Super Spectacle in Ukraine War, Japanese Army Gives Elon Musks Starlink Test Run Amidst Warlike Chinese

The Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF), which has embarked on a massive military modernization, is currently testing Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite network, a year after Ukraine began using it amid an unprecedented Russian invasion.

The news was first published by the Japanese newspaper The Yomiuri Shimbun, which also said that the deployment of SpaceX Starlink technology would add a constellation of low-Earth orbit satellites, in addition to the geostationary orbit communications satellites already available to the Japanese Ministry of Defense.

Sources accessed to the publication reportedly revealed that the SDF has been conducting trials of SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellations since March of this year.

The air, land and sea SDFs will be equipped with Starlink antennas and other communication tools based on an agreement signed between the Japanese Ministry of Defense and an agent of SpaceX, which operates Starlink. The SDF used the service at around ten different sites, including bases and camps, to check for operational problems.

Currently, the ministry has two of its own X-band communications satellites in geostationary orbit approximately 36,000 kilometers above the Earth for use by the SDF. With Starlink’s test run, this is the first time SDF has used a constellation of low-orbit satellites.

According to Japanese media, a deal with another company providing a similar service is also in the works and is expected to be finalized during the current fiscal year. However, the country could start using the high-speed Starlink communications network in the next fiscal year.

The Japanese Defense Ministry intends to improve the communication infrastructure of the SDF as China and Russia step up efforts to strengthen their anti-satellite capabilities (ASAT). Both countries have often been accused of carrying out dangerous ASAT tests, putting satellites in space at risk.

In addition to US-based military satellites, the SDF is also exploring options from other states. The decision comes as Japan embarked on a military modernization journey to combat the threat posed by its three adversaries: China, North Korea and Russia.

The Japanese military believes that China and Russia possess ground-based jammers that they have reportedly used on other countries’ satellites. In an emergency, communication satellites being attacked and going haywire could put SDF units in a crippling situation.

However, satellite constellations comprise many satellites, so even if some are destroyed, they can still function and keep communication up and running.

China is also making concerted efforts to create a satellite-powered internet that can rival Elon Musk’s Starlink. China originally intended to launch two LEO Internet service constellations, but they were scrapped in favor of GuoWang, which could be launched in the near future.

Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite constellation network has gained popularity as it has kept Ukraine’s communications network up and running for over a year since the start of the war. Impressed by its deployment, Taiwan is also working on a similar satellite, with the threat of a Chinese invasion looming.

Use of Starlink in Ukraine

The report on Japan testing of Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite network comes days after reports indicated the Pentagon had agreed to buy Starlink satellite internet terminals from SpaceX for use in Ukraine.

“We continue to work with a number of global partners to ensure Ukraine has the satellite and communications capabilities it needs. Satellite communications form a vital layer in Ukraine’s overall communications network, and the department contracts with Starlink for services of this type,” the Pentagon said.

Just days into the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Mykhailo Fedorov, the Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, tweeted to Elon Musk asking for Starlink services to the nation to provide constant communication to citizens and the government at the onset of the conflict.

After Fedorov filed his request, Musk responded on social media within a day, stating that “Starlink service is now active in Ukraine.”

Fedorov’s request was made during a time of widespread internet outages in the nation, as Russia targeted the communications infrastructure as part of its special military operation. Since modern battlefields are based on internet connectivity, attackers seek to obliterate these systems to cripple their opponents’ fighting capability.

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In Ukraine, it took SpaceX just hours to start service and two days to ship new terminals to Ukraine for improved and scaled-up connectivity. Since it was activated, civil and military authorities have used the SpaceX service.

Several media reports over the months have suggested that the Ukrainian military has begun exploiting the battlefield technology in creative ways, as it has quickly become part of the nation’s communications infrastructure, such as using it to operate drones of surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as unmanned combat drones.

While Elon Musk and Ukrainian officials have often entered into discussions and controversies over the use of these satellite networks, Starlink in Ukraine has undoubtedly highlighted the importance of such technology in the modern battlefields.

With Japan’s military modernization in full swing, Starlink’s deployment may come as no surprise to anyone, including Tokyo’s regional rivals.

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