TOKYO -- Japan's defense budget is expected to reach a record-high 5.1 trillion yen ($44.6 billion) for fiscal 2017, as the country bolsters its ability to defend against North Korea and China.
The sum, which include costs for relocating U.S. military personnel, is set for approval by the cabinet as early as Dec. 22. It would mark the fifth consecutive annual increase in defense outlays.
The budget follows the government's midterm defense program, which is developed every five years. The 2014-2018 plan, formulated by the Abe administration, calls for annual increases of 0.8% on average. The uptick in fiscal 2017 will likely fall in line with that.
Since establishing his government in December 2012, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made defense and security a top priority. Although defense expenditures were on the decline after peaking in 2002, they began rising again after Abe came into office. The current five-year plan projects around 24.67 trillion yen in total spending. The plan spanning 2011-2015, devised by the preceding Democratic Party of Japan-led government, was 1.18 trillion yen lighter than the current plan.
In response to North Korea launching over 20 missiles this year, equipment updates are a core part of the budget. Expenses to improve the PAC-3 Patriot missile defense system will be included to double the area it covers now. And costs for a new missile interceptor, the SM-3 Block IIA being co-developed by the U.S. and Japan, as well as upgrades to equip Japanese destroyers with the Aegis advanced radar system will be included.
Security will be beefed up around Okinawa Prefecture and the islands in the southwest, responding to a recent uptick in Chinese activity in the South China Sea. In addition to constructing a new type of submarine, Japan will continue developing its land-to-sea missiles to boost its ability to handle warships. The budget includes funding for acquiring the updated Chu-SAM Kai surface-to-air missile, planned for deployment in Okinawa.
Communication satellites used by the Self-Defense Forces will be maintained to ramp up capacity in outer space. Japan will also improve its defenses against cyberattack.
Such costs as those related to relocating U.S. marines from Okinawa to Guam, not part of the government's midterm defense plan, are projected to rise from 179 billion yen in fiscal 2016.
In mid-December, Japan will approve its third supplementary budget plan for fiscal 2016, which will allocate an additional 100 billion yen to 200 billion yen for defense. While such areas as social security are seeing budget restrains, the unchallenged expansion of the defense budget is all the more evident.