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Japan defense spending to hit record high in fiscal 2017

Japan's defense spending will rise by 71 billion yen to a new record of just under 5.13 trillion yen -- or about 5.3 percent of total central government outlays -- in fiscal 2017, according to the budget passed by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Dec. 22.

It will be the second straight fiscal year that the defense budget has topped 5 trillion yen, and the fifth straight annual increase.

Among the expenditures is a first, 14.7 billion yen outlay for the ship-based SM-3 Block 2A interceptor missile system, which Japan is co-developing with the United States as a measure against ballistic missiles fired by North Korea. The Japan Coast Guard (JCG) budget will also hit a record high to strengthen security in Japan's territorial waters around the disputed Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture.

There is also 176.9 billion yen in new defense spending included in the third supplementary fiscal 2016 budget, also approved by the Cabinet on Dec. 22. The spending includes funds for speeding up the purchase of improved, ground-based PAC-3 Patriot interceptor missile systems. The government has called North Korea's repeated ballistic missile launches "a new level of threat," and Defense Minister Tomomi Inada told a Dec. 22 news conference, "Considering the conditions surrounding our country, it's necessary to implement (the new Patriot acquisition) as quickly as possible."

The fiscal 2017 budget allotment for the realignment of United States forces in Japan rose by 24.5 billion yen to 201.1 billion yen due to the cost of moving U.S. Marines from Okinawa to the U.S. territory of Guam. Meanwhile, the amount Japan pays to maintain U.S. forces in the country also rose, by 2.6 billion yen to 194.6 billion yen. During his campaign run, President-elect Donald Trump called on Japan and other U.S. allies to shoulder more of the financial burden of hosting U.S. troops, but a senior Defense Ministry official told the Mainichi Shimbun that the fiscal 2017 increase was "due only to expanding base employee labor costs."

Meanwhile, though a U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey transport aircraft crash-landed off the coast of Okinawa earlier this month, the fiscal 2017 budget still has 39.1 billion yen earmarked for the purchase of four Ospreys for Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force.

The JCG's fiscal 2017 budget received a 10 billion yen bump to reach a record 210.6 billion yen, to cover plans to hire at least 200 new personnel and build five large patrol ships -- measures to help deal with the continued incursions by Chinese government vessels into the waters around the Senkaku Islands.

Of the five new patrol ships, the costs for building three were partially covered in the fiscal 2016 supplementary budget, while the two new additions for fiscal 2017 will be a helicopter-equipped vessel and a large patrol ship. To replace aging JCG craft, there are funds for a total of 13 new patrol and survey vessels included in next fiscal year's outlays, including for those already under construction. The government plans to expand the JCG fleet from the 128 ships in operation at the end of fiscal 2015, to 142 ships by the end of fiscal 2020.

In April this year, the JCG dispatched reinforcements from across Japan to help patrol the Senkakus. In doing so, 104 personnel were hired during fiscal 2016, and 118 more are scheduled to be hired in fiscal 2017, bringing the JCG's total staff to a record high of 13,744.

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