TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday Japan's existing Air Self-Defense Force may "evolve into the Air and Space SDF" in the future as he stressed the need to strengthen the country's defense capabilities in outer space.
Referring to the planned launch of a space operation unit inside the ASDF in fiscal 2020 starting next April, Abe said at an annual gathering of some 180 high-ranking SDF officers at the Defense Ministry it is "not a pipe dream" for Japan to have such combined forces.
The envisaged unit will be installed amid the intensifying race among major powers such as the United States, Russia and China to develop technologies in the domain.
The new troops will be tasked with monitoring radio interference, space debris and other countries' satellites that can pose threats to Japanese surveillance satellites orbiting Earth. They are initially expected to be staffed with about 70 personnel.
For the fiscal 2020 budget, the ministry has asked for 52.4 billion yen ($484 million) in August to beef up its outer space capability, including the establishment of the space operation unit.
In the meeting, Abe pointed to a rapidly changing security environment, including a recent string of North Korean missile launches, and also called for reinforcing Japan's defense capabilities in cyberspace.
The prime minister, however, refrained from referring to his long-cherished goal of amending Japan's postwar Constitution to clarify the legal status of the SDF in the war-renouncing Article 9.
Abe has called for adding an explicit reference to the SDF in the Constitution so that there is no room to view Japan's troops as "unconstitutional." The article currently bans the possession of military forces and anything that has "war potential."
New Defense Minister Taro Kono, who assumed the post in a Cabinet reshuffle last Wednesday, also attended the gathering.
In September last year, Abe indirectly showed his eagerness to revise the supreme law in a speech to the SDF's top brass, vowing to create "an environment where all SDF personnel can fulfill their duties with great pride."
His inclination toward constitutional revision suggested in the speech was later criticized by the opposition forces, which said it was "in breach of (the premier's) legal obligation to respect and uphold the Constitution."