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Japan’s defense budget: Pressing need to optimize equipment and deployments

  • December 16, 2021
  • , Nikkei , p. 4
  • JMH Translation

The Japanese government has begun discussions to increase defense spending to the 30 trillion yen level in five years in the next Medium Term Defense Program (MTDP), with the aim to increase deterrence in relation to China. The government plans to revise the MTDP at the end of 2022. It is essential to “adjust the quality” of equipment and deployments according to the security environment, in order to reduce taxpayers’ burden.


China’s military spending is the backdrop for Japan’s increasing its defense spending. China spent 20 trillion yen on defense in 2021, four times that of Japan. Over the 30 years since 1991, China has increased its defense spending about 42 times that of the 1991 figure, supported by economic growth.


Taiwan and China had almost the same level of military spending as of 1997. Now China’s military spending is about 15 times that of Taiwan. Chinese fighters constantly enter Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ). It is thought that a contingency may arise between the two countries.


Is Japan prepared? As of 2021, Japan has about 300 of the latest fighter aircraft of the so-called the 4.5th generation. This figure is less than 30% of China’s 1,100 aircraft. Japan has only half the number of modern submarines and destroyers as China.


The total number of Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) members has remained at around 160,000 since 1997. The tank unit has a fleet of 300 tanks. The GSDF still maintains the Cold War-era posture, which was put in place based on the scenario of the former Soviet Union forces landing in Hokkaido.


The Ministry of Defense (MOD) is rushing to deploy state-of-the-art fighters with stealth capabilities making them difficult to detect by radar. The MOD will accelerate the acquisition of American F-35s.


At the same time, the MOD is readying for new ways of combat through research on the technology of unmanned combat aerial vehicles using artificial intelligence (AI). The MOD will undertake full-scale development of the next generation fighter, which is planned for operation around 2035.


The MOD will enhance its ability to efficiently build up defense by constructing multi-mission frigates or “FFMs” which can be operated by a small number of people. The MOD will enhance the capabilities of Japan’s submarines and patrol aircraft and strengthen surveillance of the waters around Japan.


The missile defense system to prepare for ballistic missiles also needs to be reviewed. China and North Korea are launching missiles with irregular orbits, and there is no guarantee that [the current system] will be able to shoot down such missiles.


An alternative [defense system] is the capability to attack enemy bases by hitting missile launch bases. A decision on the introduction of such a system should be made by the time the MTDP is being formulated in FY2022.


The MOD plans to extend the range of cruise missiles under development to over 1,000 kilometers. The MOD’s goal is to deploy these missiles in the latter half of the 2020s, with the aim to improve deterrence with China in mind.


The standard for allocating defense spending is also an issue. Since World War II, Japan has set 1% of its gross domestic product (GDP) as the limit for defense spending, out of consideration for Asian countries’ concern about Japan “expanding its military capabilities.” The defense environment has changed as the U.S. now requests Japan increase it spending to 2% [of GDP].


Japan’s defense budget is mainly calculated based on MOD expenses, and the figure is set at “1% of GDP in the initial budget.”


Other countries such as the U.S. adopt the standards of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which includes expenses that correspond to pensions and the Japan Coast Guard. Japan’s FY2020 defense spending using NATO standards is 1.2% of GDP, a figure already higher than 1%.


Former U.S. President Donald Trump requested Japan to cover a “reasonable burden” in 2018. In 2018, the government temporarily considered a plan to set defense spending at 1.3% based on this index. The government will discuss the issues by considering actual costs. It can be said that this is homework for the government and the ruling parties, with one year remaining to make a decision.

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