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Japan after Abe

Japan's Defense Ministry eyes record $51.6bn in spending under Suga

More funds seen as needed to protect against cyberattacks and missiles

The Defense Ministry plans to deploy new fighter jets in 2035 to replace its current F-2s. (Photo courtesy of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force)

TOKYO -- Japan's Ministry of Defense will request a record 5.4 trillion yen ($51.6 billion) in the fiscal 2021 budget, seeking a ninth straight year of increases as China rises and new technological threats emerge.

The tally, which also covers Japanese contributions to the U.S. military presence, has topped records every year since fiscal 2015 under now-former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The ministry considers the fiscal 2021 increase necessary in a fast-changing East Asian security landscape that includes Chinese advances in the East and South China seas and the North Korean missile program. New Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has expressed interest in continuing efforts by Abe to bolster Japan's defenses and diplomatic strategy.

The Defense Ministry requested 5.32 trillion yen for fiscal 2020, receiving 5.31 trillion yen in the initial budget. It has gotten about 40 billion yen less a year on average than it has sought since fiscal 2015.

In addition to the military buildup by China and other neighbors, the ministry worries about the growing threats in space and the cyber realm. It wants a larger budget to develop new technologies and train personnel for these threats and to launch a dedicated electronic-warfare unit that uses electromagnetic waves to thwart enemy attacks.

The ministry will also finance the development of new jet engines that will power next-generation fighters to be deployed in 2035, around when the Self-Defense Forces start decommissioning F-2s. It will sign a contract for the new fighters as early as October with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

For an alternative to the U.S.-developed Aegis Ashore missile shield, whose deployment was halted in June, the Defense Ministry will choose from multiple options by year-end, such as building new Aegis-equipped vessels or offshore anti-missile facilities. It ask the government to fund the alternative but will not request a specific amount at this time.

One option is to set up an anti-missile radar system on land that is tied to interceptor missiles at sea. But the ministry is widely expected not to pursue this, since a hostile actor could disrupt radio communications between the radar and the missile launchers.

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