Japan has adopted new defense guidelines, calling for converting a destroyer into Japan's first aircraft carrier to deploy advanced USA -made stealth fighters, as Japan seeks to increase defense spending and bolster arms capability in coming years.
In a five-year defense plan approved by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet Tuesday, the government unveiled plans for additional purchases of Lockheed Martin Corp.'s F-35 stealth fighter.
The new F-35 order may also help Japan avert a trade war with the United States.
Japan's defense guidelines for a decade to come, which the country's government approved on Tuesday, envisage creating space and cyberdefense units, while the application of artificial intelligence will be expanded.
Choosing an expanded F-35 fleet enmeshes the Japanese Self-Defense Force with U.S. and allied militaries around Asia, experts say.
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"Compared with China's aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, [which is] capable of loading some 20 fighters, or 100,000 tonne-class U.S. carriers capable of transporting about 50, Izumo would be too small to use for offensive operations", said Noboru Yamaguchi, vice-president of the International University of Japan in Niigata Prefecture.
"China's rapid modernization of the People's Liberation Army, enhancement of operational capabilities, and unilateral escalation of activities in areas close to Japan are generating strong security concerns in the region and worldwide community, including Japan", the paper said.
A cost estimate for the refitted carrier wasn't given. The orders are over five years, starting April 2019.
For the first time since World War II, Japan is seeking aircraft carriers to counter what it says is a growing threat from China. Russian Federation and Japan both claim sovereignty over them.
The 248-meter-long Izumo-class ships are as big as any of Japan's aircraft carriers in World War II.
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China urged Japan to stick to a defence-only policy and peaceful development.
The remodelled ships and new fighter jets will "increase operational flexibility" for Japan's military as China boosts its naval footprint in southern waters that are home to several remote Japanese islands, a defence official said.
Defence officials brushed off the criticism, saying Izumo will be a multifunctional warship used as an aircraft carrier only when necessary for national defence. He said the revised guidelines presented what Japan truly needs to protect its people and portrayed what Japan's future defence should be.
Spending on defence has risen steadily since Abe took office in late 2012 vowing to expand Japan's military capabilities and turn it into what he has described as a "normal country". Japan will deploy new purchased F-35B fighters.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga emphasized to reporters that the new defense package "will enable us to strengthen our defense capabilities", but the government still has to win public support for the record 27.4 trillion yen defense spending planned for the next five years. Japan's USA arms purchases have surged, and the Defence Ministry came under criticism by the government's Board of Audit for agreeing too easily to Washington's hefty asking price.
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