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Amid N Korea threat, Japan Defence Ministry seeks record-high budget


Tokyo, Aug 31: In a bid to defend the country from more North Korean weapons launches, Japan's Defence Ministry is seeking a record-high budget to add missile interceptors and other equipments.

File photo of a missile launch

The 5.26 trillion yen (USD 48 billion) request for the fiscal year beginning next April is a 2.5 per cent increase from the current year. A big chunk of the request announced Thursday will cover purchases of upgraded missile interceptors with expanded range, altitude and accuracy.

They include the ship-to-air SM-3 Block IIA jointly developed by the US and Japan and the surface-to-air PAC-3 MSE. The request comes amid growing fear about North Korea's missile threat and rising tensions between the US and North Korea.

On Tuesday, Pyongyang fired a missile that flew over Japan and landed in the northern Pacific Ocean. It flight- tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles in July and has threatened to send missiles near the US territory of Guam, where the US has military bases. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called Tuesday's missile firing an "unprecedented, grave and serious threat."

On Wednesday, Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera, an advocate of bolstering Japan's missile and strike-back capability, said Tokyo must quickly upgrade its missile arsenal. China, which is seen by Tokyo as another security concern, questioned Japan's intentions.

"We think Japan is obliged to explain its real intention to the international community," Hua Chunying, China's foreign ministry spokeswoman, told a regular news conference.

Japan has criticised Beijing over its military spending and assertive maritime activity in regional waters. Experts say North Korea's ICBM tests demonstrate its ability to strike at the US mainland, but it doesn't mean Japan is off the hook.

"North Korea has demonstrated its capability to hit targets anywhere in Japan including Tokyo and Okinawa," says Narushige Michishita, a national security expert at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.

Japan currently has a two-step missile defence system interceptors on destroyers in the Sea of Japan, and if they fail, surface-to-air PAC-3s. Technically, the current setup can deal with falling debris or missiles fired at Japan, experts say, but it's not good enough for high-attitude missiles or multiple attacks.

The requested SM-3 Block IIA has double the range of its earlier model used on Japanese destroyers. The budget request related to missile defence comes to about 180 billion yen (USD 1.6 billion). To diversify and multiply its missile interceptors, the ministry is also seeking to add the land-based fixed Aegis Ashore missile-defence system, while considering an option of the mobile and more costly Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence, or THAAD. Ministry officials said they will decide later this year.


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