Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the government is ratcheting up defense spending in spite of a fiscal crunch.

The government’s blueprint for fiscal 2018, which starts in April, calls for 5.19 trillion yen ($45.82 billion) in defense spending, up 1.3 percent from the initial budget for the current fiscal year. The amount is fourth consecutive annual record high.

It includes funding for new weapons systems such as the Aegis Ashore land-based missile defense system and long-range cruise missiles.

The government will also purchase many other costly weapons from the United States, including F-35A stealth fighter jets, Global Hawk unmanned surveillance aircraft and Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft.

During his visit to Japan in November, President Donald Trump called on Japan to buy more weapons from the United States. In a joint news conference with Abe, Trump said it is important for Japan to purchase “lots of additional military equipment from the United States.”

It is up to Japan to decide what kinds of weapons it possesses.

A large portion of Japan’s purchases of U.S.-made weapons are made through direct deals between the two governments based on the U.S. “Foreign Military Sales” (FMS) program.

Under this program, Japan pays for the weapons in advance according to price estimates by the U.S. government.

When the package is delivered in full, final accounts are settled. This means the price tag can rise later.

The Japanese government stresses the advantage of having access to state-of-the-art weapons developed by the United States.

Clearly, this puts the United States in an advantageous position.

Total arms purchases by Japan under the FMS program have grown sharply under the Abe administration. The figure will reach 410.2 billion yen in next fiscal year, up from 138 billion yen in fiscal 2012.

The government tends to underestimate the costs of weapons it purchases under the FMS program as its original price estimate for the Aegis Ashore system has shown.

At the end of last month, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told the Diet that each of the two missile defense units Japan plans to introduce will cost Japanese taxpayers 80 billion yen.

In mid-December, however, the Defense Ministry revised the estimate to nearly 100 billion yen each, an increase of 20 billion yen or so in just two weeks.

The total cost of the missile defense system will rise further if Tokyo buys higher-grade radar systems from Washington.

Even if it is armed with such an expensive and sophisticated missile defense system, Japan will still find it very difficult to shield itself from missile attacks from North Korea involving multiple missiles fired simultaneously or those carrying multiple warheads.

Swelling defense spending amid the current fiscal woes will place a big strain on the state budget as a whole.

Cutting-edge weapons require massive spending on maintenance and repair.

Huge outlays for pricy weapons systems inevitably crowd out other defense expenditures, including those for essential drills and training exercises.

Since payments for expensive weapons are usually made in installments, such purchases can also lead to reduced funding for other programs in the future.

The government plans to revamp its defense spending policy at the end of next year by revising the National Defense Program Outline, a blueprint for Japan’s defense power for the next 10 years, and the medium-term defense build-up plan, which defines the capabilities of the Self-Defense Forces for the next five years.

Many important policy questions remain unanswered with regard to the defense budget. How much importance will be placed on missile defense? Will the new weapons system really be worth the enormous costs?

Does the Abe administration’s heavy spending on U.S.-made weapons signal an excessive effort to please Washington?

A raft of issues concerning the defense budget need to be addressed. They should be subjected to rigorous debate during the regular Diet session to be convened in January.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 23