Japan's highest-ever defense budget flows into US pockets

China Military Online
Xu Yi
2019-12-17 16:45:11

By Wen Weiru and Chen Guanyu

The Japanese government recently unveiled its defense budget plan for 2020, with a total amount of 5.3 trillion yen (about $ 48.4 billion), increased by 420 billion yen from 2019. If the budget plan is approved by the Japanese parliament, it will be the highest defense budget ever for Japan.

Defense spending increased for seven consecutive years

According to Sankei Shimbun, the Japanese government plans to draw up a record draft general-account budget of more than 100 trillion yen for 2020, including defense budget of 5.3 trillion yen, both being a record high. This was the seventh consecutive spending hike since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe restructured the Cabinet for the second time in 2012.

In terms of the usage of defense spending, Japan has stated that it will strengthen defense in new domains, such as space, cybersecurity and electromagnetic spectrum. The draft defense budget also clarifies three priorities.

First, to upgrade the Patriot missile defense system. According to the overview of the budget plan, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) completed more than 20 missile tests in 2019, imposing tremendous threat on Japan’s security. In this context, Japan will fully modify and upgrade its current PAC-3 missile defense system, and introduce PAC-3 MSE missiles by a large scale.

Second, to strengthen the research and development of future fighter aircraft. The budget plan highlights Japan’s efforts to develop future fighter aircraft to be commissioned to the army around 2035. The Japanese side hopes this new aircraft will replace its current main battle aircraft F-2. It is estimated that Japan will determine partners for joint development of the new aircraft in 2020.

Third, to increase spending on overseas operations. The budget plan states that Japan will send more Self-Defense Forces (SDF) troops overseas. Currently, the Japanese government is coordinating the issue of sending SDF Marine Corps to the Middle East.

Spending more on US weapons

Whether upgrading the Patriot missile defense system or seeking partners to develop the new-generation jet fighter, all of these plans are related to the US. It is estimated that a large proportion of Japan’s defense budget will flow into the pockets of US military equipment manufacturers.

In fact, Japan has little upper hand in upgrading its anti-missile system. On the surface, it stresses that the intention is to better address the threat of the DPRK’s missile tests. But in fact, since the US army officially deployed the PAC-3MSE missiles in 2014, the US side has requested the Japanese side to upgrade the Patriot missile defense system and modify its automatic alert control system to block high ballistic and orbital missiles. By doing so, the US intends to force Japan to pay for upgrading the anti-missile system it deployed in Japan to align with its missile defense arrangement in the Asia-Pacific region. As some Japanese media outlets comment, Japan’s anti-missile system is actually over-purchased with the threats and guidance of the US.

Japan hasn’t many partners to choose to jointly develop the future fighter aircraft. In the 1980s, Japan attempted to independently develop its own fighters, but eventually gave up due to the pressure from the US. It began to purchase the F-16 from the US and upgraded it into the current main battle fighter F-2. In 2000, Japan’s ambition to develop its own new-generation jet fighter was rekindled, and it began to develop the Mitsubishi F-3 prototype. In 2016, the X-2, a prototype of the homemade Mitsubishi F-3 fighter, was unveiled and conducted its test flight. However, the Mitsubishi F-3 fighter failed to meet the demand of the Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency (ATLA), an agency under Japan’s Ministry of Defense, in both design and combat capacities, lagging far behind the current fifth-generation jet fighters of major countries in the world.

In 2018, Japan’s Ministry of Defense announced that it wouldn’t seek development of homemade fighters before 2030, but seeking international joint development. Japan intends to spend more time accumulating R&D experience. Among Western countries, the US is the “best” partner that Japan dare not and doesn’t want to reject. Perhaps the only available way ahead for Japan is to intermingle its interest with the US by jointly developing with or directly purchasing from the US.


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