Japan seeks record 5.3 trillion yen defence budget after warning of N.Korea, China threats

A Japan Self-Defense Forces soldier takes part in a drill at US Air Force Yokota Air Base in Fussa on the outskirts of Tokyo, Japan, on Aug 29, 2017.
A Japan Self-Defense Forces soldier takes part in a drill at US Air Force Yokota Air Base in Fussa on the outskirts of Tokyo, Japan, on Aug 29, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO - Japan's defence ministry on Friday (Aug 31) made its largest-ever budget request with the aim of bolstering the country's anti-missile systems and upgrading its air and sea fleet.

The request was made three days after the ministry in a White Paper said that Japan's security environment was "increasingly severe" due to North Korea and China.

The ministry has requested for 5.3 trillion yen ($65.6b) for the next fiscal year from April, which, if approved, would mean a jump of 2.1 per cent from this year's budget, the seventh straight annual increase in defence expenditure.

"We will build up a 'cross-domain' defence strategy that directly addresses the reality of the increasingly severe and sophisticated threats that we face," the ministry said in a 63-page report.

The document not only spelled out its plans to boost capabilities for its army, air force and navy, but also to cope with new threats in outer space, cyberwarfare, and electromagnetic waves.

Tokyo also pledged to work even more closely on defence matters with its partners - the United States, Australia, India and the 10-nation Asean bloc. Such cooperation, it said, would be an "extremely effective strategy to maintain the peace and stability in Japan and the region".

The Defence Ministry in its annual White Paper, said that North Korea remained a grave and imminent threat as it still possessed an arsenal of nuclear weapons.

It also named China as a key security threat for sparking "strong security concerns in the region" due to its attempt to "change the status quo by coercion".

The Japanese defence ministry's shopping list includes two sets of the US-made Aegis Ashore land-to-air missile defence system. This is the land-based version of the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) batteries that are typically mounted on Aegis warships, and have the ability to destroy targets outside the earth's atmosphere up to an altitude of 500km.

With a combined price tag of 235.2 billion yen, they are meant to defend Japan against incoming ballistic missiles. But the ministry also said the operational start of the missile shield may be delayed by two years to fiscal year 2025.

It also wants funding to buy longer-range Raytheon Co SM-3 interceptor missiles to strike enemy missiles in space, and to improve the range and accuracy of its Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missiles that serve as the last line of defence against incoming missiles.

Japan also intends to buy six F-35 stealth fighter jets for 91.6 billion yen, and two E-2D Hawkeye early warning patrol planes, while the navy wants money to build two new destroyers and a submarine worth a combined 171 billion yen.

It is also requesting 26.8 billion yen for a radar system to watch for unknown satellites in outer space, and 3.8 billion yen to ward off possible cyberattacks.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has come under pressure from US President Donald Trump to buy more US military equipment, and the hefty bill for this year's shopping list could help Tokyo ease trade frictions with Washington.

The requested budget increase - of 2.1 per cent - is also in line with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)'s push to have the defence ministry budget rise by 2 per cent yearly, using the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's (Nato) target as a point of reference.

Kobe University security expert Tosh Minohara told The Straits Times that Japan's defence upgrades were aimed at keeping pace with China.

China, which is home to the world's largest military, this year announced an 8.1 per cent increase in its defence budget to 1.11 trillion yuan (S$222.41b) to modernise its military.

"Japan does not want to let China gain an insurmountable lead, and wants to make sure that China stays in its line of sight - especially in the field of advance technology," he said, adding that Japan's military was "not designed to act solo but together with the US forces".