Japan's Military Seeks Record Spending to Reinforce Missile Defenses

An SM-3 missile is launched

An SM-3 missile is launched

Japan's defense ministry on Friday made its biggest-ever budget request, seeking better missile defense and bolstered air power amid ongoing threats from North Korea and China.

Out of a total of 5.3 trillion yen (US$47 billion), the bill has set aside a total of 424 billion yen for missile defense, more than twice the total from the year before. Military spending has risen for seven consecutive years under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

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

The budget requests will be assessed by the Finance Ministry and adjusted as necessary and submitted to the Cabinet Office for approval by the end of the year.

Japan's military also wants funds to buy longer-range Raytheon Co SM-3 interceptor missiles created 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.

The budget request came hot on the heels of the ministry's annual defence review, which said North Korea still poses a "serious and imminent threat" despite a diplomatic detente earlier this year. Japan's use of United States weapons is beneficial to its alliance with Washington, but opponents say it benefits American arms industry but not struggling Japanese makers.

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In the budget request, Japan's USA arms purchases under the foreign military sales programme would jump 70 per cent from a year ago to a record 692 billion yen.

Japan now has a two-step missile defense system - interceptors on destroyers in the Sea of Japan, and if they fail, land-to-air mobile PAC-3s.

Technically, the setup can deal with falling debris or missiles fired at Japan, but is insufficient for high-altitude missiles or multiple attacks, experts have said, adding that a pair of Aegis Ashore systems could defend the entire nation and multiply missile defense. But the ministry also said the operational start of the missile shield may be delayed by two years to fiscal year 2025. It could also take longer as the plan faces opposition from many residents at intended deployment sites - Akita in northern Japan and Yamaguchi in the southwest.

Japan remains wary of North Korean promises to abandon its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes.

Japan is now updating its national defence guidelines and a medium-term defence programme, expected at the end of the year, to reflect North Korea's threat. Included in the request was ¥26 billion for purchasing a new-type of missile interceptor, the SM-3 Block 2A.

The Finance Ministry has requested 24.59 trillion yen (222.04 billion US dollars) to cover debt-servicing costs as long-term yields have risen recently, which is an increase of 5.5 percent.

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