Japan's defence budget will swell to a record $46 billion for the next fiscal year, the government said on Thursday, as the nation shores up its missile shield against the threat posed by North Korea.
The defence spending was part of a $860-billion national budget for the fiscal year starting in April, also a record as medical and social welfare costs snowball in Japan's rapidly ageing society. The defense budget has grown by about 10 percent since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in 2012, and accounts for about 1 percent of the economy, compared with 3.3 percent for the U.S. The cabinet also approved a 235 billion yen extra defense budget for the current financial year, of which about 62 billion yen will be spent on missile defense.
Around 730 million yen was set aside to prepare for the introduction of the USA -developed land-based Aegis missile defense system, which will add to the existing missile shield involving Aegis destroyers equipped with Standard Missile-3 interceptors and the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptors deployed on the ground. The exact cost of the two units was not released, but Defence Ministry officials say it could be 200 billion yen ($1.8 billion) or higher. The budget plans still need parliamentary approval.
The government also followed up on its recently announced plan to acquire air-launched cruise missiles with a range far longer than the current ones Japan has, securing 2.16 billion yen to purchase Norway's Joint Strike Missile with a range of about 500 kilometers. Some 4.7 billion yen was also secured to upgrade Japan's air defense command and control system to be better prepared for missiles launched simultaneously or on a highly lofted trajectory, a method North Korea has tested.
Last month, North Korea test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that plunged into the waters of Japan's exclusive economic zone.
The budget also includes compatibility studies on USA -made 900-kilometre (560-mile) range cruise missiles. This adds to Japan's existing ship-based Aegis system, which aims to shoot down ballistic missiles in mid-flight and the ground-based PAC-3, which is meant to intercept them in the final stages of their flight.
The missiles potentially have the range to reach North Korean missile launchers or other targets when fired from fighter jets flying near Japan, a controversial capability for the country, whose war-renouncing Constitution places restrictions on its defense forces.