Japan military costs rise on purchases from US

A live-ammunition drill at Higashi Fuji range in Gotemba, southwest of Tokyo. Japan’s defense spending is expected to set a new record next year. (AP)
Updated 30 August 2019

Japan military costs rise on purchases from US

  • Planned purchases include F-35B stealth fighter jets capable of short takeoff and vertical landing

TOKYO: Japan’s defense spending is expected to set a new record next year as the country deepens its military alliance with the US and spends more on expensive American stealth fighters and other equipment amid threats from China and North Korea.

The Defense Ministry on Friday released its 5.32 trillion yen ($50.3 billion) budget request for fiscal 2020, an increase of 1.2 percent from the current year. It could swell further if Japan agrees to pay more of the cost of stationing American troops in the country or for US-led monitoring of tensions in the Strait of Hormuz near Iran before the budget is finalized later this year and approved by parliament.

Japan’s military spending has risen for seven consecutive years by a total of 13 percent, starting a year after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in December 2012. In 2018 it ranked 8th or 9th in the world in total defense spending, depending on calculation method.

Abe has pushed for Japan’s Self Defense Forces to expand its international role and capability by stepping up cooperation and weapons compatibility with the US, as Japan increasingly works alongside American troops. Abe in 2015 reinterpreted Japan’s pacifist constitution to allow the use of force in defending itself and its allies.

Among the biggest planned purchases are six F-35B stealth fighter jets capable of short takeoff and vertical landing that cost 14 billion yen ($132 million) each, for deployment in 2024. They are the first of 42 F-35Bs that Japan is to acquire in coming years, along with 105 F-35As, for a total F-35 fleet of 147 — the largest number of any country outside the US, and, critics say, more than is needed for a country committed to self-defense. To accommodate the F-35Bs, the Defense Ministry will reconfigure the Izumo, one of two destroyers currently serving as helicopter carriers, beginning later this year with a heat-resistant flight deck and guiding lights at a cost of 3.1 billion yen ($290 million).

Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said earlier this month that F-35Bs belonging to the US Marines will also operate on the Izumo, primarily during joint exercises for the defense of Japan and not for independent US missions, addressing concerns that higher levels of integration between the two militaries could increase the risk of Japan becoming embroiled in a US-led conflict.

The arrangement underscores Japan’s expanding role in its alliance with the US as Trump pressures the country to do more. It also is a major shift for Japan’s navy, which has lacked aircraft carriers because of a concern that they would remind Asian neighbors of Japanese World War II aggression.

China’s growing military presence and capability as it strengthens its claims across the South China Sea have unnerved many in the region.

Japan, under its new defense guidelines for the next decade, will set up a military unit specializing in space and beef up measures against cyber and electromagnetic attacks. 

Japan and the US agreed this year to cooperate in defense in space, as China and Russia seek to expand their military capability into space.

The Defense Ministry is seeking 52.4 billion yen ($490 million) to launch a 20-member unit as part of the Air Self-Defense Force to monitor the impact of space debris and potential electromagnetic interference on Japanese satellites. Another aim is to acquire a tracking system using a highly sensitive radar and optical telescope.

While acquiring costly American weapons helps reduce the US trade deficit and enhances military cooperation and compatibility, it is a setback for Japan’s fledgling defense industry. Amid calls for Japan to produce its own replacement for its aging F-2 fighter jets, the ministry will start developing a successor, possibly as a joint international project.

Growing defense costs are also a burden for a fast-aging nation with a declining population.

Japan’s five-year Medium Term Defense Program requires defense spending of 27 trillion yen ($255 billion) through 2024.


Huawei in early talks with US firms to license 5G platform: executive

Updated 19 October 2019

Huawei in early talks with US firms to license 5G platform: executive

  • Currently there are no US 5G providers and European rivals Ericsson and Nokia are generally more expensive
  • Huawei has spent billions to develop its 5G technology since 2009

WASHINGTON: Blacklisted Chinese telecoms equipment giant Huawei is in early-stage talks with some US telecoms companies about licensing its 5G network technology to them, a Huawei executive told Reuters on Friday.
Vincent Pang, senior vice president and board director at the company said some firms had expressed interest in both a long-term deal or a one-off transfer, declining to name or quantify the companies.
“There are some companies talking to us, but it would take a long journey to really finalize everything,” Pang explained on a visit to Washington this week. “They have shown interest,” he added, saying conversations are only a couple of weeks old and not at a detailed level yet.
The US government, fearing Huawei equipment could be used to spy on customers, has led a campaign to convince allies to bar it from their 5G networks. Huawei has repeatedly denied the claim.
Currently there are no US 5G providers and European rivals Ericsson and Nokia are generally more expensive.
In May, Huawei, the world’s largest telecoms equipment provider, was placed on a US blacklist over national security concerns, banning it from buying American-made parts without a special license.
Washington also has brought criminal charges against the company, alleging bank fraud, violations of US sanctions against Iran, and theft of trade secrets, which Huawei denies.
Rules that were due out from the Commerce Department earlier this month are expected to effectively ban the company from the US telecoms supply chain.
The idea of a one-off fee in exchange for access to Huawei’s 5G patents, licenses, code and know-how was first floated by CEO and founder Ren Zhengfei in interviews with the New York Times and the Economist last month. But it was not previously clear whether there was any interest from US companies.
In an interview with Reuters last month, a State Department official expressed skepticism of Ren’s offer.
“It’s just not realistic that carriers would take on this equipment and then manage all of the software and hardware themselves,” the person said. “If there are software bugs that are built in to the initial software, there would be no way to necessarily tell that those are there and they could be activated at any point, even if the software code is turned over to the mobile operators,” the official added.
For his part, Pang declined to predict whether any deal might be signed. However, he warned that the research and development investment required by continuously improving the platform after a single-transfer from Huawei would be very costly for the companies.
Huawei has spent billions to develop its 5G technology since 2009.