The Abe administration said Tuesday it intends to boost military spending by 5 percent over the next five years, including a hardware splurge that will beef up defense of far-flung islands amid the Senkaku row with China.
The Cabinet of hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed that ¥24.7 trillion will be spent between 2014 and 2019, including on drones, subs, fighter jets and amphibious vehicles, in a strategic shift toward the south and west.
The shopping list is part of efforts by Abe to “normalize” the Self-Defense Forces as a military. Under the officially pacifist nature of Japan since World War II, the well-equipped and highly professional SDF is limited to a narrowly defined defensive role.
The spending upgrade comes with the establishment of the U.S.-style National Security Council that is expected to concentrate greater power in the hands of a smaller number of senior politicians and bureaucrats.
Japan is growing more fearful over the rising power of China and the perennial menace posed by unpredictable North Korea.
Under the new defense guidelines approved by the Cabinet on Tuesday, a “dynamic joint defense force” will be created, intended to help air, land and sea forces work together more effectively.
“China . . . is taking dangerous action that could draw unexpected contingencies,” the guidelines state.
Under the midterm defense program, spending will be raised to ¥24.7 trillion over the five years starting next April, up from the present ¥23.5 trillion over the five years to March 31.
However, this figure may be trimmed by up to ¥700 billion if the Defense Ministry can take “effective and rational” measures in its procurement.
New hardware is to include three drones, 52 amphibious vehicles, 17 Osprey transport aircraft and five submarines — all designed to boost maritime surveillance and bolster island defense.
It will also mean two destroyers equipped with the Aegis anti-missile system and 28 F-35 fighter jets, a stealth plane that is expected to be far superior to the F-15s that Japan currently has in service.
“The guidelines underscore a clear shift of Japan’s major defense focus to the protection of its islands in the East China Sea,” said Hideshi Takesada, an expert on regional security at Takushoku University in Tokyo.
During the Cold War, the SDF was largely static, with the majority of resources in the north and east to guard against a Soviet invasion.
Changing dynamics and in particular the rise of China — where double-digit rises in defense spending are the annual norm — mean the SDF’s resources need to be located farther south and to be able to deploy to the country’s many far-flung islands.
“The guidelines show Japan’s readiness for practical defense if China’s bluff turns to be real military action,” Takesada said.
Regional tensions were ratcheted up last month when China abruptly declared a new air defense identification zone over the East China Sea, including over the disputed Senkaku Islands.
Abe on Saturday denounced the declaration and demanded Beijing retract it immediately and unconditionally, after a summit with Southeast Asian leaders where a joint statement called for freedom of travel on the seas and in the air.
Beijing issued a sharp rebuke, singling out Abe for “slanderous remarks.”
The guidelines also call for missile defenses to be boosted to counter “a grave and imminent threat” from North Korea.