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Shinzo Abe speaks to reporters in Tokyo

Japanese military seeks to develop long-range missiles

Image credit: Kyodo/via Reuters

The Japanese Ministry of Defence has requested a record-breaking $160 million to develop faster missiles with greater ranges in response to military threats in East Asia.

This is a proposed rise of 2.5 per cent in the country’s defence budget to ¥5.26 trillion ($48bn).

For the past five years, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has consistently increased the country’s defence budget. A further increase could allow the nation of islands to boost its military standing in East Asia, where it faces a looming nuclear threat from North Korea, and the enormous military strength of China.

“The research and development is for island defence,” a Japanese defence ministry official announced at a briefing.

The Okinawa island chain, which borders the South China Sea, is the site of a longstanding territorial dispute with China.

Approximately $70m would be dedicated to new naval vessels, half a dozen F-35 stealth fighters and four helicopters. The bulk of the money would fund an upgrade of ballistic missile capabilities; to research and develop hypersonic missiles which can penetrate enemy defences in an instant, and extend the range of these missiles, possibly in order to develop strike weapons.

If the costly missile development goes ahead, it could cause a headache for legislators given that the pacifist constitution of Japan heavily restricts the use of strike weapons. However, many legislators belonging to Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) argue that, given the aggressive nuclear threat posed by Pyongyang, it may be necessary to arm Japan with missiles capable of striking North Korean military sites.

Kim Jong-Un, the supreme leader of North Korea, continued to make international headlines for his shows of military strength and aggression last week when a Hwasong-12 missile was fired over Japan.

The distance between the capital cities of the two countries is approximately 1,300km, while the maximum range of Japan’s missiles is currently less than 300km. North Korea’s Hwasong-14, which was first tested on the 4 July 2017, has a range of 6,700km, which could allow it to strike North America.

A potentially record-breaking 11,500km missile is also believed to be under development.

“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,” an anonymous LDP politician told Reuters.

The recommendation that Japan develops strike weapons was led by Itsunori Onodera, the Minister of Defence. It will be scrutinised by the Ministry of Finance, which may prioritise health and welfare spending for Japan’s ageing population over further increases in the expanding military budget.

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