September 5, 2005
Japans military satellite program suffered another setback recently, when the launch of a third bird was delayed for six months because of hardware flaw. Japan had long refrained from launching military satellites, but this changed when North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan in 1998. Japan promptly set out to get eight surveillance satellites in orbit by 2006, in order to keep an eye on North Korean nuclear weapons and ballistic missile efforts. Two Japanese satellites were launched in early 2003, but another two more were destroyed during late 2003, when the rocket malfunctioned. A fourth bird is scheduled to go up in late 2006. Japan has long relied on commercial photo satellites, and whatever they could get from the Americans. But for high resolution shots, on demand, of North Korea, and electronic eavesdropping from space, they need their own spy satellites. It is believed that the Japanese spy satellites are also being used to watch military developments in China and Russia.