For the year to March 2016, Tokyo will spend 4.98 trillion yen (USD 41.97 billion), the government said, rising for the third straight year.

"This is the largest budget ever," said a defence ministry official, adding the highest allocation previously was 4.96 trillion yen earmarked in 2002.

The trend reflects Abe's wish to build a more active military, a push supporters say is in response to the raising of tensions with China, with which Tokyo is at odds over the ownership of islands in the East China Sea.

Japan is increasingly wary of Beijing, which is seen by several countries in the region as growing aggressive in various sovereignty claims.

But detractors point to Abe's desire to bolster the military more generally, and to shrug off the shackles of pacifism.

The premier had wanted to alter the constitution to reduce restrictions on the armed forces, but was unable to muster sufficient public support, and moved instead to reinterpret the relevant clause to allow the military to come to the aid of an ally under attack.

Among items on the defence ministry's shopping list are 20 "P-1" maritime patrol aircraft, with a combined price tag of 350 billion yen.

It will also buy five V-22 "Osprey" – crossover aircraft, which have the manoeuverability of helicopters and the range of airplanes -- along with six high-tech F-35A stealth fighters.

The ministry is looking to get a fleet of "Global Hawk" drones over a five-year period, and part of the purchase will come out of this budget, officials said.

The ministry is also buying 30 units of amphibious vehicles and one E-2D airborne early-warning aircraft to be assigned to protect fringe areas, including the Nansei Shoto islands which lie between the East China Sea and Pacific Ocean.

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