Japan plans to accelerate spending on advanced stealth fighters, long-range missiles and other equipment over the next five years to support US forces facing China’s military in the western Pacific, two new government papers said yesterday.
The plans are the clearest indication yet of Japan’s ambition to become a regional power as military buildups by China and Russia are putting pressure on its US ally.
“The United States remains the world’s most powerful nation, but national rivalries are surfacing, and we recognize the importance of the strategic competition with both China and Russia as they challenge the regional order,” a 10-year defense program outline approved by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government said.
China is deploying more ships and aircraft to patrol waters near Japan, while North Korea has yet to fulfill a pledge to dismantle its nuclear and missile programs.
Russia, which continues to probe Japanese air defenses, on Monday said it had built new barracks for troops on a northern island it captured from Japan at the end of World War II.
Japan plans to buy 45 Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 stealth fighters, worth about US$4 billion, in addition to the 42 jets already on order, according to a separate five-year procurement plan approved yesterday.
The new planes are to include 18 short takeoff and vertical landing B variants of the F-35 that planners want to deploy on Japanese islands along the edge of the East China Sea.
The navy’s two large helicopter carriers, the Izumo and Kaga, are to be modified for F-35B operations, the paper said.
Japan plans to spend ￥25.5 trillion (US$224.7 billion) on military equipment over the next five years, 6.4 percent higher than the previous five-year plan.
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