Defense Ministry eyes record-high budget request of over 5 tril. yen

The Defense Ministry plans to request a record-high 5.05 trillion yen budget for fiscal 2015 from next April which focuses on measures to bolster their defense of remote islands, government officials said Saturday.

The budget request to be announced next Friday, including U.S. military realignment costs, marks an increase of 3.5 percent from the budget earmarked for the current fiscal year and comes at a time when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is eyeing a security policy overhaul.

While a senior ministry official attributed the increase mainly to the purchase of two new government planes for use by the prime minister and imperial family members, a prioritized allocation is made to remote island defense.

The budget request for the next fiscal year covers 19 billion yen for measures to protect such islands, including an amphibious force to be created and land acquisition costs connected to the deployment of the U.S. military's MV-22 Ospreys to Saga airport in southwestern Japan, the officials said.

Japan's increased focus on defending remote islands, especially the Japanese-administered, uninhabited Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, comes in light of China's growing assertiveness in the area. The islands, which Beijing claims and calls Diaoyu, remain at the center of strained ties between Tokyo and Beijing.

The ministry will also seek 5 million yen in research costs to introduce new vessels similar to the U.S. Navy's amphibious assault ships to engage in missions such as landing on remote islands, and 35.4 billion yen for using two passenger ferries to transport Ground Self-Defense Force troops, the officials said.

The budget includes 95.9 billion yen to acquire six F-35 stealth fighters which will serve as the Air Self-Defense Force's next-generation main fighter jets.

The ministry wants to allocate 378.10 billion yen for the bulk purchase of 20 P-1 jet aircraft succeeding the aging P-3C.

The ministry will also ask for 7 billion yen for the development of new patrol helicopters to step up submarine surveillance, the officials said.