Japan to boost military budget amid regional tensions

The budgetary shifts are relatively modest but reverse the course of the past decade. The move comes at a time when Japan is increasingly at odds with China over disputed islands in the East China Sea.

Koji Sasahara/AP/File
In this August 2012 file photo, two helicopters fly over a line of Japan Ground Self-Defense Force tanks flaring up a smoke screen during the annual live-firing exercise and demonstration at Higashi Fuji training range in Gotemba, southwest of Tokyo. Japan's Defense Ministry will request a second boost to its military budget, according to reports, amid regional tensions.

Japan's Defense Ministry will request a second boost to its military budget, according to reports, just a day after the government announced the first Defense budget increase in 10 years. The boosts, although relatively modest compared with Japan's overall defense spending, coincide with increasing tensions in the Asia-Pacific region.

Japan's Defense Ministry intends to ask for 180.5 billion yen ($2.1 billion) from a government stimulus package – on top of an increase of more than 100 billion yen ($1.1 billion) to its military budget announced earlier this week – in order to upgrade its air defenses, according to the BBC.

"We will request 180.5bn yen to be allocated to military spending from a stimulus package," a defence ministry spokesman told Agence-France Presse news agency.

He said that part of it would fund the purchase of PAC-3 surface-to-air anti-ballistic missile systems and modernise four F-15 fighter jets.

The defence ministry spokesman said the funds were needed "to prepare for the changing security environment surrounding Japan".

The budgetary shifts are relatively modest – both increases are dwarfed by the government's 4.65 trillion yen ($53 billion) defense budget – but are still noteworthy as a reverse course from the past decade, which has seen a steady decrease in Japan's defense spending, notes the BBC.

Kazuhiko Togo, director at the Institute for World Affairs of Kyoto Sangyo University, told Agence France-Presse that the military budget increases were the direct result of tensions over a set of islands – known as Senkaku to the Japanese and Daiyou to the Chinese – claimed by both Tokyo and Beijing. The islands have been at the root of increasingly testy relations between the two countries, as they sit amid a region of the East China Sea believed to be home to large oil and natural gas deposits that both nations covet.

China has publicly said it would seize the islands by force if necessary and acted as such. To avoid a possible armed clash, Japan has no choice but to possess deterrence by boosting its defence budget,” he said.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reports that the budgetary increase is needed to fund upgrades to materiel, as much of the budget is dedicated to salaries and food for personnel.  "Continued decreases in defense spending [as in years past] would make it difficult for the SDF [Self-Defense Forces] to procure aircraft, vessels and other necessary equipment," it reports.

Bloomberg Business Week reports that according to documents distributed by the Defense Ministry, Japan also plans to use the budget increase to upgrade several F-15 fighters and purchase more missile interceptors.

The budgetary increases may also go toward exploring a drone program in Japan. The Guardian reports that China has been expanding its drone capabilities in recent months, nominally for surveillance, though experts warn future drone skirmishes with Japan are a strong possibility.

China unveiled eight new models [of domestically developed drones] in November at an annual air show on the southern coastal city Zhuhai, photographs of which appeared prominently in the state-owned press. Yet the images may better indicate China's ambitions than its abilities, according to Chang: "We've seen these planes on the ground only — if they work or not, that's difficult to explain."

Japanese media reports said the defence ministry hopes to introduce Global Hawk unmanned aircraft near the disputed islands by 2015 at the earliest in an attempt to counter Beijing's increasingly assertive naval activity in the area. ...

The Kyodo news agency quoted an unnamed defence ministry official as saying the drones would be used "to counter China's growing assertiveness at sea, especially when it comes to the Senkaku islands".

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