Japan's new five-year Mid-Term Defense Program includes outlays for 17 new Osprey tiltrotor aircraft and three Global Hawk surveillance drones to help it respond to China's growing presence in the East China Sea.
The plan, revealed Dec. 13, starts in fiscal 2014. It is expected to be approved in a Cabinet meeting on Dec. 17 along with the National Defense Program Guidelines.
The government plans to use the new aircraft to heighten its capabilities to protect remote islands and to monitor China's activities in waters and airspace near the disputed Senkaku Islands.
It also said it will purchase 52 amphibious vehicles for the Ground Self-Defense Force for use in landing operations. The amphibious vehicles will be the same as those used by the U.S. Marine Corps. The plan also calls for reducing the number of GSDF tanks and replacing them with 99 eight-wheeled maneuver combat vehicles that have higher running capabilities than tanks.
Further spending will include 28 F-35 Lightning fighter jets for the Air Self-Defense Force, as well as four new early-warning aircraft and three new air-refueling and transportation aircraft.
Since the government put the Senkaku Islands under state ownership in September 2012, Chinese government's vessels have repeatedly intruded into Japanese territorial waters around the islands, heightening tensions between the two countries.
The Defense Ministry decided it was paramount to establish amphibious troops that will be able to take back islands in the event they are invaded and occupied.
With the introduction of the 17 Ospreys and 52 amphibious vehicles, the ministry believes the SDF will have landing capabilities comparable to those of the U.S. Marine Corps.
The defense plan also calls for bringing the number of GSDF members to 159,000, an increase of 5,000 from the figure of the national defense program guidelines compiled by the Democratic Party of Japan-led government in 2010.
The ministry said it will use the Global Hawk drones to strengthen surveillance capabilities of the military activities undertaken by China and North Korea.
The Global Hawk can fly at the extremely high altitude of 18,000 meters for more than 30 hours. Three Global Hawks are currently deployed by U.S. forces at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. Their mission is to engage in surveillance activities in the Asia-Pacific region.
The United States also plans to deploy Global Hawk aircraft to Misawa Air Base in northern Japan in 2014.
The Defense Ministry said Japan and the United States will be able to share surveillance information if they are both using the same type of Global Hawk.
The government will also increase the number of Aegis-equipped ships from the current six to eight for the Maritime SDF. The Aegis defense system has the capability to counter ballistic missile attacks. The decision was made with North Korea in mind.
Of the 24.7 trillion yen ($239 billion) to be spent for the Mid-Term Defense Program, 700 billion yen will accrue from cost-cutting. Thus, the total defense spending will be about 24 trillion yen in real terms, an increase from the 23.5 trillion yen earmarked by the DPJ-led government in 2010.
The defense budget for the next fiscal year starting in April 2014 was put at 4.9 trillion yen.
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