Japan Launches New Spy Satellite

Japan, seeking to reduce its dependence on the United States and other countries for its foreign intelligence capabilities, launched its third spy satellite into orbit today aboard an H2-A rocket, the BBC reports:

Japan has two spy satellites already in orbit. Two others were lost when a rocket failed in November 2003.

Japan began its intelligence-gathering satellite programme following North Korea’s test launch of a long-range missile that flew over Japan in 1998.

This launch follows a series of missile tests by Pyongyang in July, which included a new weapon, the Taepodong-2, which is potentially capable of hitting parts of the United States.

The Japan Times provides more detail on the need for the satellite in a preview article published on Saturday:

The satellite will likely focus mainly on North Korea, particularly its ballistic missile sites. Tokyo considers the missiles one of the main threats to the country.

But since Japan’s spy satellites are inferior to those of the U.S. military, and even some newer commercial satellites, government officials say Japan must keep developing its own surveillance technology to ensure it has an independent source of intelligence.

"We have been far behind the U.S. To put it bluntly, the gap is like the one between a kindergartner and a college student," said Yoshio Omori, former head of the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office, an intelligence-gathering body that reports directly to the prime minister.

"Without independent information-gathering capability, Japan will be a blind follower (of other countries)," Omori warned.