The government decided Friday not to allocate funds from the fiscal 2000 budget to bring air tankers into the Air Self-Defense Force, but left the door open for deployment in the future. The Security Council, which consists of relevant Cabinet members, made the decision apparently in consideration of New Komeito, a member of the ruling triumvirate, as well as some senior members of the Liberal Democratic Party, who object to the plan. But the council, while deciding against including the tankers as a budgetary item for fiscal 2000, agreed to “smooth arrangements regarding air tankers” during the government’s next Mid-Term Defense Program, which runs for five years starting from fiscal 2001. Transport Minister Toshihiro Nikai, a Liberal Party member who is an advocate of tanker planes, skipped the council meeting citing a “business trip.” “I interpret (the council agreement) as confirmation that (air tankers) will be introduced during the five-year period without fail,” Defense Agency Director General Tsutomu Kawara told a press conference later in the day. “So our next step is to work hard to enable the earliest possible introduction.” The Security Council also allowed the Defense Agency to request “necessary expenses” for the future arrangements in fiscal 2000. Both the central government and Defense Agency officials maintain that the contents of the “necessary expenses” have yet to be finalized. The Defense Agency has long claimed that air tankers are necessary to improve the ASDF’s combat air patrol capability, a key factor for maintaining Japan’s current exclusively defensive national security policy.

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