Japan set to become one of world’s biggest defence spenders

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) – Japan is set to approve what could be its biggest increase in defence outlays since the end of the war, putting it on a path to become one of the world’s top military spenders.

In a Defence Ministry budget request for fiscal 2023 expected by the end of August, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s ruling party is looking to double spending over five years from this year’s 5.4 trillion yen (S$55 billion).

Outlays of that scale could propel Japan from ninth in the world for military spending to a likely third spot behind the US and China, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI, which tracks defence spending.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,┬áChina’s rumblings toward Taiwan and North Korea’s nuclear weapons have raised alarm in Japan and helped build public support for more spending.

Those three nuclear-armed countries that neighbour Japan also possess three of the largest militaries in the world with a combined 5.5 million personnel, according to the World Bank. Japan’s military, known as the Self-Defence Forces, has approximately 231,000 personnel.

Beyond just buying pieces of hardware, Japan faces pressure to spend more on less visible items like pay rises, ammunition, spare parts and logistics.

“Probably most people imagine that if we double the defence budget, we will get a whole lot more equipment,” said retired vice-admiral Toshiyuki Ito, now a professor at Kanazawa Institute of Technology. “But it’s not just a question of buying more stuff.”

China has provided a reminder of what’s at stake by firing ballistic missiles that landed near Japan’s southwestern islands during military manoeuvres around Taiwan this month.

Mr Kishida has warned that Taiwan is at the frontline of the standoff between China and the US and a contingency in the Taiwan Strait would have enormous consequences for Japan.

Japan has traditionally kept its defence budget to about 1 per cent of gross domestic product, relying on the US “nuclear umbrella” to back up its own capabilities under a pacifist constitution. But, in an unusual move, no cap will be placed on expenditure requests at this point, the Mainichi newspaper and other media have reported.

While the initial Defence Ministry request for fiscal 2023 will mark a relatively modest increase to 5.5 trillion yen, Kyodo News reported, the final figure is expected to go higher as unspecified costs for about 100 items are finalised.

The ministry is looking at new hardware that includes improved missiles and radar systems that could intercept rockets from China and North Korea – including hypersonic systems – and introducing unmanned aerial combat drones, the Yomiuri said. Japan plans to reach an arsenal of about 1,000 missiles that can be fired from ships and planes and reach into North Korea and China, the paper said.

There will be a budget for co-developing a next-generation fighter jet with the UK, the Yomiuri reported.