TOKYO -- Japan's defense budget is poised to top 5 trillion yen ($40.2 billion) for the first time next fiscal year as its self-defense forces ready for an expanded role.
Not all of the additional outlays will be on new weapons, however, with a major increase expected for a U.S. military base relocation.
Defense spending was falling before Shinzo Abe returned to the prime minister's office in 2012. Under his watch, the declines have been reversed and then some. The Abe government is readying to seek around 5.04 trillion yen for defense in the year starting next April, up from the highest amount so far, fiscal 2015's 4.98 trillion yen.
Some of the spending items are in line with the more outgoing Self-Defense Forces role envisioned by the Abe government's controversial national security legislation.
The government wants a second E-2D Advanced Hawkeye early-warning radar plane, which could detect, say, a missile headed for a U.S. aircraft carrier. Japanese ships equipped with the Aegis missile defense system could then help shoot down the missile, engaging in collective self-defense -- a right that previous governments had maintained Japan was constitutionally unable to exercise.
Japan will continue to bolster its defense of outlying islands in light of China's growing blue-water military presence. To that end, Tokyo seeks to make a sweeping procurement of Osprey vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft, amphibious troop carriers and fast combat vehicles with overwhelming firepower. Another spending priority is the SH-60K, a helicopter well suited for hunting submarines.
Japan occupies a rapidly changing security landscape. China's military spending has multiplied by a factor of 3.6 over the past 10 years, dramatically increasing its fighter jets, submarines and other weapons. The Chinese outspent Japan on defense by more than three to one in fiscal 2015. Meanwhile, North Korea is believed to be developing better ballistic missiles and smaller nuclear warheads to fit on them.
Japan's budget allocation for replacing the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma airfield in Okinawa is expected to climb significantly from last fiscal year's 142.6 billion yen. Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga is fighting the relocation, which Tokyo insists is "the only solution" to the danger and nuisance to residents around the existing base. Tokyo wants to get construction fully under way before year's end. Budgeting the necessary costs "will show that we're going to move forward steadily with work on the relocation," a senior defense ministry official said.
Tokyo and Washington are still negotiating on host-nation spending for Japan-based U.S. forces -- an annual allocation nicknamed the "sympathy budget." Citing fiscal constraints, Japan seeks a reduction from last fiscal year's 189.9 billion yen. But the American side wants more in light of its deployment of additional naval and other capacity to its ally.