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Japan's new five-year defence plan calls for the military to upgrade two existing "helicopter carriers" so that they will also be able to launch fighter jets.

Both Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga stressed the move was not in breach of Japan's post-war pacifist Constitution, and does not mark any shift from its exclusively defensive posture.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said: "This misunderstanding is that (we are) trying to convert the two Izumo-class destroyers into full-fledged aircraft carriers, on which the F-35B aircraft will be permanently embarked, and the function of the Izumo-class destroyers will be to serve as full-fledged aircraft carriers".

Known as the National Defense Program Guidelines and the Mid-Term Defense Plan, or MTDP, the documents outline Japan's defense policy and outlook for the next five fiscal years as the country grapples with the rising economic and military power by regional rival China and the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

Mr Suga, meanwhile, said at a regular news conference that the conversion of the Izumo will be "within what is allowed under the Constitution", given that the objective is to strengthen the air defence of Japan's isolated remote islands, including the Ryukyu island chain that stretches from Kyushu to Taiwan.

Japan will buy forty-five F-35 stealth fighters in addition to 42 jets that are already on order, according to a separate five-year procurement plan the cabinet approved the same day.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said Japan's concerns about Beijing's military are "not conducive to the development and improvement of Sino-Japanese relations".

Nonetheless, the modification will enable the Izumo to be a more all-round carrier that can "operate in a much more hostile environment than before, therefore enhancing its value as an anti-submarine warfare platform while building on its air defense capability", he added.

Japan's government also announced Tuesday that it will over the next decade buy 42 such fighter jets, with the F35B widely considered the likeliest candidate.

'That's not going to happen'.

Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force's helicopter carrier Izumo. Japan's USA arms purchases have surged, and the Defence Ministry came under criticism by the government's Board of Audit for agreeing too easily to Washington's hefty asking price.

Other US-made equipment on Japan's shopping list includes two land-based Aegis Ashore air defence radars to defend against North Korean missiles, four Boeing Co KC-46 Pegasus refuelling planes to extend the range of Japanese aircraft, and nine Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye early-warning planes.

It will consist in refitting the Izumo helicopter carrier into a ship that can deploy 10 Lockheed Martin F-35B stealth fighters (the short take-off/vertical landing version of the "Lightning 2").

The Self-Defense Forces are also expected to drastically improve their cyber defense abilities, such as by possessing an ability to obstruct the enemy's use of cyberspace when Japan is under attack, it says.

  • Joey Payne