• Kyodo, Jiji

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The Defense Ministry on Wednesday requested a record ¥5.49 trillion budget for fiscal 2021, placing a strong priority on boosting capabilities in the new domains of outer space, cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum.

The request is up 3.3 percent from the initial budget for the current fiscal year through March 2021, with defense spending expected to rise, for the ninth consecutive year, under Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who has pledged to advance the course set by his long-serving predecessor former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The request includes ¥200 million for research on small satellites to monitor cutting-edge missiles not detectable with existing equipment.

The ministry hopes to introduce the new satellite system in cooperation with the United States.

The budget request also includes ¥34.3 billion for the development of satellites for space surveillance.

The ministry plans to establish an organization to supervise the Space Operations Squadron, set up in May, and a new unit to take command of space-related missions. A total of some 70 people are expected to join the three groups.

In the area of electromagnetic waves, special units will be stationed in five locations, including Rumoi in Hokkaido.

The ministry plans to set up an electronic operations squadron at the Ground Self-Defense Force's Camp Asaka, straddling Tokyo and Saitama Prefecture, to manage, educate and train related personnel. It seeks ¥8.8 billion to acquire electronic warfare equipment.

In research and development for missiles, the ministry hopes to secure ¥22.9 billion for long-range high-speed glide missiles for island defense and ¥9.3 billion for hypersonic guided missiles that travel at over Mach 5.

The budget request does not specify the costs for an alternative to the Aegis Ashore land-based missile defense system, which the ministry decided not to introduce.

Regarding the successor to the ASDF's F-2 jets, the ministry aims to spend ¥77.2 billion, mainly on development.

Three U.S.-made Global Hawk large unmanned surveillance aircraft will be introduced as initially planned. The ministry reached the conclusion after re-examining the procurement plan.

According to a Kyodo News tally, the total amount of general-account budget requests by government ministries and agencies for fiscal 2021 topped ¥100 trillion for the seventh consecutive year, though spending plans to fight the novel coronavirus pandemic have yet to be included.

Expenses to be sought by the ministries to finance measures against the virus, expected to total a few trillion yen, will become clear by the end of this year, government officials said, making it possible for the new budget to surpass the record high of ¥102.66 trillion for the current fiscal year from April.

Amid a flagging economy such huge spending plans will further strain Japan's fiscal health, the worst among major economies, with public debt already more than ¥1.1 quadrillion.

In July, the Cabinet approved the Finance Ministry's budget compilation guidelines, which said the ministries and agencies would be allowed to make independent requests for "urgent and pressing" expenditures without any specific cap to deal with the pandemic.

The guidelines, meanwhile, said requests for outlays not linked to the virus should be "basically the same amount" as they sought in the current fiscal year's initial budget.

To lessen the workload of government officials amid the pandemic, this year's deadline for the requests was extended to Wednesday from the usual end of August cutoff.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry asked for a record ¥32.99 trillion, without taking into account fluctuations in social security spending for public pensions and medical care.

Its request, the biggest among the government's ministries and agencies, excluded costs for setting up more facilities for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing and almost all programs related to the virus.

Due to its rapidly graying population, the nation's social security expenses have grown every year, but the welfare ministry said that people have become reluctant to see doctors for nonessential reasons due to fear of becoming infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.

The officials said social security expenses could decrease and that it is difficult at this point to predict the total.

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry requested ¥5.96 trillion, of which ¥5.26 trillion has been allocated for public works projects.

The Finance Ministry estimates that ¥25.49 trillion will be needed for debt-servicing costs for the next fiscal year.

As for fiscal 2020, Japan's total budget, including two supplementary budgets later crafted for anti-virus stimulus packages, has swelled to over ¥160 trillion.

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