National / Politics

Japanese Cabinet OKs record ¥5.19 trillion defense budget to counter North Korea with interceptor batteries, first cruise missiles

by Daisuke Kikuchi

Staff Writer

The Cabinet on Friday approved a record-high draft defense budget for fiscal 2018 to beef up Japan’s missile defenses against the growing threat from North Korea, breaking the record for the fourth consecutive year.

The draft budget for fiscal 2018 rose to ¥5.19 trillion from ¥5.13 trillion the previous year, and covers upgrades to the ballistic missile defense system and procure long-range cruise missiles to be launched from fighter jets.

“Our nation’s security is under a greater threat. It is significantly important that we procure cutting-edge equipment,” Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters Friday.

“It’s important that we continue to increase pressure on North Korea to urge the regime to alter its policy. (U.S.) President (Donald) Trump repeated ‘all options are on the table.’ We must prepare to be able to correspond to various situations,” he said.

On Tuesday the government said it will introduce two Aegis Ashore interceptor batteries, so ¥700 million was allocated to survey potential sites and design a deployment plan.

The U.S.-made land-based version of the Aegis combat system developed for warships is a collection of radars, computers and missiles. Japan plans to deploy two Aegis Ashore batteries by 2023 at the earliest.

Aegis Ashore will add a new layer of protection to Japan’s current missile shield, which consists of Patriot interceptor batteries, backed up by Aegis-equipped destroyers.

Defense officials say acquiring Aegis Ashore would allow the government to cover the entire country from Hokkaido to Okinawa, and make preparations for interception easier than that for the Aegis destroyers.

To buy Standard Missile-3 Block IIA interceptors for Aegis Ashore, the ministry allocated ¥44 billion. The interceptor was co-developed with the United States.

Narushige Michishita, professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo, welcomed Aegis Ashore as a “cost-effective” way to improve Japan’s missile shield.

“Aegis Ashore uses the SM-3 Block IIA, which is able to defend a very wide range and shoot down missiles at extremely high altitudes,” Michishita said.

The government had also considered the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, also made by the U.S.

Michishita said introducing Aegis Ashore instead of THAAD was an effective way to cut costs because the government says 16 THAAD systems are required for total coverage instead of two.

But Michishita warned that deploying Aegis Ashore could trigger health concerns because its radars emit strong radio waves, adding that the government must encourage residents hosting the batteries to cooperate.

Another highlight of the draft is the ¥2.2 billion allocation to procure Japan’s first long-range cruise missiles mountable on fighter jets.

The Joint Strike Missile by Norway’s Kongsberg Defense & Aerospace AS, with a range of about 500 km, will be loaded on F-35A stealth fighters.

The government denied that the cruise missiles are for attacking other countries. It claimed that they will instead be used to defend Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers equipped with the Aegis missile defense system.

Michishita the professor suggested they could be used for island defense.

The ministry has also allocated ¥78.5 billion to buy six F-35As and ¥14.7 billion to obtain RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance aircraft.

Some ¥92.2 billion was allocated to build a 3,900-ton escort ship and ¥69.7 billion for a 3,000-ton submarine with improved underwater sound detection capabilities.

The ministry also allocated ¥39.3 billion to obtain four V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft.

While Japan tries to stay prepared for North Korea’s missile threat, it is also apparently keeping an eye on China’s growing maritime activities.

Japan is looking to strengthen its defense of remote islands, especially in the East China Sea and around Okinawa.

The ministry allocated ¥55.3 billion to prepare for the deployment of Ground Self-Defense Force units on Miyakojima Island in Okinawa and Amami-Oshima Island northeast of Okinawa. Both are near the Senkaku Islands. The budget will be used to develop facilities, such as government office buildings and repair factories.

Elsewhere, ¥197.7 billion was earmarked for so-called host-nation support, which covers the cost of workers, utilities and other items at U.S. military bases. The amount was ¥194.6 billion in fiscal 2016.

Since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in 2012, the defense budget has been climbing under the government’s five-year defense buildup through fiscal 2018.

Onodera said Friday that a new five-year program will be debated next year.