The Japanese government approved Monday a record defense budget for fiscal 2021 totaling 5.34 trillion yen ($51.6 billion) as it seeks to introduce longer-range missiles capable of attacking enemy vessels from outside their firing range, amid security challenges posed by China.

Photo from the website of Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force shows a surface-to-ship missile. (Kyodo)

The draft budget is up 0.5 percent from fiscal 2020, including outlays linked to hosting the United States' military bases, and has hit a record high for the seventh consecutive year as the country beefs up its ability to also deal with North Korea's missile and nuclear threats.

In the first year of the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, the defense budget has grown for a ninth straight year. Suga has pledged to advance the course set by his long-serving predecessor Shinzo Abe.

The Defense Ministry secured 33.5 billion yen for the development of the Japan-made standoff missiles. Opposition lawmakers have raised concerns over the development, saying possessing such missiles that could have the capability to strike enemy bases would run counter to the country's war-renouncing Constitution and exclusively defense-oriented policy.

Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi has said Japan has to respond to China's increasing naval activities around the islands in the southwest of Japan, while securing the safety of Japan's Self-Defense Forces, and for such an end, standoff missiles are vital in defending the islands.

The missiles will require five years to develop as the ministry will extend the firing range of surface-to-ship missiles that it is developing and they will likely fly 900 kilometers.

The ministry also earmarked 1.7 billion yen to prepare for the building of two new Aegis naval vessels.

Photo taken March 19, 2020, from a Kyodo helicopter shows the Maya, the seventh Aegis-equipped destroyer of Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force, at a shipyard in Yokohama, southwest of Tokyo. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

The ministry still needs to decide on the ships' design and weaponry, as well as how and where they would operate. The ships' deployment was decided as an alternative plan to a land-based Aegis Ashore system.

However, the estimated cost to build the ships will run more than 500 billion yen, 100 billion yen more than the scrapped plan. It will require five years to build the vessels.

The government also decided to spend 57.6 billion yen to develop a next-generation fighter jet to replace the Air Self-Defense Force's aging F-2 aircraft and will allocate 15.5 billion yen separately for related research. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. will lead the project with the support of Lockheed Martin Corp.

Meanwhile, the ministry postponed securing the budget for upgrading F-15 fighter jets to carry long-range cruise missiles due to ballooning costs. The upgrading aims to protect Japan's southwestern island chain.

File photo shows an F-15 fighter jet taking off from a Japan Air Self-Defense Force base in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, in April 2015. (Kyodo)

In new domains, the ministry allocated 119.1 billion yen for outer space. That budget includes research costs for an optical telescope to monitor unidentified objects and satellite constellation to detect hypersonic weapons.

Such weapons, capable of gliding faster and lower than ballistic missiles, are being developed by China and Russia.

As for cyberspace, it plans to spend 30.1 billion yen for plans such as setting up a new unit of the SDF, consisting of around 540 members to protect the country's cybersecurity. A separate team will be set up to shield defense-related companies from cyberattacks.

Regarding another new domain, the electromagnetic spectrum, the draft budget includes 2.8 billion yen for research costs for a system to shoot down aerial threats, including drones, with a high-power laser.

The ministry also secured 400 million yen to test next-generation 5G technology.

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