MELBOURNE, Australia — Japan is set to continue its recent trend of setting new records for its annual defense budgets, with the country continuing to cast a wary eye on China’s military modernization and nuclear-armed North Korea’s missile program.
The latest budget request issued by Japan’s Ministry of Defense is seeking $55 billion for fiscal 2021, which begins in April 2021. The amount is an 8 percent increase from the previous year, and makes it the eighth consecutive year the defense budget request to the Ministry of Finance has set a new record high.
This is the first defense budget for the government of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who looks set to continue his predecessor Shinzo Abe’s push for Japan to bolster its international involvement in security matters.
Unsurprisingly, the latest budget request includes potential funding for more Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. The ministry is seeking $308.5 million for four more F-35A conventional-takeoff-and-landing variants, and $249.8 million for two F-35B short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing versions.
Japan has an eventual requirement for 105 F-35As and 42 F-35Bs, which makes it potentially the biggest operator of the F-35 outside of the United States. The F-35Bs will be operated onboard Japan’s helicopter destroyer Izumo, which is being retrofitted domestically to operate the stealthy fifth-generation fighter jets.
The budget request is seeking $218.6 million this fiscal year for the project, which will include thermally protecting the Izumo’s flight deck from the jets' exhaust gases and reshaping of the ship’s forward flight deck for operating the jets.
As usual, the budget request also includes items related to Japan’s air and ballistic missile defense capability. The country is seeking $370 million to acquire more Patriot Advanced Capability-3 Missile Segment Enhancement missiles. Japan recently backtracked on plans to acquire the ground-based Aegis Ashore system following technical difficulties with the development of the SM-3 Block IIA interceptors, and is currently looking at alternatives.
Japan’s local defense industry will also get funding for various defense acquisition and research projects under the budget request, with the MoD seeking $643.7 million for three more Kawasaki P-1 anti-submarine aircraft and $487.5 million for two more C-2 airlifters from the same manufacturer.
Japan’s land forces are seeking $180.7 million for 25 more Type 16 wheeled maneuver combat vehicles, while the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force has asked for $937.2 million and $654.1 million respectively to acquire two more frigates and the first boat of a new class of attack submarine.
Research funding for Japan’s next-generation stealth fighter to replace the approximately 90 Mitsubishi F-2s currently in service is also being stepped up, with $555.8 million requested and an additional $113.6 million sought for research and development of fighter subsystems such as radars and mission systems integration.
A further $218.6 million will go toward the research and development of Japan’s hypersonic weapons program, while the development of a standoff long-range electronic warfare aircraft based on the C-2 airlifter will require $144.9 million and a further $67.2 million requested for the acquisition of onboard systems to equip it.
The budget request also includes funding for less traditional defense, such as the research and operation of space and cyber units, as well as for new electromagnetic warfare units.
The electromagnetic unit would be based at the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force’s Asaka base, north of Tokyo, and an unspecified number of staff would be deployed at several army bases across the country by March 2022, mostly in southern Japanese islands including Okinawa — areas of increased Chinese maritime and air activity.
The mission of such a unit would be to block electromagnetic attacks that could disrupt thing such as radio and GPS functions. The ministry is requesting $66 million to purchase RC-2 reconnaissance aircraft, and about $218 million for research into surveillance systems to counter electromagnetic attacks by drones and other weapons.
Japan in May launched the Space Operations Squadron as part of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force, with 20 initial members. It is expected to grow to about 100 members once the unit is fully operational in 2023.
The unit is tasked with monitoring and protecting Japanese satellites from enemy attacks or space debris. It will also conduct satellite-based navigation and communications for other troops in the field. The ministry will launch a commanding unit in western Tokyo and staff size will be increased to 70 next year. It is seeking more than $680 million to design and launch a surveillance satellite, and develop and purchase equipment compatible with its ally the United States.
The budget request will now be reviewed by Japan’s Finance Ministry, which will then decide on the funding allocation for the various ministries and announce Japan’s next budget, which is expected later this year.
Mari Yamaguchi of The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News. He wrote his first defense-related magazine article in 1998 before pursuing an aerospace engineering degree at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia. Following a stint in engineering, he became a freelance defense reporter in 2013 and has written for several media outlets.