TOKYO (AP) — Japan's Defense Ministry on Friday requested money for F-35 stealth fighter jets as part of its biggest ever budget to bolster its ability to defend remote southern islands amid China's growing assertiveness in the area.
Plans to buy P-1 surveillance aircraft and unmanned drones are part of the 5 trillion yen ($48 billion) budget for the year beginning April 2015, a 3.5 percent increase from the current year.
The budget reflects Japan's new defense guidelines released in December as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushes to allow the country's military to play a greater role. Tensions with China have risen over a cluster of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea claimed by both countries.
Twenty P-1 aircraft would cost 380 billion yen ($3.6 billion) and a new destroyer 162 billion yen ($ 1.6 billion). Six F-35s have a price tag of about 96 billion yen ($930 million).
Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said at a budgetary meeting at the ministry that the increased spending would "ensure security of the sea and airspace surrounding Japan, the effective deterrents and response to an attack on remote islands and response to major disasters."
Under Japan's latest defense guidelines, the ministry also is launching a new amphibious unit similar to the U.S. Marines in southern Japan, and a coastal unit on the southernmost island of Yonaguni to watch over the disputed East China Sea islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
Chinese coast guard ships and military jets have increased activities in the area, routinely violating Japan's territorial waters and causing Japanese fighter jets to scramble and track Chinese aircraft.