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Japan"s Air Self-Defense Force deployed its first F-35A stealth fighter jet at its Misawa base in northeast Japan"s Aomori prefecture on Friday in a planned buildup of military assets that have been deemed constitutionally unsound and unsettling for regional stability, Japanese media reported.
Nine more are expected to arrive at the base by the end of March next year. Then Japan will form a squadron of cutting-edge stealth jets, according to the Jiji Press.
The news agency said the Defense Ministry plans to arm the F-35A with Norwegian-made long-range cruise missiles capable of flying 500 kilometers, enough to reach inland Democratic People"s Republic of Korea from over the Sea of Japan.
As this would give Japan the ability to attack enemy bases, critics say the missile plan clashes with the nation"s war-renouncing Constitution.
The supreme law prohibits Japan from waging war and obtaining "war potential." Its Article 9, often referred to as the peace clause, renounces war as a sovereign right and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. In order to accomplish this aim, the article specifies that "land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained".
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, however, is ardently trying to amend the Constitution to achieve his career goal of further loosening restrictions on the nation"s SDF, despite the majority of Japanese people being against changing the pacifist charter for the first time since World War II.
Abe"s moves toward ramping up spending on military hardware, constitutional amendments and the normalization of Japan"s military have also unsettled some of Japan"s regional neighbors and the broader international community, Xinhua News Agency reported.
The first F-35A, which cost 14 billion yen ($129 million), was assembled at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd"s plant in Toyoyama, Aichi prefecture.
Jiji reported that the F-35A will be used to train pilots for the aircraft and carry out educational drills, but not to perform actual missions for the time being.
In the future, the ASDF is expected to use F-35As, set to become its mainstay fighters, mainly for surveillance to prepare for DPRK ballistic missile launches and scrambles against Russian and Chinese aircraft, the news agency said.
F-35As "will facilitate the accomplishment of various missions, not only air defense and battle but also information-gathering, surveillance and anti-surface and anti-ship attacks," Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said, calling the deployment "extremely significant" in terms of Japan"s national security.
The Japanese government has come up with a record draft defense budget for fiscal year 2018 totaling 5.19 trillion yen ($46 billion) as it seeks to introduce a new missile defense system and new cruise missiles.
The budget, which is up 1.3 percent from the previous year, is expected to be approved at the ongoing ordinary sessions of Parliament.