TOKYO -- Japan's annual defense-related expenditures are expected to reach a record high of around 4.98 trillion yen ($40.9 billion) in the government's budget for fiscal 2015, which starts April 1.
The anticipated increase of about 2% from fiscal 2014 in defense spending comes as Japan plans to boost equipment procurement. The country aims to be better equipped to defend remote islands and expand security cooperation with the U.S.
Full-scale work to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa Prefecture will also contribute to the rise. The base is set to be relocated from the densely populated city of Ginowan to quieter Henoko in the city of Nago.
About 50 billion yen is earmarked in the budget for buying government aircraft for use by the prime minister and the emperor.
Japan's defense-related expenditure declined almost uninterrupted due to its tight fiscal conditions after peaking at 4.95 trillion yen in fiscal 2002.
The trend was reversed under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who assumed the top government post for the second time in December 2012.
Defense spending will now almost certainly rise for a third consecutive year in fiscal 2015, totaling around 4.98 trillion yen. It increased 0.8% in fiscal 2013 to 4.75 trillion yen and 2.8% in fiscal 2014 to 4.88 trillion yen.
The Defense Ministry has called for spending of 5.05 trillion yen in its fiscal 2015 budget request. It cites aggressive activities by China in the East China Sea and North Korea's increased nuclear and missile capabilities as reasons for the rise.
In its fiscal 2015 budget plan, the Defense Ministry puts a particular emphasis on procuring defense equipment to boost Japan's capabilities to defend the remote Nansei Islands. The Senkaku Islands as well as Okinawa Island are a part of the Nansei area.
The ministry plans to purchase 20 of the domestically produced P-1 patrol aircraft for the Maritime Self-Defense Force to step up the force's warning and surveillance activities.
The ministry also plans to procure five Osprey vertical takeoff and landing transport aircraft, 30 amphibious vehicles, three Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance drones and six F-35 state-of-the-art stealth fighter jets.
A new Aegis destroyer to be built under the fiscal 2015 defense budget will be equipped with a new system called "cooperative engagement capability," which allows friendly troops to share information on the location of cruise missiles launched by enemy forces and immediately intercept them.
Japan's quick gathering and provision of information on missiles targeted at U.S. military ships would help expand security cooperation between the two allies.
Defending U.S. vessels from attacks by a third country has been cited as a justification for Japan's use of the right to collective self-defense.
Air base issue
The start of full-scale work on relocating the Futenma air base within Okinawa Prefecture is another factor that has contributed to the anticipated increase in defense spending.
Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who took office after winning a gubernatorial election in November, opposes the relocation plan. But Defense Minister Gen Nakatani has ruled out moving the Futenma base out of the prefecture.
The central government is now poised to launch reclamation work on the coast of the Henoko district as early as this summer.
Costs related to the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, including the relocation of the Futenma base, totaled 89 billion yen in fiscal 2014. They "will certainly top 100 billion yen in fiscal 2015," said a senior Defense Ministry official.