The Defense Ministry on Thursday requested a record-high budget of ¥5.26 trillion for fiscal 2018, underscoring heightened concern over what Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the “unprecedented” and “grave” security threat posed by North Korea’s military provocations.
This request, if approved by the government, would mark the sixth consecutive year of rise in the annual defense budget, which topped ¥5 trillion in fiscal 2017 for the second straight year.
The envisioned budget includes what the ministry calls “new assets” to defend against a ballistic missile attack by North Korea, including the land-based anti-missile system known as Aegis Ashore. The ministry didn’t specify the sum needed for the system.
Additionally, ¥47.2 billion is earmarked to acquire an interceptor missile known as SM-3 Block IIA, which the ministry claims will help broaden Japan’s defense coverage as well as improve its ability to shoot down a ballistic missile thrust high into space on a steep “lofted” trajectory.
Some ¥20.5 billion is also requested for an upgraded version of the current Patriot Advanced Capability-3 anti-missile system deployed nationwide.
The new variant, called PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE), features an improved range and altitude and is capable of shooting down not only ballistic missiles but also cruise missiles and airplanes, according to the ministry.
About ¥10.7 billion is set aside to enhance an existing anti-missile radar network called the Japan Aerospace Defense Ground Environment.
The planned upgrades, the ministry says, are designed to improve Japan’s response capability to unexpected and simultaneous missile attacks, not to mention ones on a lofted trajectory.
Stepping up defense capabilities is a matter of prime importance for Japan, one of the potential targets of nuclear-armed Pyongyang.
On Tuesday, the regime test-fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile it later identified as the Hwasong-12, catapulting it over northern Japan. The missile eventually fell into the Pacific Ocean about 1,180 km east of Hokkaido’s Cape Erimo.
Amid the rapidly escalating tensions, Abe spoke with U.S. President Donald Trump by phone on both Tuesday and Wednesday, with the two leaders agreeing to further strengthen pressure on Pyongyang.
On Thursday, Japan’s foreign and defense ministers, Taro Kono and Itsunori Onodera, spoke by phone with their U.S. counterparts, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, to discuss North Korea.
Onodera said Tokyo and Washington both recognized that Tuesday’s test-firing posed a serious security threat to Japan that was on a “different level” than previous launches, and that the two allies needed to apply continued pressure in a visible way.
Meanwhile, Kono and Tillerson agreed to work together on a push for the adoption of new United Nations sanctions against the North, according to the Foreign Ministry.
The ministry’s record-high budget request is understandable given North Korea’s ever-increasing threat, said Narushige Michishita, a professor of security and strategic studies at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.
Michishita, who is an advocate for Japan’s possession of the ability to strike military bases overseas, particularly praised the ¥88.1 billion set aside to acquire six F-35A fighter jets.
“Investing solely in defense is not that cost-effective in terms of deterrence, because if you don’t hit back at all, your enemy will get used to your pattern and attack you with ease,” Michishita said.
The ministry’s request will be reviewed by the Finance Ministry for Cabinet approval due by the end of this year. The government’s total budget proposal will then be deliberated at next year’s ordinary Diet session and finalized by April, the start of the new fiscal year.
Although most ministries’ budget requests typically shrink after scrutiny by the Finance Ministry, the Defense Ministry often sees less stringent vetting, with this fiscal year’s approved budget of ¥5.13 trillion almost unchanged from the original request of ¥5.17 trillion.
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