force’s third birthday, the previous years’ events regarding space security and defense in Japan have been many. In the enduring mission to secure a free and open Indo-Pacific against competing powers and natural disasters, United States Forces Japan (USFJ), unilaterally and together with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force, saw cooperation in the space domain increase tenfold.

“The space domain literally touches every aspect of modern operations, military and otherwise,” said Lt. Col. Geoffrey Walker, future operations division chief with USFJ. “Our function with the units we’re integrated with across Japan is to better defend and support the priorities of those units and their missions and to inform those planning and operation cycles from the aspect of the space domain. Space has touched everything in small ways, but that will only grow and improve as our assets and capabilities continue to improve.”

From terrestrial and space weather tracking to integrated missile defense and threat monitoring to routine communications between forces spread across the region and globe, every facet of modern operations is linked to operations in the space domain. As a constantly trained and equipped force is necessary for the defense of Japan in the traditional land, air and sea domains, such is true for the defense of the space domain; and even truer is the fact that it cannot be achieved unilaterally.

“The matter of space security and defense for us in Japan further demonstrates just what a capable and, more importantly, evolving alliance it is that we share,” said Brig. Gen. James Wellons, deputy commander of USFJ. “The bolstering of our space programs was not done in a vacuum; we grew and more deeply integrated information and planning in the space domain into our respective operations, and concurrently the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) stood up their Space Operations Group to do the same. We have collaborated every step of the way, and as the importance of space defense and operations is ever-growing, so too shall the alliance grow together to meet that requirement.”

Furthering Japan’s commitment to a stronger space security element, the defense and security documents update released by Japan on Dec. 16 includes plans to rename the JASDF to include the space domain while growing the amount of space personnel in its ranks.

On the U.S. side, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPAC) last month stood up U.S. Space Forces, Indo-Pacific, the service’s second component to present forces to a combatant command and the first at an overseas combatant command. USSPACEFOR-INDOPAC provides INDOPACOM and subordinate commands with an additional element of space personnel to liaise with regional allies and partners and to integrate space activities into shared operations and activities.

Concurrently, more USSF personnel are accelerating space capabilities in units across Japan, from the increased integration with Japanese partners at USFJ and down to the tactical level, such as the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit adding a USSF limited duty officer to its ranks in 2020 to better inform planning in the space domain in their operations. In recent bilateral exercises such as Keen Sword, the space operations cell has drastically grown with U.S. and Japanese personnel planning together, culminating in a three-day series of exercise events, the most detailed practical application of space defense planning and execution in a combat scenario of its size to date.

All these ‘firsts’ within the past few years detail the United States’ and Japan’s commitment to further improving operations and security initiatives in space, and, lock-step dedication is showcased where the alliance ensures an additional domain is safeguarded and operated in functionally for a stronger defense of Japan.

“This is the ‘decisive decade’ where those who will be the power competitors 100 kilometers up will be decided,” said Maj. Laura Light, future operations planner with USFJ. “As the Japanese continually build up their space capability, they learn from our best practices and make these programs their own, which in turn make us learn from an innovative approach to operations and information utilization. All that, with these two allies very dedicated to growth and collaboration in space, comes together in a very short time to allow for mutually-supportive systems for us to operate together. It works well now, but it will only improve drastically in the next few years to come.”

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