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North Korea nuclear crisis

Missiles, radar, glide bombs: Japan wants record US$48b weapons budget as North Korea threat grows

If approved by parliament, it would be the sixth annual increase under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who ended decade-long defence budget cuts

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 August, 2017, 2:36pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 August, 2017, 11:08pm

Japan’s Defence Ministry has asked for a record-high budget for fiscal 2018 to bolster missile defences against North Korea’s escalating threats.

The 5.26 trillion yen (US$48 billion) request announced on Thursday, is a 2.5 per cent increase from the previous budget. A big chunk of it will be spent on missile interceptors.

The request comes amid growing fear about North Korea’s missile threat and rising tensions between the US and North Korea.

On Tuesday, Pyongyang fired a missile that flew over Japan and landed in the northern Pacific Ocean. It tested two intercontinental missiles in July and threatened to fire missiles near the US colony of Guam, where Washington has military bases.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called Tuesday’s missile firing an “unprecedented, grave and serious threat”.

Visiting British Prime Minister Theresa May said the leaders “condemn North Korea in the strongest words possible”.

On Wednesday, Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera, an advocate of bolstering Japan’s missile and strike capability, said Tokyo must quickly upgrade its missile arsenal.

The ministry was also wants to add the land-based Aegis Ashore missile defence system and is considering the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence (THAAD).

If approved by parliament, it would be the sixth annual increase under Abe, who ended decade-long defence budget cuts.

Presently, the Maritime Self-Defence Force’s destroyers, equipped with the Aegis combat system and Standard Missile-3 interceptors, are tasked with stopping missiles in the outer atmosphere. If they fail, the Air Self-Defence Force’s ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptors will counter the attack in the lower tier.

Aegis Ashore uses similar components to those fitted on MSDF Aegis destroyers, but is expected to reduce the workload of the Japanese Self-Defence Forces members in missile intercept operations because the system will be permanently installed on land.

Experts say around two Aegis Ashore units would be enough to cover the entire land mass of Japan. The system is made by Lockheed Martin Corp.

The ministry also sought 19.6 billion yen as costs to work towards the development of a new radar system with improved abilities to detect and track missiles.

Before the planned deployment of Ground Self-Defence Force units tasked to guard Japan’s far-flung islands, the ministry sought 55.2 billion yen that includes funds for building barracks and other facilities on Miyako Island and Amami-Oshima Island.

The ministry also said it wants to set aside 10 billion yen to study technologies to create high-speed glide bombs, a longer-range weapon which it says would be useful for operations to retake invaded remote islands.

Another 7.7 billion yen is also requested for research on anti-ship missiles also for the purpose of island defence.

The ministry asked for 88.1 billion yen to acquire six F-35 stealth fighter jets and 45.7 billion yen for four Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft.

With Japan and the US using satellites to check on missile threats and other purposes, the ministry demanded 4.4 billion yen to design a space observation system that would protect the satellites from harmful space debris and other satellites.

The defence ministry’s budget request came as May visited the Japanese warship Izumo with Onodera at a naval base in Yokosuka.

“My visit today is a sign of the growing cooperation and partnership that we have on defence matters,” she said.

The British leader was on the second day of a three-day visit to Japan that is focusing on Brexit, trade and North Korea.

“Prime Minister Abe and I had agreed to work together and with others in the international community to strengthen pressure against North Korea including by increasing the pace of sanctions,” she told a press conference.

Abe said the North’s missile tests prove it is now a “global threat”.

“Almost all of Europe is within striking range of North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles,” he said.

May pointed to the key role that China can play in pushing for change.

“Now we need to ensure it’s not just words of condemnation, but that action is taken, and China does have a particular position in this,” she said. “They have leverage on North Korea, and I believe we should be encouraging China to exercise that leverage.”

Earlier Thursday, Beijing slammed a report that suggested the US, Japan and Britain were planning fresh punitive measures against the North, saying calls for sanctions were “destructive” and “cannot fundamentally resolve the issue”.

Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Kyodo