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Japan wants new aircraft carriers and US fighter jets to counter China

Four F-35B Lightning II aircraft perform a flyover above the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) during the Lightning Carrier Proof of Concept Demonstration. (U.S. Navy photo by Andy Wolfe)
March 21, 2018

Japan’s ruling party has called for the nation to develop its own aircraft carriers and purchase American F-35B fighter jets, Defense News recently reported. The country is aiming to respond to what it describes as aggressive actions from China.

The Liberal Democratic Party’s defense panel proposed the plan on Tuesday as a way to beef up defense of outlying islands, including those also claimed by Beijing.

While the government of Japan might consider it a necessary defense, China could view it as a worrisome further step away from a postwar stance of pacifism. However, the actions are far from one-sided. Chinese President Xi Jinping during a fiery speech this week proclaimed that his country was ready to battle for any disputed land.

“The Chinese people and the Chinese nation have a shared conviction, which is not a single inch of our land will be and can be ceded from China,” he said.

China has stated that because of “historical reasons,” Japan’s military policies “receive a high level of concern from Asian neighbors.” China has said Japan should “refrain from doing anything that would damage regional peace and stability.”

Japan has not had a full-fledged aircraft carrier since World War II. At the beginning of the war, Japan claimed one of the world’s most powerful aircraft carrier forces, which enabled the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. However, most of the fleet was ultimately sunk by the U.S. Navy.

Although Japan seems eager to invest in its military, they do not lack the necessary means to defend themselves at the present time. Japan currently has four flat-top destroyers that can accommodate helicopters, but hopes to adapt those ships to accommodate fighter jets at a cost of $1 billion or more.

The panel also suggested acquiring American F-35B jets that can take off and land vertically, making them suitable for shorter-deck carriers similar to what Japan currently has in its arsenal.

A Japanese defense ministry spokeswoman told Defense News that the government will make a final version of its recommendations in late May. The report will also be a means to influence the next five-year defense plan, which the Japanese government is set to release by December.

Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan has already seen its defense budget grow considerably since 2013.

The upcoming fiscal year will see more than $800 million spent on F-35A fighters jets and an overall defense spending budget increase of 1.3 percent.

The record $47 billion in military spending will include funding new bases on southern islands, producing Japan’s first cruise missiles and allowing for stronger ballistic missile defenses.