Japan boosts defence budget amid N. Korea tensions

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TOKYO Japan approved a record military budget yesterday, with the defence outlays for the year starting April 1 rising for a sixth straight year, up 1.3 per cent to 5.19 trillion yen (S$67.6 billion).

The biggest ticket item is 137 billion yen to reinforce defences against a possible North Korean ballistic missile attack.

That includes purchases of a new longer range interceptor - the SM-3 Block IIA - designed to strike ballistic missiles in space, upgrades for the Patriot missile batteries, which are the last line of defence against incoming warheads, and preparations for the construction of two ground-based Aegis radar stations.

Japan will also spend 2.2 billion yen to start acquiring medium-range air-launched cruise missiles able to strike sites in North Korea to deter any potential attack.

Japan plans to allocate 279 billion yen of its next budget to buy defence equipment through the US government's Foreign Military Sales scheme, 15 per cent more than the current budget and more than double the amount spent in year that ended March 31, 2015.

A spending spree on mostly US-made equipment means Japan's defence planners are being forced to curtail domestic programmes that would help local defence contractors maintain their military industrial base.

That may force Japan to curtail its long-held ambition to build an advanced stealth fighter, dubbed the F-3.

People who spoke to Reuters in November said Japan will delay a decision to develop the F-3, which is meant to counter military technology advances by China, putting on hold a project estimated to be worth more than $40 billion.

The latest spending plans provide the first concrete public indication of a pause on developing the F-3.

A budget request submitted in August earmarked 7.4 billion yen for a new large jet engine test facility that Japan's defence ministry will need to test a prototype F-3 engine.

That item was not included in the budget approved yesterday.

A proposed 2.4 billion for other F-3 research was also trimmed to 1.6 billion yen. - REUTERS