Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg


Japan Approves Record Defense Budget as North Korea Looms

  • Long-range missiles and new missile defense shield included
  • Budget edges up to 5.2t yen in sixth straight increase

Japan’s cabinet approved a record defense budget of about 5.19 trillion yen ($46 billion), as the nation looks to bolster its capabilities amid North Korea’s growing missile and nuclear weapon threats.

A third layer of ballistic-missile defense and Japan’s first long-range missiles are on the shopping list. North Korea detonated its sixth -- and most powerful -- nuclear device in September, and late last month launched a new intercontinental ballistic missile that it claimed completed its nuclear force.

The total budget for the year starting in April was up 1.3 percent on the previous 12 months, marking the sixth straight increase. The cabinet also approved a 235 billion yen extra defense budget for the current financial year, of which about 62 billion yen will be spent on missile defense.

Rising Under Abe

Japan defense spending (trillions of yen)

Source: Japanese Defense Ministry

While regional threats have become more pressing, military spending is limited by the competing demands of social security for its aging population, as well as the pacifism embraced by much of the population. The defense budget has grown by about 10 percent since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in 2012, and accounts for about 1 percent of the economy, compared with 3.3 percent for the U.S.

On the Back Burner

Japan spends less than other regional powers on defense as a share of GDP

Source: World Bank (2016)

The budget for the fiscal year starting April includes 2.2 billion yen for the introduction of the Joint Strike Missile, developed by Kongsberg Gruppen ASA of Norway, as well as studies on the deployment of other long-range missiles such as Lockheed Martin Corp.’s LRASM. These weapons, which Japan previously forwent under what it calls a “purely defensive” military stance, could potentially be used to retaliate against any North Korean attack.

About 137 billion yen was earmarked for improvements to ballistic-missile defense, including preparations for the introduction of Lockheed Martin’s land-based Aegis Ashore system. This adds to Japan’s existing ship-based Aegis system, which aims to shoot down ballistic missiles in mid-flight and the ground-based PAC-3, which is meant to intercept them in the final stages of their flight.

Roughly 11 billion yen will be spent on improving warning systems to help Japan deal with launches on a “lofted” trajectory or simultaneous launches of multiple missiles, such as the four North Korea launched in March.

— With assistance by Emi Nobuhiro

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