Moscow and Tokyo are still technically at war, with neither side historically prepared to budge on a dispute over the ownership of the islands seized by the Soviet Union in the closing days of World War II.
Japan will spend $10 billion on 147 F-35s over the next decade and refit an existing helicopter carrier into a ship that can deploy 42 USA -made F-35B stealth fighters capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings. The work would be done over five years and the ship would carry 10 stealth fighters.
Apparently to reassure the public, the government stipulates in the defense buildup program that it has no intention to possess an offensive type of aircraft carrier deemed to exceed the constitutional limit.
The Japanese MoD singled out the deployment of Russian military aircraft on the disputed islands as a particular source of concern.
"We need to develop truly effective defense abilities, rather than simply expanding traditional ones", the government says in the policy, which covers a period from fiscal 2019 and is endorsed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet. "This policy needs to be immediately implemented given China's hegemony".
"Due to historical reasons, neighbouring countries in Asia and the worldwide community have always been highly concerned about Japan's moves in military and security fields", Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing.
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Defence officials have attempted to deflect criticism by describing the aircraft carriers as "multifunctional warships" that would only be used to defend the country from an attack.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the plan is mainly for fighter pilots in case of an emergency at sea and that it "falls within the minimum necessity allowed under the constitution". Moscow, meanwhile, says it is perturbed by Japan's roll-out of the Aegis Ashore U.S. missile system. These will likely take the form of vertical-takeoff-and-landing UAS for operations onboard a new class of eight multipurpose destroyers Japan is now building.
But the MTDP provided more details, particularly that Japan plans to acquire 45 F-35s, including 18 "B" models over the next five years, with the remainder of Japan's F-35 force being the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing variant.
However, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has put particular emphasis on abandoning the pacifist clause, citing emerging "threats" from China and North Korea. Tokyo hopes the big-ticket purchase - which contributes to a record 27.5 trillion yen (S$333 billion) five-year defense budget - will go some ways in mollifying US President Donald Trump, who has pilloried Japan, a key security ally, for its huge trade surplus.
But some experts, meanwhile, have criticised the government's arguments as spurious. The guidelines said Japan will seek more cost-efficient purchase of advance-capability USA equipment, while pushing for more joint research and development. It was unclear whether the F-2 successor would be made-in-Japan or jointly developed.
Japan's air force will also get its first space unit to help keep tabs on potential adversaries high above the Earth's atmosphere.