December 18, 2018 / 2:10 AM / 8 months ago

Japan bolsters military to counter China, Russia in East Asia

TOKYO, Dec 18 (Reuters) - Japan will accelerate spending on advanced stealth fighters, long-range missiles and other equipment over the next five years to support U.S. forces facing China’s military in the Western Pacific, two new government defence papers said.

The plans are the clearest indication yet of Japan’s ambition to become a regional power as a military build-up by China and a resurgent Russia puts pressure on its U.S. ally.

“The United States remains the world’s most powerful nation, but national rivalries are surfacing and we recognise the importance of the strategic competition with both China and Russia as they challenge the regional order,” said a 10-year defence programme outline approved by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government on Tuesday.

Japan plans to buy 45 Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 stealth fighters, worth about $4 billion, in addition to the 42 jets already on order, according to a separate five-year procurement plan approved on Tuesday.

The new planes will include 18 short take off and vertical landing (STOVL) B variants of the F-35 that planners want to deploy on Japanese islands along the edge of the East China Sea.

Japan plans to spend 25.5 trillion yen ($224.7 billion) on military equipment over the next five years, 6.4 percent more than the previous plan. Cost-cutting will free up a further 2 trillion yen for equipment purchases, the procurement paper said. (Reporting by Tim Kelly; editing by Darren Schuettler)

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