|Drones, amphibious vehicles, Ospreys and attack jets on Japan’s arms shopping list
Japan said it intends to boost military spending by 5 percent over the next five years and will include military hardware to bolster defense of far-flung islands amid a territorial row with China.
(Pictured, a US-owned MV22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft arrives at the Futenma Air Station in Okinawa).
The cabinet of hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed 24.7 trillion yen (US$240 billion) would be spent between 2014 and 2019, including on drones, submarines, fighter jets and amphibious vehicles, in a strategic shift towards the south and west, AFP reports.
The shopping list is part of efforts by Abe to normalize the military in Japan, which has been officially pacifist since defeat in World War II.
It comes with the establishment of a US-style National Security Council that is expected to concentrate greater power in the hands of a smaller number of senior politicians and bureaucrats.
New defense guidelines approved by the cabinet today said Tokyo will introduce a “dynamic joint defense force,’’ intended to help air, land and sea forces work together more effectively.
“China... is taking dangerous action that could draw unexpected contingencies,'' said the guidelines.
Under the mid-term defense program, spending will be raised to 24.7 trillion yen over five years from April 2014, up from the present 23.5 trillion yen over the five years to March 2014.
However, this figure may be trimmed by up to 700 billion yen if the defense ministry can take “effective and rational'' measures in its procurement.
New hardware would include three drones, 52 amphibious vehicles, 17 Osprey hybrid choppers and five submarines.
It will also mean two destroyers equipped with the Aegis anti-missile system and 28 new F-35 fighter jets, a stealth plane far superior to the F-15s that Japan currently has in service.
“The guidelines underscore a clear shift of Japan's major defence focus to the protection of its islands in the East China Sea,'' said Hideshi Takesada, an expert on regional security at Takushoku University in Tokyo.
During the Cold War, Japan's military was largely static, with the majority of resources in the north and east to guard against any invasion by Russia.
But changing dynamics and in particular the rise of China – where double-digit rises in defense spending are the annual norm – mean that Japan's armed forces need to be located further south and to be able to deploy to the country's many far-flung islands.
“The guidelines show Japan's readiness for practical defense if China's bluff turns to be real military action,'' Takesada said.
Regional tensions were ratcheted up last month when China abruptly declared a new Air Defense Identification Zone over the East China Sea, including over disputed Tokyo-controlled islands called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese.