TOKYO (AP) — Japan's Defense Ministry made an opaque budget request for the coming year Wednesday without specifying the costs of missiles for pre-emptive strikes and dozens of other arms, as well as its development plans, as the government aims to drastically raise Japan's arms capability.
The ministry said it can disclose details only after the government in December adopts a new national security strategy and defense guidelines, which are being revised to fundamentally reinforce Japan's military capability over the next five years.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida promised the military reinforcement to President Joe Biden during his visit to Japan in May as the two countries strengthen their security alliance amid China's increasing military activity in the region. Japan has been also expanding its military cooperation with friendly nations in the Asia-Pacific region and Europe.
Only a partial sum of 5.6 trillion yen ($40.4 billion) was disclosed for 2023, but the ministry's budget plan could rise to around 6.5 trillion yen ($47 billion), up 20% from this year, Japanese media said.
Japan caps annual defense spending at 1% of its GDP, but Kishida's governing party proposes doubling it in coming years, citing NATO's standard of 2% of GDP.
That means Japan’s annual defense spending would rise to about 10 trillion yen ($72 billion), becoming the world’s third-largest after the United States and China.
Ministry officials said aggression as in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could occur in the Indo-Pacific region, as Beijing strengthens military cooperation with Moscow and escalates tension over Taiwan.
China fired five ballistic missiles into waters near Okinawa during Beijing’s major military drills near Taiwan in early August, while North Korea’s missile and nuclear development continue provoking the international community, defense officials said.
While the public's support for a stronger military has grown amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, critics say the government's plan lacks clarity over how it can fund the increase in a country with an aging and shrinking population and could go beyond Japan's pacifist constitution.
The defense ministry's request focuses on seven key areas, including missile strike and defense systems, unmanned vehicles, space and cybersecurity defense.
Japan is upgrading missiles and considering using them for pre-emptive strikes — a move critics say would fundamentally change Japan's defense policy and could breach the postwar pacifist Constitution that limits use of force to self-defense.
The ministry requested an undisclosed amount to improve and mass-produce an upgraded Type 12 surface-to-ship guided missile to extend its range for use as “stand-off” strikes on enemy targets from destroyers and fighter jets.
It plans to buy two kinds of foreign-developed stand-off missiles to be launched from warplanes — a 500-kilometer- (310-mile-) range Joint Strike Missile from Norway for F-35A fighters, and Lockheed Martin's Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile with a range of about 900 kilometers (560 miles), for upgraded F-15s.
The ministry also requested an undisclosed amount for development and mass production of a “high-speed gliding vehicle" to defend remote islands, including Okinawa and outer islands near Taiwan.
Japan has shifted its defense from the northeast to southwestern Japan as U.S.-China tension escalates over Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own territory and threatens use of force if necessary. Russian invasion of Ukraine and increased military cooperation between Moscow and Beijing, as well as North Korea's missile and nuclear weapons advancement have prompted Tokyo's push for military buildup.
The ministry seeks an undisclosed amount to develop and construct an offshore landing facility with a connecting jetty on remote islands without adequate ports for warships.
The ministry also aims to step up research and development of unmanned aircraft for reconnaissance and enemy strikes to make up for a smaller number of personnel as the Japanese population ages and shrinks.
The ministry also seeks funding to construct a new destroyer with Aegis-radar missile defense system with an expanded capability to shoot down gliding vehicles that could fly at Mach 5 or five times the speed of the sound.
Takahide Kiuchi, Nomura Research Institute executive economist, said doubling defense spending would require 2% consumption tax hike and a significant cut of social welfare benefits.
Increasing the defense budget significantly without adding a burden to the next generation, the government should sincerely seek the public’s understanding, “deepen public debate and avoid a hasty decision.”
Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated Press