Friday, 30 August 2019


TOKYO—Japan plans to start converting a destroyer next year into its first post-World War II aircraft carrier and make its first payment for Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35B jet fighters that can take off from the ship.
The Defense Ministry on Friday included those steps in its budget request for the fiscal year starting April 2020, which calls for increasing defense spending for an eighth successive year to a new high.
Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan has steadily raised defense spending, citing rising security challenges from regional powers such as China and North Korea. President Trump has also pressured Japan to spend more on U.S. military hardware.
The aircraft carrier and F-35B jet fighters are intended to beef up Japan’s ability to defend its southern island chain and project power further from its shores.
The Defense Ministry is seeking $50.3 billion for the next fiscal year, up 1.2% from expected spending in the current year and similar to increases in recent years. Defense budget requests are typically approved by the cabinet in December with minor changes.
While Japan’s military spending has been rising, it has remained around 1% of the size of its economy, compared with around 2% for China and 3% for the U.S. relative to the size of their much-larger economies.
Spending BattleMilitary expenditure as a percentage of gross domestic productSource: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute via World Bank
%U.S.JapanChinaSouth Korea1990’952000’05’10’
The budget includes funds to enable the flight deck of the flat-top destroyer Izumo to withstand the intense direct heat from the engines of vertical takeoff and landing jet fighters. The full retrofit of the Izumo may extend beyond next year. Japan also plans to convert another flat-top destroyer to become a second aircraft carrier.
The development of aircraft carriers is a centerpiece of a new midterm defense plan issued by Japan last year. Japan’s defense planners see it as a way to provide firepower to defend a string of islands that extend several hundred miles from Japan’s mainland to near Taiwan.
Their primary concern is a small cluster of uninhabited islands in the chain claimed by China. Chinese coast guard vessels regularly patrol waters close to the islands, which Japan calls the Senkakus and China refers to as the Diaoyu. Chinese ships have entered the territorial waters around the islands every month this year, according to Japanese coast guard data, including on two days so far in August.
Once converted to carry F-35Bs, Japan’s flat-top destroyers could also provide a launch platform for the U.S. military’s fleet of the aircraft.
“I think we are going to conduct a variety of joint drills and other things with the U.S.,” Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said at a press conference last week.
On a recent visit to Tokyo, the commander of the U.S. Marine Corps, Lt. Gen. David Berger, said he wanted F-35Bs from Japan and the U.S. to be able to use each other’s ships.
Interoperability gives military allies an edge during a crisis, when assets such as ships and planes need to be deployed rapidly. A Marine Corps F-35B squadron is scheduled to be deployed on a British aircraft carrier in 2021.
Joint F-35B drills with the U.S. would also enable Japan to more quickly get used to aircraft carrier operations, said Toshimichi Nagaiwa, a former general in Japan’s air force.
“It would generate considerable merits for both sides,” he said.
Japan’s budget request for next year includes $800 million for six F-35Bs to be acquired by 2025. Tokyo said last year it would order around 40 of the aircraft as part of a total order for 147 F-35 fighters, making Japan the largest international customer for the plane.
In another move to defend Japan’s south, the Defense Ministry earmarked funds to create an electromagnetic warfare base on the island of Kyushu that can disrupt an enemy’s radar or other signals.
Write to Alastair Gale at and Chieko Tsuneoka at

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