Japan’s military seeks record spending to reinforce North Korea missile defences

Defence ministry seeks more than US$47 billion – which, if approved, will be seventh straight annual increase as Prime Minister Abe bolsters arms

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 August, 2018, 3:18pm
UPDATED : Friday, 31 August, 2018, 9:36pm

Japan’s military wants record spending next year to help pay for major upgrades to defences designed to shoot down North Korean ballistic missiles that Tokyo sees as a continued threat despite Pyongyang’s promise to abandon nuclear weapons.

The defence ministry budget proposal released on Friday calls for spending to rise 2.1 per cent to 5.3 trillion yen ($47.58 billion) for the year starting April 1.

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If approved, it will be the seventh straight annual increase as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reinforces Japan’s military to respond to any missile strike from North Korea and counter China’s growing air and sea power in the waters around Japan.

The proposed defence budget still has to face scrutiny by finance ministry officials who may seek to curtail any rise in military outlays to secure funds for Japan’s burgeoning health and welfare spending.

The biggest proposed outlay in the military budget will be on ballistic missile defence, with a request for 235 billion yen for two new powerful ground-based Aegis Ashore radar missile tracking stations built by Lockheed Martin Corp.

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Japan’s military also wants funds to buy longer-range Raytheon Co SM-3 interceptor missiles designed to strike enemy missiles in space and money to improve the range and accuracy of its PAC-3 missiles batteries that are the last line of defence against incoming warheads.

Other big buys include six Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighters for 91.6 billion yen and two E-2D Hawkeye early warning patrol planes built by Northrop Grumman. Japan’s Maritime Self Defence Force also wants funding to build two new destroyers and a submarine worth a combined 171 billion yen.

There are also plans to expand the air force patrol team by adding 30 servicemen to a current team of 830.

Purchases of American-made equipment could help Tokyo ease trade friction with Washington as US President Donald Trump pushes Japan to buy more American goods, including military gear, while threatening to impose tariffs on Japanese auto imports to cut a trade imbalance with Tokyo.

The defence ministry’s latest budget request comes ahead of a possible meeting between Abe and Trump in September, when the Japanese leader is expected to attend the UN in New York.

Japan remains wary of North Korean promises to abandon its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes. The defence ministry said in a white paper published on Tuesday that Pyongyang remained Japan’s “most serious and pressing threat”.

After the historic June 12 summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore, there has been little tangible progress in denuclearising the Korean peninsula.

In recent weeks, Washington-Pyongyang relations appear to have taken a turn for the worse, with Trump abruptly scrapping a planned visit to the North by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The defence review also took aim at China’s rise as a military power, saying Beijing was sparking “strong security concerns in the region and international community, including Japan”.

Tokyo is wary of Beijing, which is seen by several countries in the region as becoming increasingly aggressive over various sovereignty claims, including a long-festering row with Japan over small islands in the East China Sea.

For its part, China announced in March an 8.1-percent defence budget increase to 1.11 trillion yuan (US$175 billion) for 2018, as it bids to modernise the world’s largest military.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse