Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet on Friday approved Japan's biggest 5.19 trillion yen ($46 billion) defense budget to bolster ballistic missile defense capability amid escalating threats from North Korea.
Under the plan endorsed Friday, Japan's 2018 defense budget rises 1.3 percent from the current year. It would be the sixth annual increase under Abe, who ended a decade of military budget cuts since taking office in 2012. The defense spending is part of Japan's 97.7 trillion ($860 billion) national budget for 2018, also the biggest.
The Cabinet also approved an additional 23.5 billion yen ($208 million) defense spending through March for next-generation missile interceptors - an initial cost of advanced US missile combat systems Aegis Ashore and other equipment. The budget plans still need parliamentary approval.
The Cabinet's budget approval comes just days after it announced a decision to deploy a set of the costly land-based Aegis Ashore system to increase Japanese defense against a possibility of incoming missiles from North Korea. The exact cost of the two units was not released, but Defense Ministry officials say it could be 200 billion yen ($1.8 billion) or higher.
The budget plan includes more than 2 billion yen ($18 million) for a 500-kilometer (310-mile) range Norwegian-developed cruise missile that can be fired from F-35 stealth fighter jets.
The budget also includes compatibility studies on US-made 900-kilometer (560-mile) range cruise missiles. Japan is also buying next-generation interceptors jointly developed by Japan and the US for increased range and accuracy, and plans to upgrade its home-made defense air control and advanced radar systems.
North Korea has test-launched more than a dozen missiles this year alone, two flying over northern Japan and several others landing inside Japan's 200 nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, reports AP.