Japan's military chiefs ask for £1.2bn to spend on missile defence after North Korea's latest launch

6:26:00 PM

Japan's defence chiefs are seeking a record $48bn budget next year that includes $1.6bn (£1.2bn) for missile defence and an extra $160m for research and development.

The announcement comes less than a week after North Korea fired a nuclear-capable ballistic missile over Japan's northern Hokkaido region, provoking a storm of outrage around the world.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denounced the launch as an "unprecedented, serious and grave threat" to the region.

The defence ministry's latest budget request includes funds, totalling a reported $1.6bn (£1.2bn), for upgrades to the nation's ballistic missile defence systems designed to shoot down incoming projectiles.

Part of the smaller allocation would go towards development of longer-range missiles that could potentially be used in a strike capacity.

Such a weapon would be politically controversial in Japan, whose post-WW2 constitution, imposed by the US during occupation, has a pacifist and defensive stance.

The document has not prevented Japan from amassing a highly capable military force, however.

Mr Abe has proposed altering the constitution to "establish the status of the Self-Defence Forces explicitly" in order to "leave no room for contending the SDF could be unconstitutional".

Military historian John Kuehn told CNN last year: "Pilot for pilot, ship for ship, Japan can stand toe to toe with anybody."

Following the budget request, one member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party said: "Striking enemy bases after an attack to stop subsequent launches would seem like a natural thing to do, but that would be difficult for people in Japan to accept under the current constitution."

A second portion of the $160m—some $90m—will go on studying hypersonic missiles to quickly penetrate enemy defences.

"The research and development is for island defence," a Ministry of Defence official told a briefing, referring to the southwestern Okinawa island chain skirting the East China Sea, where Japan is embroiled in a territorial dispute with China.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Japan had consistently hyped the so-called "China threat" to increase its defence spending, and urged it to learn the lessons of history and pay heed to its neighbours' security concerns.

"Regardless of what its reasons are, Japan's defence spending is increasing every year and has reached a new historical high. We express concern about this," Ms Hua told a regular press briefing.

The latest funds will pay for ballistic missile defence upgrades, six F-35 stealth fighters, four V-22 Osprey tilt rotor troop carriers, besides orders for new naval vessels, including a submarine and two compact warships.

They have yet to be approved by the government.


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