Japan sets record military budget with stealth fighters, missiles

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government approved a ninth consecutive rise in military spending on Monday, to fund the development of an advanced stealth fighter and longer-range anti-ship missile to counter China’s growing military power.

The Ministry of Defence will get a record 5.34 trillion yen ($51.7bn) for the year starting in April, up 1.1 percent from this year. With Suga’s large majority in parliament, enactment of the budget is all but certain.

Suga is continuing the controversial military expansion pursued by his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, to give Japan’s forces new planes, missiles and aircraft carriers with greater range and potency against potential foes, including neighbouring China.

On Monday, Japan’s Joint Staff revealed in a Tweet that aircraft were scrambled on December 18 in response to a suspected intrusion into its airspace over the Sea of Japan, bordering the Korean peninsula and Russia, and the Sea of Okhotsk, which borders Russia. It did not elaborate on the incident.

Japan is buying longer-range missiles and considering arming and training its military to strike distant land targets in China, North Korea and other parts of Asia.

A planned jet fighter, the first in three decades, is expected to cost around $40bn and be ready in the 2030s. That project, which will be led by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries with help from the US company Lockheed Martin, gets $706m in the new budget.

Japan will spend $323m to begin the development of a long-range anti-ship missile to defend the Okinawan island chain in its southwest.

Other big purchases include $628m for six Lockheed F-35 stealth fighters, including two short-takeoff and vertical-landing (STOVL) B variants that will operate off a converted helicopter carrier.

The military will also get $912m to build two compact warships that can operate with fewer sailors than conventional destroyers, easing pressure on a navy struggling to find recruits in an ageing population.

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