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Japan to seek record defense budget under Suga's continuity policy

This file photo shows Japan's Defense Ministry in Tokyo. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The Defense Ministry will seek another record budget of over 5.4 trillion yen ($51.8 billion) for fiscal 2021, government sources said Monday, as Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga vowed to continue with his predecessor's policy of bolstering Japan's capabilities in new domains.

    The seventh consecutive year of all-time high requests compares with 5.31 trillion yen sought in the ministry's initial budget for the year ending in March. The plan comes amid growing concerns about the country's fiscal health, the worst among major economies, with over 1,100 trillion yen worth of public debt.

    As Japan's first prime minister in nearly eight years, Suga took office on Wednesday to succeed Shinzo Abe who stepped down for health reasons, pledging to continue his policies including those on Japan's national security and diplomacy.

    The ministry will make a budget request by the end of September that will include costs for setting up a specialized unit for electronic warfare as part of efforts initiated under Abe to strengthen capabilities in "new spheres" including cyberspace and outer space in a veiled counter to China and Russia, the sources said.

    The new unit of the Ground Self-Defense Force, to be headquartered at its Asaka base straddling Tokyo and Saitama prefectures, is designed to block enemy attacks by using electromagnetic waves which could disrupt radios, jam global positioning systems and paralyze units.

    The government will also seek funds to develop fighter jets to succeed the Air Self-Defense Force's aging F-2s, which are expected to begin retiring in fiscal 2035, the sources said.

    The ministry is expected to sign a contract with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. as a main developer of the future fighters, and has been considering cooperation from U.S. or British companies, according to the sources.

    It will not be clear in the budget request how much the ministry will demand for the alternative to the deployment plan of land-based, U.S.-developed Aegis Ashore missile defense units, which Abe had pushed with the aim of protecting the country from North Korean threats but decided to scrap in June, according to the sources.

    Japan is considering a substitute plan, as it has told the United States that building specialized ships to counter ballistic missiles would be the most viable option to replace the Aegis plan ditched due to technical and cost issues, according to the sources.

    Among other alternatives under discussion are the introduction of an interception system, and simply building more Aegis destroyers equipped with missile interceptors, they said.

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