Japan plans boost to missile defense in record budget

AP, TOKYO

Sat, Sep 01, 2018 - Page 1

The Japanese Ministry of Defense is seeking to more than double spending on missile defense, including purchases of costly US-made equipment, to defend against North Korean threats.

The record-high ¥5.3 trillion (US$47.84 billion) request for fiscal year 2019, approved yesterday by the ministry, is an increase of 2.1 percent from last year. Military spending has risen for seven consecutive years under Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Missile defense spending is to be increased from about ¥180 billion last year to ¥424 billion.

The overall government budget plan is to be submitted for Cabinet and parliamentary approval later this year.

The final budget could still grow, because the request did not include spending to reduce Okinawan communities’ burden of hosting many of 50,000 US troops stationed on the southern island and the cost of relocating some troops to the US territory of Guam.

A large chunk would buy a pair of land-based Aegis Ashore missile defense systems and the ship-to-air RIM-161 Standard Missile 3 Block IIA, which has expanded range and accuracy and was jointly developed by the US and Japan, as well as upgrades to fighter jets and destroyers to make them compatible with the advanced interceptors.

Japan has pushed harder to upgrade and bolster its missile and counterstrike capabilities, citing North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat.

In an annual military review released earlier this week, the ministry emphasized the need to further improve missile defenses, because North Korea has not taken concrete steps to denuclearize, despite its pledge to do so.

Opposition to Japan’s big spending on missile defense has risen since Pyongyang suspended missile tests this year as it made diplomatic overtures to the US and South Korea.

Japan’s use of US weapons is beneficial to its alliance with Washington, but opponents have said that it benefits the US arms industry, but not struggling Japanese makers.

In the budget request, Japan’s arms purchases under the US Department of Defense’s Foreign Military Sales program would jump 70 percent from last year to a record ¥692 billion.

Japan currently has a two-step missile defense system — interceptors on destroyers in the Sea of Japan and, if they fail, mobile surface-to-air MIM-104F Patriot missile batteries.

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.

The upgrade would cost ¥100 billion more than an earlier estimate, as Japan chose an expensive Lockheed Martin radar system that is reportedly capable of tracking and guiding interceptors against cruise missiles and other projectiles on a high-altitude trajectory.

It would take about six years for the system to become operational, ministry officials said.

However, 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.