Japan is considering sharply increasing its defense spending to more than 40 trillion yen ($279 billion) over the next five years, government officials said Saturday.
The amount compares with the 27.47 trillion yen in total specified as defense costs for five years through fiscal 2023 in the country's Medium Term Defense Program.
The plan reflects Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's pledge to "fundamentally reinforce" the country's defense capabilities in the face of China's military expansion and North Korea's rapid nuclear and missile development.
Senior government officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the five-year plan presenting the total amount of expenses, such as for major equipment to be procured, would not reach 50 trillion yen, but would exceed 40.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party, led by Kishida, is seeking to double defense spending to 2 percent or more of the country's gross domestic product -- a level on par with the benchmark for North Atlantic Treaty Organization member states.
Japan, known for its pacifist Constitution, has long capped its annual defense budget at about 1 percent of GDP, or over 5 trillion yen.
If the projected figure of over 40 trillion yen is reached in the five-year defense program commencing next April, annual expenses could reach 10 trillion yen in the new plan's final fiscal year as envisioned by the Defense Ministry and almost meet the 2 percent target.
The government is trying to update the medium-term program along with other key documents by year-end, with defense and finance ministry officials planning to hash out the details of spending plans.
The Defense Ministry earlier this year requested 5.59 trillion yen, the largest amount ever, to be allocated in the country's initial budget for the next fiscal year starting in April. The outlay could eventually further balloon to around 6.5 trillion yen once some unspecified costs are finalized.
Under the plan, from fiscal 2024 onward, defense spending is set to rise by around 1 trillion yen annually.
Among the areas to receive the additional funds are long-range missiles for use in counterstrike capabilities, drones and other unmanned technology, and construction of new destroyers to be equipped with the Aegis missile interceptor system.
The ministry also plans to use the extra funds to boost sustained combat capabilities, including improving missiles and munitions storage, as well as production.
However, Japan's fiscal health is already the worst among developed countries, with its debt more than twice the size of its economy. The yet-to-be-compiled national budget for the next fiscal year is also expected to hit another record.
The Finance Ministry initially intends to maintain fiscal discipline by funding the increased defense spending through issuing government bonds, and plans to repay the debt by raising corporate and other taxes.
But there is strong opposition to tax increases in Japan, making it possible the 40 trillion yen level will not be met or it will be lumped in with other national security expenditures, some officials said.