The Cabinet is requesting record-high defense spending in the fiscal 2015 budget as hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe looks to strengthen surveillance of territorial waters amid the ongoing Senkaku Islands dispute with China.
Abe and his team are seeking ¥4.98 trillion, the third year in a row that defense spending would increase.
“This is the largest budget ever,” a Defense Ministry official said.
The previous high was ¥4.96 trillion in 2002, the official said.
The trend reflects Abe’s plan to build a more active military, a push supporters say is in response to tensions with China over ownership of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
But detractors point to Abe’s desire to bolster the Self-Defense Forces more generally, and to shrug off the shackles of pacifism.
The conservative prime minister has moved to change the official interpretation of the Constitution to allow the SDF to come to the aid of an ally under attack, under a concept known as collective self-defense.
Among items on the Defense Ministry’s shopping list are 20 P-1 maritime patrol aircraft, with a combined price tag of ¥350 billion.
It wants to buy five V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft along with six high-tech F-35A stealth fighters.
The ministry is looking to acquire a fleet of Global Hawk drones over a five-year period, with the first purchases coming out of this budget, officials said.
The ministry is also buying 30 amphibious vehicles and one E-2D airborne early warning aircraft to be assigned to protect Japan’s far-flung outlying islands.
The Abe Cabinet decided in late 2013 to set aside roughly ¥24.7 trillion between 2014 and 2019 to spend on equipment including drones, submarines, fighter jets and amphibious vehicles in a strategic shift toward the south and west.
The Cabinet budget request for fiscal 2015 also includes ¥3.2 billion to acquire land in the Amami chain of islands for the deployment of Ground Self-Defense Force troops there, and ¥200 million to prepare for the launch of a coastal surveillance unit on Yonaguni, not far from the Senkakus.
Japan and China have been butting heads over the ownership of the Senkakus, which Beijing claims as the Diaoyus, with Chinese ships and aircraft regularly testing Japanese forces.
Separately, Chinese naval ships and military jets are seen increasing their activities around Japan, while an unpredictable North Korea continues its missile and nuclear programs.
Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping met last November, their first face-to-face encounter since each came to power, and agreed to work toward easing tensions over the Senkakus.
Abe has also traveled abroad tirelessly to reinforce ties with foreign leaders, particularly in Southeast Asia, to counter China’s efforts to expand its sphere of influence.
Abe has also worked to strengthen Japan’s military alliance with the United States.
If he gets his way, defense spending will make up more than 5 percent of the budget for the next fiscal year. The administration is preparing to submit to the Diet a record-high general budget of ¥96.34 trillion, up from ¥95.88 trillion for fiscal 2014.