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Japan plans extra $2.1 bn in military spending

  • This file picture, taken on January 8, 2012 shows Japanese ground self defense force AH-1S helicopters flying during the airbone troops' new year drill in Narashino city, suburban Tokyo. AFP PHOTO / FILES / TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA

TOKYO: Japan plans to spend an extra $2.1 billion on missiles, fighter jets and helicopters, an official said Wednesday, as it tries to strengthen defence capabilities with concerns growing over a rising China.

The cash injection over the next few months comes on top of regular military spending for 2012-13. It is separate from a request for a rise in the military budget for the next fiscal year which policymakers called for on Tuesday.

Japan is involved in a territorial tussle with China over a group of uninhabited islands. Nerves have also been rattled by an unpredictable North Korea, which sent a rocket over Japan's southern islands last month.

"We will request 180.5 billion yen to be allocated to military spending from a stimulus package," a defence ministry spokesman told AFP, adding that some of the money would be used to buy PAC-3 surface-to-air anti-ballistic missile systems and modernise four F-15 fighter jets.

The request for funds must be approved by the finance ministry before being officially included in the stimulus the government is set to announce later this month, reportedly worth 13.1 trillion yen for this fiscal year to March.

The stimulus will be part of a supplementary budget the government is preparing for this fiscal year. The budget is expected to allocate about 30 billion yen more to the defence ministry, in addition to the 180.5 billion.

The announcement came a day after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party said Japan would increase military spending for the first time in 11 years in the next fiscal year starting April.

Confrontations with China have become commonplace since Tokyo nationalised part of the disputed island chain in September, a move it insists amounted to nothing more than a change of ownership of what was already Japanese territory.

But Beijing reacted with fury, with observers saying the riots that erupted across China in the following weeks must have had at least tacit government backing.

Beijing has sent vessels to the area dozens of times since -- most recently on Monday -- and late last year dispatched a plane in what was the first ever intrusion into Japanese airspace by China.

"Out of 180.5 billion yen, the defence ministry plans to use 60.5 billion yen to prepare for the changing security environment surrounding Japan," the spokesman said.

The remainder of the cash is expected to be used for updates of existing equipment.

The defence ministry wants to buy three SH-60K patrol helicopters and add a battery for an intermediate-range ballistic missile system, he said.

"We need to update our equipment as the security environment surrounding Japan is becoming harsher as North Korea has test-launched missiles twice in the last year and tensions with China continue," he said.

The conservative Sankei Shimbun reported Wednesday that the number of Chinese military planes nearing Japanese territory had increased since Japan nationalised the islands.

The paper said Japan's air force had scrambled fighter jets to intercept Chinese military aircraft numerous times over the past few months and had begun studying the possibility of allowing its air force to fire warning shots.

Defence officials could not immediately confirm the report, but a spokesman said "it is extremely rare for Japan's defence forces to fire a warning shot against a foreign military force".

F-15s were sent airborne to head off Chinese state-owned -- but not military -- planes four times in December, including the occasion when Japanese airspace was breached, the defence ministry has said.

They were also mobilised once last week, it said.

On Tuesday Tokyo summoned the Chinese ambassador for the first time under the new nationalist government to "strongly protest" against the presence of official ships in waters around disputed islands.

 
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