Photo/IllutrationAn Aegis Ashore experimental facility in Hawaii (From the website of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Partly reflecting the pressure to "Buy American," the defense budget for fiscal 2018 will total a record-high 5.2 trillion yen (about $46.2 billion), marking the sixth consecutive increase since fiscal 2013.

Over those six years, since the second administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe started, the rise in the procurement of defense equipment from the United States stands out.

If the increase continues, the purchases will bolster U.S. President Donald Trump’s “Buy American” campaign.

In addition to the largest-ever defense budget for fiscal 2018, the Japanese government will earmark 200 billion yen in a supplementary budget for this fiscal year, including 60 billion yen for a mechanism to intercept ballistic missiles.

Of the 60 billion yen, 2.8 billion yen will be used for the installation of Aegis Ashore, a land-based system to intercept missiles launched from abroad, such as North Korea. Another 730 million yen will be earmarked in the budget plan for fiscal 2018 for the same purpose.

Using the budgets, the government will survey geological conditions and influences of radio waves in Akita and Hagi, Yamaguchi Prefecture, where the missile interception system is expected to be installed.

The system is a main feature of the defense budgets along with long-range cruise missiles mounted on fighter planes. Both are high-priced, U.S.-made equipment.

The installation of the main body of the Aegis Ashore system, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, is likely to cost nearly 100 billion yen per unit, including technological support.

In recent years, the Japanese government’s purchase of defense equipment from the United States is increasing. The initial defense budget for fiscal 2018 also includes purchases of F-35A fighter planes produced by Lockheed Martin, Global Hawk unmanned reconnaissance planes manufactured by Northrop Grumman, and Osprey tilt-rotor transportation aircraft produced by Bell and Boeing.

Trump is highly supportive of exports of U.S.-made products. When he visited Japan in November, he said in a joint news conference with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that it is important for Japan to purchase a huge amount of defense equipment from the United States.

Trump also said that the United States has produced the highest-level equipment.

Regarding the request from the United States, a former high-ranking official of the Self-Defense Forces said, “Japan can acquire the functions and the capabilities of the most advanced weapons of the United States.”

With the purchases, however, Japan is obligated to pay huge amounts to the United States.

The procurement of U.S.-made equipment, called Foreign Military Sales (FMS), is conducted for transactions between the Japanese and the U.S. governments.

Since Abe took power for a second time in December 2012, the procurement based on the FMS has increased sharply. In fiscal 2012, the FMS-based procurement stood at 138 billion yen. But the amount is likely to reach 480.4 billion yen in fiscal 2018 based on the budget request.

There are growing fears that the sharp increase in payments to the U.S. government will lead to a reduction in important budgets, such as those for training and maintenance of equipment.

Some point out that under the FMS-based transactions, the Japanese government is often forced to accept the selling prices offered by the U.S. government. In the case of the Global Hawk planes, for example, the price per unit has increased to 18.9 billion yen, much higher than the initial estimate.

The Defense Ministry temporarily suspended the purchase and asked the prime minister’s office for an opinion. The prime minister's office green-lighted the purchase, a high-ranking Defense Ministry official said.

Abe is extremely supportive of buying U.S.-made equipment, saying, “It will contribute to the U.S. economy and employment.”

A government official says, “Purchase of U.S.-made products is an issue that needs politicians’ judgment.”