China, North Korea and Russia are acting as if they are waking up a long-sleeping lion in Asia – read Japan.
On Dec. 23, Japanese Prime Minister Kishia Fumio’s cabinet approved defense spending of 6.82 trillion yen ($51.4 billion) for fiscal 2023, which is due to start in April, amid what it calls “the most difficult and complex security environment since the Second World War”.
Including spending related to the realignment of the US armed forces, which will be allocated to mitigating the impact on local communities, the proposed budget will increase by a whopping 26.3 percent, or 1.42 trillion yen, from the current fiscal year. This marks another record number and continues a streak of nine consecutive years of increasing Japan’s national defense budget under a Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)-led government.
The budget, expected to be passed by Japan’s bicameral legislature in the coming months, amounts to around 1.19 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), up from 0.96 percent in the current fiscal year. Tokyo plans to increase defense spending to NATO’s standard of 2 percent of GDP by 2027.
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The draft budget lists seven priority areas to “drastically strengthen Japan’s defense capabilities.” These are (1) “stand-off defense capabilities” such as mass production of long-range missiles; (2) “Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) capabilities” to defend against enemy missile attacks; (3) “unmanned defense capabilities” such as the use of drones; (4) “comprehensive operational capabilities” in the areas of space, cyberspace and electromagnetism; (5) “command and control functions and intelligence functions”; (6) “maneuverability and operational capability” to send troops and supplies to the front line; and (7) “sustainability and resilience” of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF), as Japan learned lessons from the Ukraine war.
The increased defense spending will allow Tokyo to acquire counter-strike capabilities. The Ministry of Defense (MoD) secured 828.3 billion yen for munitions-related spending, 3.3 times the current fiscal year. It included 211.3 billion yen for the procurement of 500 US-made long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles. The Department of Defense said it will deploy the Tomahawks in fiscal year 2026-27 as Japan intends to develop counter-strike capabilities. Tokyo will reportedly acquire the latest model Tomahawk Block V to be fitted on Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) destroyers equipped with Aegis.
According to Janes Weapons: Naval, the Tomahawk has a range of between 550 and 2,500 kilometers, depending on the variant. This gives Japan the opportunity to attack opponents in the region.
The Defense Ministry secured 33.8 billion yen to develop a long-range version of the domestically produced Type 12 surface-to-ship missile (SSM) as a standoff missile to bolster its defenses against China’s increasing military activity in the eastern sea. This rocket is used by the army, navy and air force in different variants. The ministry has been allocated 93.9 billion yen to mass-produce the upgraded version of its Type 12 ground-launched stand-off missiles, which will extend their range from about 200 km to more than 1,000 km.
The MoD secured about 2 trillion yen to promote equipment preservation and maintenance efforts, up 1.8 times from the current fiscal year. More than a few ruling LDP lawmakers have called for providing the necessary funds to maintain and maintain JSDF equipment, emphasizing the dire situation of Japan’s defenses due to historically low funds.
For example, they revealed the fact that the JSDF has some aircraft with low operating rates because there have been cases of “cannibalism” where equipment from fighter jets and helicopters is used by other aircraft due to a lack of sufficient funds and missing parts complete.
The Ministry of Defense also allocated 58.5 billion yen to develop a hypersonic cruise missile (HCM) in the early 2030s.
A whopping 102.3 billion yen has been allocated to advance its next-generation fighter jet program in partnership with Britain and Italy. On December 9th, the Prime Ministers of Japan, Great Britain and Italy announced the new Global Combat Air Program (GCAP), which will deploy a sixth-generation fighter aircraft by 2035. It plans to begin a basic fuselage design of the future fighter aircraft starting next fiscal year by integrating its future FX and Tempest fighter programs.
It also secured 300 million yen to advance the joint development of a joint new air-to-air missile (JNAAM) with the UK in fiscal year 2023. The funding will cover preparatory costs related to the performance evaluation tests of a new missile’s seeker. The JNAAM program is Tokyo’s first defense project with a foreign partner other than the United States.
The Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) secured 106.9 billion yen to purchase eight more Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighters and 143.5 billion yen to purchase eight more F-35B Lightning multirole aircraft -fighter planes.
Japan is on track to acquire 147 F-35 fighter jets from the United States over the next decade — 105 F-35As and 42 F-35Bs — a move that will make the country the second-largest F-35 operator after the United States the world will make United States.
It also received 34.7 billion yen to procure the airborne, precision-guided Joint Strike Missile developed by Norway’s Kongsberg company, which will equip the service’s F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter aircraft. The JASDF also secured 12.7 billion yen to acquire the Lockheed Martin-made AGM-158B Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range to be integrated into the upgraded F-15Js.
The JMSDF secured 5.2 billion yen to further convert its two Izumo-class helicopter carriers — JS Izumo and JS Kaga — into aircraft carriers capable of operating Lockheed Martin F-35B fighter jets.
A portion of the funds will be used to equip the Kaga with an F-35B landing navigation system, which defense officials say is likely Raytheon’s Joint Precision Approach and Landing System (JPALS).
It also allocated 60.3 billion yen for the procurement of six SH-60L anti-submarine patrol helicopters, which are an upgraded variant of its SH-60K multi-role naval helicopter, which the Procurement, Technology and Logistics Agency has ordered (ATLA) of the Ministry and the Japanese company Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
The JMSDF also booked 35.7 billion yen for the acquisition of four next-generation 1,900-ton offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) in the next fiscal year. The ministry said these new patrol vessels will specialize in alert and surveillance and will be able to operate with minimal staff in response to a staff shortage at the JMSDF.
As neighboring China expands the size and capabilities of its naval forces, Japan is strengthening its maritime security, particularly to defend the southwestern Nansei Islands, including the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, by increasing its patrol activities. The Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands are controlled by Japan but also claimed by China.
“In the midst of the most difficult and complex security environment since the end of World War II, there is a need to confront the harsh reality and advocate for a fundamental strengthening of defense capabilities that focuses on adversary capabilities and new ways of waging war for life and to protect the peaceful livelihood of Japanese nationals,” stressed the new National Defense Strategy (NDS) approved by the Kishida cabinet on Dec. 16.
Japan’s new policy already has strong support from the Biden administration, which sees Tokyo as a key partner in the region. The new policy will also strengthen the JSDF’s partnerships with allies in the region such as Australia, India, South Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam.