TOKYO: Japan’s defence planners are seeking their biggest budget ever for the coming fiscal year to pay for stealth fighters, drones and a hi-tech submarine, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe bolsters the military amid an intensifying rivalry with China.
The Defence Ministry yesterday requested a 3.5 percent increase to ¥5.05tr for the year starting next April.
If approved, this third increase in a row will more than reverse the decade of cuts that Abe ended after coming to office in December 2012.
The hawkish premier, taking a more assertive stance on national security, has also ended a ban on Japanese soldiers fighting abroad and eased curbs on weapons exports.
By testing the constraints of Japan’s pacifist post-war constitution, Abe has angered some neighbours, especially Beijing, which accuses him of reviving the nation’s wartime militarism.
Japan, in turn, is wary of the rapid military build-up in China, which has overtaken Japan in recent years as the world’s second-biggest economy. Beijing’s military budget has jumped fourfold over the past decade to 808bn yuan, nearly triple Japan’s.
In recent years, Sino-Japanese tensions have ramped up over the ownership of a group of uninhabited islets in the East China Sea. Patrol ships and military planes from both countries now routinely shadow each other in the area.
In an bid to better protect remote islands, Japan’s Defence Ministry wants to buy six F-35 stealth fighters from Lockheed Martin Corp as well as 20 P-1 patrol planes from Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd - a bulk purchase to cut per-unit cost.
The government says procurement reform, including bulk purchases for multiyear projects, will save ¥700bn over five years.
In another request meant to patrol the waters plied by China, the ministry is seeking ¥64.4bn for an upgraded Soryu class submarine that can stay submerged far longer than the boat of the same class it requested for this fiscal year for 20 percent less.
The new sub has a propulsion system using long-running lithium-ion batteries, replacing one that used liquid oxygen to run a diesel engine, allowing it to stay underwater for around two weeks. The new design allows a “significant extension to the submarine’s ability to stay submerged,” said a ministry official.
Australia has said it is interested in the Soryu design as a possible replacement for its Collins class subs, which need to suck air through a snorkel at the surface when they use their diesel engines while submerged.
Japan’s shopping list also includes unmanned surveillance planes and tilt-rotor aircraft that take off and land like a helicopter but fly like a plane, as Japan aims to boost its monitoring and troop-deployment capabilities.
The ministry does not specify which models of tilt-rotor aircraft and unmanned drones it has in mind because talks with potential suppliers are still going on, but the V-22 Osprey, built by Boeing Co and Bell Helicopter, is the only tilt-rotor plane in military use - including by US forces in Japan.