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Japanese gov't struggling with Trump's request for it to buy more defense equipment

U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hold a joint press conference at Akasaka Palace in Tokyo on Nov. 6, 2017. (Pool photo)

U.S. President Donald Trump's suggestion that Japan should buy a large amount of American-made defense equipment has sent shock waves through the government amid an already tight defense budget.

    "The prime minister of Japan is going to be purchasing massive amounts of military equipment, as he should," Trump said during a Tokyo press conference on Nov. 6. The president then tweeted on Nov. 7, "My visit to Japan and friendship with PM Abe will yield many benefits, for our great Country. Massive military & energy orders happening+++!"

    At a press conference held on Nov. 7, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, "The equipment for the Self-Defense Forces is acquired systematically based on National Defense Program Guidelines and the Mid-Term Defense Program (which decides the general framework for the budget and equipment purchases every five years), including equipment made in the U.S.," taking a cautious stance toward buying more equipment not already scheduled in the program.

    Under the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the purchase of defense equipment from the United States has been sky rocketing, and facing the impossibility of rapidly raising the entire defense budget due to strained government coffers, stepping up purchases looks to be a difficult task for the government.

    The majority of purchases have been made under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) arrangement between the two countries that must follow the conditions set by the U.S. government. The amount of equipment purchases in the five years between fiscal 2008 and 2012 under the FMS totaled roughly 364.7 billion yen, however, in the fiscal 2013 to 2017 budget penned by Prime Minister Abe's government, expenses ballooned nearly 4.5 times to approximately 1.624 trillion yen.

    The raise in expenses is due to the increase in purchases of high-price items such as F-35 stealth fighter jets, Osprey transport aircrafts with vertical takeoff and landing capabilities and the Aegis Combat System for defense against ballistic missiles. The procurement of a total of 42 F-35 aircrafts, praised by President Trump as the world's best fighter jet, has already been decided -- along with the introduction of the expanded "Aegis Ashore" ground-based defense system to intercept ballistic missiles.

    By the end of 2018, the government will decide on the next Mid-Term Defense Program for fiscal 2019 through 2023. A high-ranking official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that during that time, "it will be necessary to make adjustments not to offend Mr. Trump," and within the government, opinions that Japan should increase the amount of equipment to be purchased from the U.S. have emerged. The government is also expected to consider the possibility of moving up the procurement period for equipment planned to be introduced in the near future.

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