China, North Korea, and Russia are acting as if to wake a long-time sleeping lion in Asia – that is, Japan.
On December 23, the cabinet of Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio approved 6.82 trillion yen ($51.4 billion) in defense spending in fiscal year 2023, starting in April, amid what it calls “the most severe and complex security environment since World War II.”
Including U.S. Forces realignment-related expenses allocated for mitigating impacts on local communities, the draft budget will rise by a whopping 26.3 percent, or 1.42 trillion yen, from the current fiscal year. This marks yet another record figure, continuing a streak of nine consecutive years of increases of Japan’s national defense budget under a Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)-led administration.
The draft budget, which is expected to be passed by Japan’s bicameral legislature in the coming months, comes in at around 1.19 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), up from 0.96 percent in the current fiscal year. Tokyo plans to increase defense spending to the NATO standard of 2 percent of GDP in 2027.
The draft budget listed seven priority areas to “drastically strengthen Japan’s defense capabilities.” Those are (1) “stand-off defense capabilities,” such as mass production of longer-range missiles; (2) “Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) capabilities” to defend against adversarial missile attacks; (3) “unmanned asset defense capabilities” such as the use of drones; (4) “cross-domain operational capabilities” in the space, cyberspace, and electromagnetic domains; (5) “command and control and intelligence-related functions”; (6) “maneuvering and deployment capability” to send troops and supplies to the front line; and (7) “sustainability and resiliency” of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) as Japan learned lessons from the Ukraine war.
The increased defense spending will allow Tokyo to acquire counterstrike capabilities. The Ministry of Defense (MoD) secured 828.3 billion yen for ammunition-related spending, 3.3 times higher than the current fiscal year. It included 211.3 billion yen to procure 500 U.S.-made long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles. The MoD said it will deploy the Tomahawks in fiscal year 2026-27 as Japan aims to develop counterstrike capabilities. Tokyo will reportedly acquire the latest model Tomahawk Block V to be equipped onto Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Aegis-equipped destroyers.
According to Janes Weapons: Naval, the Tomahawk has a range of between 550 and 2,500 kilometers, depending on the variant. This gives Japan the range to strike adversaries in the region.
The MoD secured 33.8 billion yen to develop an extended-range version of the domestically produced Type 12 Surface-to-Ship Missile (SSM) as a stand-off missile in a bid to bolster its defense against China’s increasing military activities in the East China Sea. This missile will be operated by the army, the navy, and the air force in different variants. The ministry was allocated 93.9 billion yen to mass-produce the upgraded version of its ground-launched Type 12 standoff missiles, which extend their range from around 200 to more than 1,000 km.
The MoD secured about 2 trillion yen to promote measures regarding sustainment and maintenance of equipment, 1.8 times higher than the current fiscal year. More than a few ruling LDP lawmakers have called for ensuring the necessary funds to sustain and maintain JSDF equipment by stressing the dire situation of Japan’s defense due to historically low funding.
For example, they revealed the fact that the JSDF has some aircraft with low operating rates because there have been cases of “cannibalism,” in which equipment from fighter planes and helicopters is used by other aircraft due to a lack of sufficient funding and resources to supplement missing parts.
The MoD also booked 58.5 billion yen to develop a hypersonic cruise missile (HCM) in the early 2030s.
It was allocated a whopping 102.3 billion yen to move ahead with its next-generation fighter program in partnership with the U.K. and Italy. On December 9, the prime ministers of Japan, the United Kingdom, and Italy announced the new Global Combat Air Program (GCAP), which will field a sixth-generation fighter by 2035. It plans to start a basic design of the future fighter’s fuselage from next fiscal year by integrating their F-X and Tempest future combat aircraft programs.
It also secured 300 million yen to push ahead with the co-development of a Joint New Air-to-Air Missile (JNAAM) with the United Kingdom during fiscal year 2023. The funding is for preparation costs related to the performance evaluation testing of the new missile’s seeker. The JNAAM program is Tokyo’s first defense equipment project with a foreign partner other than the United States.
The Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) secured 106.9 billion yen to buy eight more Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters and 143.5 billion yen to purchase eight more F-35B Lightning multirole fighter aircraft.
Japan is in the process of acquiring 147 F-35 fighters from the United States – 105 F-35As and 42 F-35Bs – over the coming decade, a move that will make the country the world’s second-largest F-35 operator after the United States.
It also got 34.7 billion yen to procure the air-launched, precision-guided Joint Strike Missile developed by Norwegian company Kongsberg, which is set to be outfitted on the service’s F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter aircraft. The JASDF also secured 12.7 billion yen to acquire the AGM-158B Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range manufactured by Lockheed Martin to be integrated with the upgraded F-15Js.
The JMSDF secured 5.2 billion yen to continue modifying its two Izumo-class helicopter carriers – JS Izumo and JS Kaga – into aircraft carriers capable of enabling Lockheed Martin F-35B fighter aircraft operations.
A portion of the funds will be used to equip the Kaga with a landing navigation system for F-35Bs, which according to defense officials is likely be Raytheon’s Joint Precision Approach and Landing System (JPALS).
It also was allocated 60.3 billion yen to procure six SH-60L antisubmarine patrol helicopters, which are an upgraded variant of its SH-60K multirole naval helicopter developed by the ministry’s Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Agency (ATLA) and Japanese company Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
The JMSDF also booked 35.7 billion yen to acquire four 1,900 tonne-class next-generation offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) during the next fiscal year. The ministry has said those new patrol vessels will specialize in warning and surveillance and can be operated with minimal personnel in response to a manpower shortage at the JMSDF.
As neighboring China expands the size and capabilities of its naval forces, Japan is enhancing its maritime security, in particular to defend the southwestern Nansei Islands, including the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, by boosting its patrol activities. The Senkaku/Diaoyu islands are controlled by Japan but are also claimed by China.
“Amid the most severe and complex security environment since the end of World War II, it is necessary to face the severe reality and engage in fundamental reinforcement of defense capabilities which focuses on opponent’s capability and new ways of warfare to protect the lives and peaceful livelihood of Japanese nationals,” pointed out the new National Defense Strategy (NDS), which was approved by the Kishida Cabinet on December 16.
Japan’s new policies already have the strong support of the Biden administration, which views Tokyo as a key partner in the region. The new policies will also strengthen the JSDF’s partnerships with allies in the region such as Australia, India, South Korea, the Philippines, and Vietnam.