Andrzej Jeziorski/SINGAPORE

The Japanese Defence Agency (JDA) is considering an Y80 billion ($710 million) purchase of four Boeing 767 or similar tanker aircraft, despite a decision to speed up planned procurement spending cuts.

The JDA says no firm decision has been made on buying tankers. Money is expected to be allocated to the procurement budget in the coming two years, says the agency.

The Japan Air Self-Defence Force (JASDF) has no air-to-air refuelling capability.

The agency is pushing for the procurement to be funded in fiscal year 2000, says the Nihon Keizai Shimbun newspaper, although the aircraft are not expected to enter service until 2007. The 767 is understood to be the preferred type.

At the same time, Japan's finance ministry has capped the 1999 defence procurement budget at 1998 levels or below. This means the JDA will get no more than Y784 billion for procurement, after having requested Y840 billion.

Objections to the tanker procurement are expected from China and other countries. The Japanese Social Democratic Party says an air-to-air refuelling capability would be against Japan's policy of having only defensive arms.

The agency wants the new tankers to extend its air defence capability because of heightened tension between Japan and North Korea, and because of an expected larger role for Japan in future international peacekeeping operations.

China has already voiced concern over Japanese plans to launch reconnaissance satellites and become involved in the US-led Theatre Missile Defence programme.

The Chinese foreign ministry says it is worried about the political and military implications of Japan's defence plans, and hopes Japan will stick to a defence policy limiting activities to its own territory.

Japan plans to launch four military reconnaissance satellites in 2002, and intends to join the Theatre Missile Defence programme this year. Beijing is worried that the development of these systems could spark a regional arms race.

Source: Flight International