The Defense Ministry is considering seeking a record-high budget of up to ¥5.2 trillion for fiscal 2016 from next April, following spending hikes over the past three years under the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a senior ministry official said.
The budget request will likely include ¥140 billion in U.S. military realignment costs, which will cover the controversial plan to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa Prefecture. The amount is the same as the figure earmarked in the fiscal 2015 budget.
The nation’s defense spending had been on a declining trend since peaking at ¥4.96 trillion in fiscal 2002, but has risen for three straight years since fiscal 2013 following the launch of the new Abe government in December 2012.
For the fiscal 2015 budget, the Defense Ministry initially requested ¥5.05 trillion, with a record-high ¥4.98 trillion ultimately being allocated.
According to the official, the boosted expenditure reflects the yen’s depreciation against other currencies, which expands the cost of imported products.
The move comes as the Abe administration works to secure the most ambitious postwar security overhaul with a set of bills now being debated in the Diet that would expand the role of the Self-Defense Forces abroad.
But Defense Minister Gen Nakatani has said the legislation will not require new equipment or a rise in the number of SDF members, leaving the ministry’s budgetary request unaffected.
The budget request for the next fiscal year will cover costs for the bulk purchase of 17 SH-60 patrol helicopters for the Maritime Self-Defense Force and maneuver combat vehicles for the Ground Self-Defense Force.
Under the five-year Mid-term Defense Program from fiscal 2014 adopted by the Abe government in December 2013, the upper limit of aggregate defense outlays was set at around ¥24.67 trillion, the first increase following two consecutive periods of cuts.
Based on the program through fiscal 2018, Japan’s defense spending is expected to grow by an average of 0.8 percent annually.
China’s rise and the military threat posed by it has been the main trigger for the boosted defense spending, officials say.
The two Asian giants have been butting heads over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, which Beijing also claims and calls the Diaoyus, with Chinese ships and aircraft regularly testing the Japanese response.
In a Defense Ministry white paper issued last month, the ministry said it remains deeply concerned about China’s maritime ambitions in the region.
The report said Tokyo is paying particular attention to Beijing’s growing military assertiveness in the East and South China Sea, accusing it of “high-handed” actions to change the status quo by force.