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Mitsubishi Electric wins 21-cent contract to study satellite-based missile monitoring tech

The Ministry of Defense is seen in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward. (Mainichi/Masahiro Ogawa)

TOKYO -- Mitsubishi Electric Corp. has accepted a Japanese government contract to research cutting edge technology to monitor missiles developed by China and North Korea via satellite for just 22 yen (about 21 cents), an inquiry with Japan's Ministry of Defense has revealed.

    A Defense Ministry official expressed their astonishment at the unprecedented low amount agreed on between the parties after the ministry put the research offer up for competitive bidding.

    Countries near Japan, including China and Russia, have been developing hypersonic military gliders, which can be maneuvered at high speed with irregular flight trajectories. North Korea has also been working on missiles with irregular trajectories, which pose a great threat. The Ministry of Defense set aside 88 million yen (about $848,320) for research and investigation into new technology to detect and monitor missiles with satellites in its budget for fiscal 2020.

    Mitsubishi Electric has been entrusted with research regarding the implementation of "limb observation," a type of method that enables missiles to be detected by stationing numerous satellites at the same altitude to survey missiles horizontally. According to the Defense Ministry, several firms participated in the competitive bidding, and Mitsubishi Electric, which presented the lowest bid, concluded the contract on Jan. 14.

    According to the ministry, there have been bids as low as several hundred yen (a few dollars) in the past, but no such offers had been made as of late. The ministry has not disclosed the amount of research costs it had envisioned, but it is believed to top several million yen (tens of thousands of dollars) at a conservative estimate. As the bidding price is less than 1/100,000th of the estimated research cost, the Defense Ministry has reportedly consulted with a lawyer to check if there are any problems with the contract, and has also confirmed with the electronics maker that they are capable of performing the research. No issues were found with either party.

    As for the reason for the extremely low bid, an individual close to the matter pointed out, "They may have wanted to accept the offer by any means, considering the great potential of surveillance via satellites in addition to research on limb observation." At the same time, the source expressed concern, saying, "The amount shouldered by the national government is small and it's good if the price is a result of a genuine corporate effort, but if it's not, it may not be able to win the public's understanding."

    Mitsubishi Electric, meanwhile, stated, "We will refrain from responding as we have entered into a covenant with the Defense Ministry."

    (Japanese original by Shu Hatakeyama, Political News Department)

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