Indo-Pacific Tensions: Top Commander Calls US Space Force In Japan A ‘Priority’ To Check China’s Belligerence

The United States Space Force is ‘prioritizing’ the establishment of a component field command in Japan as a strategic move to counter China’s growing capabilities, which pose a significant threat to American and allied forces in the Indo-Pacific region. 

Brig. Gen. Anthony Mastalir, the US Space Force Indo-Pacific Commander, said in his speech at the Australian Space Summit and Exhibition in Sydney on May 28 that the US Space Force was closely collaborating with the Japanese government to establish a new command.

Highlighting the initiative’s strategic importance, he said that Keen Edge, the recent joint military exercises involving Japan, the US, and Australia, had already simulated the presence of a Space Force module in Japan.

He described the simulation of such a module as a “very powerful” addition to their operational capabilities. While refraining from specifying a concrete timeframe for establishing the space unit, Mastalir expressed optimism, noting that there seemed to be no major obstacles hindering the plans.

In February, he suggested establishing the new space unit this year. The commander had been selected and was slated to assume responsibilities by summer.

210301-D-WD757-1915 | Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of … | Flickr
US Space Force

The formation of the US Space Forces Japan would mirror the establishment of the US Space Forces Korea, which took place at Osan Air Force Base in December 2022.

US Space Forces Japan would serve as components under US Forces Japan, akin to US Space Forces Korea operating under US Forces Korea. Additionally, US Space Forces Indo-Pacific operates as a component under the unified combatant command of US Indo-Pacific Command.

Mastalir reiterated the necessity of these components to address the evolving security landscape, particularly in the Indo-Pacific, where adversaries’ threats were most acute.

The move highlighted the US Space Force’s efforts to widen its footprint in the region and enhance interoperability with regional allies to safeguard shared interests in space and beyond.

The formal notification process with the Japanese government will include considerations such as bases and personnel deployments, reflecting the careful deliberation required for such a significant strategic undertaking.

US, Japan Space Partnership Amid China Threat

The collaboration between the United States and Japan in space has deepened significantly. In January 2023, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, alongside their Japanese counterparts, reaffirmed their commitment to extend their mutual defense policies to include space.

This means that an attack on either country’s satellites could trigger Article V of the US-Japan Security Treaty, allowing both nations to respond collectively to the threat, even if the attack occurs on Japanese territory.

This collaboration was deemed vital due to the escalating competition with nations like China and Russia, particularly in space, which has become a crucial arena for strategic rivalry between the United States and China.

According to a previous report by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, Beijing has advanced its capabilities in space significantly, developing various counter-space weapons such as ground-launched anti-satellite missiles, electronic warfare systems, and offensive satellites.

In response, US military officials have advocated the establishment of a “network of sensors” among allied partners. This network would enable quicker responses to irresponsible and aggressive behaviors in space, thereby helping to control escalation.

U.S. Space Force Guardians assigned to U.S. Space Forces Europe and Africa stand in a delta formation at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Dec. 8, 2023. Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Madelyn Keech

One of the primary concerns for the US Space Force in the region is protecting US and allied forces from China’s “kill chain,” which refers to the Chinese military’s ability to detect, track, engage, and assess targets.

Mastalir explained that this “kill chain” poses a threat not only to US assets but also to allied forces. Over the past five years, China has expanded its intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance satellite capabilities while investing in directed-energy weapons, space-based jamming technology, and ground-based anti-satellite missiles.

This expansion limits US intervention in areas like the South China Sea and the East China Sea. It also projects power within the second island chain, stretching from Japan to Guam and Papua New Guinea, according to Mastalir.

Additionally, the threat from North Korea remains a concern. Despite a recent unsuccessful attempt to launch a reconnaissance satellite, Pyongyang has plans to launch three military spy satellites in 2024, building on the successful launch of one in November 2023, reportedly with technical assistance from Russia, as per South Korea’s intelligence service.

US officials viewed the increased cooperation between Russia, China, and North Korea as deeply concerning, considering these countries’ authoritarian regimes. Mastalir said that these regimes had consistently shown little regard for international norms and had often chosen not to engage in international cooperation.