Responding to the increased missile threat from North Korea, Japan has crafted a record $46 billion defense budget. This is the sixth consecutive annual increase in its defense spending and includes new acquisitions. Meanwhile, the Republic of Korea will reportedly exercise an option to buy at least 20 more Lockheed Martin F-35s, again in response to North Korean belligerence.
In the new Japanese defense budget are two Aegis Ashore radar systems, paired with the joint U.S.-Japan SM-3 Block IIA missile that is aimed to cover the entirety of Japan. Tokyo will also upgrade its Patriot PAC-3 surface-to-air missiles to PAC-3 MSE standard, as its last-tier defence. The MSE upgrade doubles the PAC-3 missile range from 20 km to around 30 km. Patriots are now deployed to more sites in Japan, including the southern islands of Ishigaki, across the highly contested Senkaku (Diaoyu) island.
The Japanese Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) plans to acquire Kongsberg Joint Strike Missiles (JSMs) for its fleet of F-35As, plus Lockheed Martin AGM-158B joint air-to-surface standoff missiles (JASSM-ERs) and AGM-158C long-range anti-ship missiles (LRASMs) for F-15J/DJ Eagles.
Nikkei Asian Review reported that the JASDF is seeking airborne electronic warfare capabilities. With only handful of such platforms available in the market, the report mentioned the Boeing E/A-18G Growler. The Japanese Ministry of Defense will factor these requirements into the next Mid-Term Defense Program, which will be revised at the end of 2018, so that these aircraft can be acquired between FY 2019 and 2023.
Separately, on December 22 Japan awarded Boeing a contract worth $279 million for its first KC-46A Pegasus tankers. Japan announced its decision to buy four KC-46s in 2015. The JASDF already operates four KC-767 tankers, which, like the KC-46A, is based on the 767 airframe.
According to the Joongang Ilbo newspaper, Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) has begun the acquisition process for 20 additional Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II stealth fighters. However, Israeli website Defence Industry Daily said that other Korean reports suggested the additional order could be for 26 jets, including six F-35B STOVL versions for operation from a Korean Navy assault ship that is now under construction. The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) ordered 40 F-35As in 2014, and the first airframe is expected to roll out this year.
The F-35s will be part of South Korea’s “kill-chain' pre-emptive strike plan, which involves a series of planned strategic strikes to supposedly eliminate North Korea’s key offensive capabilities in the event of war.