Japan has launched its new space defence unit to monitor and counter threats to the country’s satellites.

The Space Operations Squadron, part of Japan’s Air Self-Defence Force, started with 20 members and is expected to grow to about 100 members once the unit is fully operational in 2023.

The role of the unit is mainly to monitor and protect Japanese satellites from enemy attacks or space debris. It will also conduct satellite-based navigation and communications for other troops in the field.

The launch of the new unit comes amid growing Japanese concern that China and Russia are seeking ways to interfere, disable or destroy satellites.

The unit will cooperate with the US Space Command that President Donald Trump established last year, as well as Japan’s space exploration agency, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, said defence minister Taro Kono.

“It is important that we gain superiority in the space domain as well,” Mr Kono said at a launch ceremony. “We must adapt to the new security environment as soon as possible.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pushed for Japan’s Self-Defence Force to expand its international role and capability by bolstering cooperation and weapons compatibility with the US, as it increasingly works alongside American troops and as it grows concerned about the increasing capabilities of China and North Korea.

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