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Japan’s military asks new government for budget hike

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Sailors on Japanese helicopter carrier Kaga practice traditional sword fighting on the hangar deck in the Indian Ocean, September 28, 2018. (Photo by Reuters)

Japan’s military has asked the government of new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga for a ninth successive annual budget hike, including funds to develop advanced warplanes to counter China.

Japan’s Ministry of Defense submitted a budget proposal on Wednesday requesting a further 3.3-percent spending rise to a record 5.49 trillion yen (52 billion dollars) for the next fiscal year, which begins on April 1.

Japan’s new proposed stealth jet fighter project is expected to cost nearly 40 billion dollars and to be completed sometime in the 2030s. The development of the warplane is intended to contest new aircraft being deployed by China, which is also considered as the biggest challenge to US interests and military presence in the Pacific region.

Japan’s leading weapons maker Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is expected to be named as the lead contractor for the military project next month. But a number of American and British arms makers are also vying to join the project as suppliers and partners, including the US-based Lockheed Martin Corp, Boeing Co, and Northrop Grumman Corp, as well as the UK-based BAE Systems Plc and Rolls Royce Holdings Plc.

The latest budget request further asks for 731 million dollars for development and research.

Other proposed military expenditures include 66.6 billion yen for six American F-35 stealth fighters, two of which are short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) B variants that will operate off a converted helicopter carrier.

Japan’s military planners further seek 99 billion yen to build two new compact warships that can operate with fewer sailors than conventional destroyers in their bid to ease the pressure on its struggling navy, which is having trouble recruiting new service members from the country’s aging population.

Tokyo also plans to upgrade its early warning radars and ballistic missile defenses, and is requesting reserve funds for a yet-undecided replacement for two planned Aegis Ashore radar stations that were canceled in June due to high costs and concerns over the impact on local residents.

Japan’s Finance Ministry officials will reportedly review and possibly revise the proposal before passing it on to the cabinet.

If the budget proposal is approved, it would help further an arms build-up pursued by Suga’s predecessor, Shinzo Abe, that has seen Tokyo purchasing warplanes, missiles, and aircraft carriers as China expands naval and air forces in the face of US attempts to further strengthen its military presence in the strategic region.

Meanwhile, Japanese policymakers are debating whether to arm and train the military to strike distant land targets in China, North Korea, and other regions across Asia.

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