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[TOKYO] Japan's defence budget will grow 1.5 per cent next year and top five trillion yen (S$58.2 billion) for the first time, driven by costs for US base relocation and growing personnel expenses, the government's draft budget showed on Thursday.
Defence outlays for the year starting April 2016 are set at 5.05 trillion yen, the fourth consecutive rise since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in December 2012 and ended a decade-long decline in such spending.
Under Mr Abe's leadership, the ruling bloc in September pushed through parliament hotly-contested legislation that allows Japan's military to fight overseas, for the first time since its defeat in World War II, in defence of a friendly country under attack.
Japan is allocating 59.5 billion yen to cover costs for the planned relocation of the US Marine Corp's Futenma air base on the southern island of Okinawa. That compares with 24.4 billion yen for the current fiscal year.
The United States and Japan agreed in 1996 to close Futenma and move its functions elsewhere on the island. However, relocation has stalled due to opposition from Okinawa residents worried about noise, pollution and crime and resentful of what they see as an unfair burden for the US-Japan security pact.
The central government is planning to press ahead with reclamation work for the Futenma relocation despite a court battle now under way with Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga over the project.
Growing personnel costs will also boost defence expenditures as public sector salaries have been on the rise, reflecting higher wages in the private sector.
Items on Tokyo's shopping list for the coming fiscal year include six F-35 stealth fighter jets made by Lockheed Martin Corp and 11 units of AAV7 amphibious assault vehicles made by BAE Systems, as Japan fortifies island defence.
It has been locked in a territorial spat with China over a group of East China Sea islets, with patrol ships and military aircraft from both countries routinely shadowing each other near the islands, stoking fears that an accidental collision could trigger a clash.
The government cut the procurement of Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft, built by Boeing Co and Bell Helicopter, to four units from the initially planned 12 after maintenance and other expenses were estimated to be higher than originally expected.