On Friday, the Cabinet will formally approve the strengthening of Japan’s defenses through the construction of two new Aegis-equipped destroyers and an extension to the range of surface-to-ship missiles, in order to potentially strike from beyond the range of an enemy.

But addressing controversy over the larger question of whether Japan should acquire the ability to strike enemy bases has been put off, due to concerns from ruling coalition partner Komeito and questions about the legality of such capabilities under the Constitution.

The two Aegis destroyers will serve as a replacement for two Aegis Ashore systems Japan was forced to cancel earlier this year due in part to opposition in Yamaguchi and Akita prefectures, where the missile defense systems were supposed to be deployed. But as Jesse Johnson and Eric Johnston report, there are serious concerns that the destroyer plan is likely to be more expensive, less effective and could take a number of years to become operational.

Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces conduct annual training exercises near Mount Fuji in August 2019. | REUTERS
Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces conduct annual training exercises near Mount Fuji in August 2019. | REUTERS

Government sources said Wednesday that the defense budget for fiscal 2021 will be around ¥5.34 trillion ($51.5 billion), a record high for the seventh straight year, Kyodo reports. However, due to ballooning costs, cash for upgrading F-15 fighter jets to carry long-range cruise missiles to defend Japan’s southwestern island chain has been dropped. The decision is sure to push back the fiscal 2027 deadline for upgrading 20 of the Air Self-Defense Force’s F-15 aircraft, Kyodo reports.

In other defense news, the Cabinet on Friday approved a one-year extension of a Maritime Self-Defense Force mission to the Middle East for intelligence-gathering activities to help ensure the safety of a key oil shipping lane.

The government decided to extend the mission through Dec. 26, 2021, as “tensions remain high in the Middle East” and continued efforts are needed to ensure the safety of Japan-related shipping. That said, over the past year the mission has seen zero unusual activity affecting Japan-related ships, the Defense Ministry said.