When we talk about top quality electronics and robotics, Japan is the first country which comes to our mind. But when we talk about military equipment, hardly anyone mentions Japan. Robotics and electronics are the main fields which are dominating today’s defense industries, and since Japan has an extremely strong base in them, they are able to produce top quality weapons which are never highlighted by the western media. The reason that Japanese weapons aren’t popular around the world is because they aren’t allowed to export combat equipment according to their self-imposed arms export ban. This didn’t make much sense in the modern world, and slowly the restrictions on military equipment exports are being relaxed. If given free access to the world’s defense markets by its government, Japan could very well become the third largest military exporter within a decade and compete neck to neck with the US and Russia in the market within 2 decades.
Currently, since the export ban has been lifted, they supply critical missile components to the US and UK. They also have a habit of locally upgrading equipment imported from the US and making them far better than the original. Their defense industry designs and manufactures a wide variety of weapons ranging from tanks to submarines. Since Japan is basically a collection of islands, they have given priority to their Navy and Air Force, and many of their deadliest weapons are used by their Navy or the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force as they call themselves. I’m pretty sure nobody would have heard of a majority of the weapon systems I am going to cover in this list. So sit back and enjoy reading it.
10. Maneuver Combat Vehicle
Mobility and firepower are the key when it comes to defending an island nation like Japan which has several major islands and hundreds of smaller ones. The Japanese military realized that their fleet of 700+ tanks wouldn’t be of much use in case one of their hostile neighbors invaded some of their islands. Deploying an army along with tanks to their islands away from the mainland would take at least a week as the tanks could be transported only in landing ships or ferries. So they decided to develop a wheeled tank destroyer on an 8×8 chassis equipped with a 105 mm gun. Such a vehicle bring the firepower of a tank with the mobility of a wheeled vehicle. It can provide fire support to infantry or destroy enemy tanks by making use of a variety of ammunition and its high-speed.
The MCV was designed in such a way that it could be transported by their latest airlifter, the C-2, and deployed within hours on any island territory to repel an invasion force. Japan aims to reduce the number of main battle tanks from 760 to 390, and deploy most of their remaining tanks on the main islands of Hokkaido and Kyushu. Around 300 MCVs will be procured to fill the gap left by 360 tanks. Although the system is powerful and mobile, it has a few drawbacks. It has a relatively unarmored bottom which makes it vulnerable to IEDs and mines and the gun uses a manual loader which decreases its rate of fire and causes discomfort to the operator as it is not air-conditioned. However, these wont prove to be a major issue as it will be used only for local deployment where such threats are rare and A/C won’t be a game changer.
9. Type 3 Chū-SAM
This missile which is in production from 2005, is a testament to the quality of the Japanese electronics industry. It is a medium range Surface to Air Missile system which is designed to intercept low flying cruise missiles, aircraft and tactical ballistic missiles. The system consists of a launch truck with 6 cells of vertically launched missiles, a reloader truck, command and control vehicle, generator truck and a multi-function radar mounted on 8×8 trucks. This radar is a very high-tech Active Electronically Scanning Array (AESA) which can search for targets, track 100, engage 12 of them and provide mid-course guidance to the missiles, after which the active radar seeker on the missile takes over and engages the target.
This system has been developed to replace the Hawk SAM system and complement the long-range PAC-3 Patriot SAM system. One outstanding feature of this system is its ability to network with Air Force AWACS and Navy ‘AEGIS’ equipped destroyers .This allows it to operate as a part of a wide network and plug the gap in Japanese air defenses effectively. The missile is powered by a solid-propellant rocket motor and travels at a speed of Mach 2.5. It has a range of 50+ km and can engage targets flying at an altitude of over 10 km with its 73 kg warhead. The entire system has a high level of integration and automation and makes it the perfect choice to defend Japan’s vast chain of islands.
8. Izumo and Hyuga Class
The geographic nature of Japan makes it necessary to have a naval fleet which can transport a large number of troops and equipment to its various islands in case of hostilities. It is also an absolute necessity to have a large fleet of helicopters operating off carriers. The Izumo and Hyuga class ‘helicopter destroyers’ as they call it, are built for this role. Technically speaking, they are Amphibious assault ships or LHDs (Landing helicopter Docks) as they have a large flat deck capable of operating helos and the capacity to carry a 500-1000 troops, tanks and other vehicles and deploy them quickly by the means of a well deck. Its large complement of helicopters and the ability to carry any helicopter in the Japanese inventory makes them very flexible.
The Izumo is 248 m long and displaces 27,000 tons whereas the Hyuga is 197 m long and displaces 19,000 tons. The Izumo is equipped with AESA radar, Phalanx and SeaRam CIWS, bow mounted sonar and anti-torpedo countermeasures. Its main offensive weapon is its large aviation complement of transport and attack helicopters. The official figures state that ‘14 helicopters’ is its maximum capacity, but these have been vastly downplayed for political purposes and its actual capacity is around 30 helicopters.
The Hyuga varies slightly from the Izumo because of the presence of a 16 cell Mk41 VLS system which enables it to carry 16 SAMs (4 ESSM per cell) and 12 ASROC Anti-Submarine missiles. This, along with 2 × triple 324 mm torpedo tubes gives it a standoff offensive ASW capability, giving it an edge over the Izumo in ASW operations. Again the official figures quote its capacity as ‘4 helicopters’, but its actual capacity is around 20 helicopters. Both these classes will be invaluable in humanitarian operations carried out by Japan. There are possibilities that Japan could acquire F-35Bs and operate them off the Izumo class, but that is just a speculation at present.
Japan is the largest international operator of the F-15 and the only one to license produce the aircraft with 223 units of the F-15J/DJ having been delivered to the Air Self-Defense Force. The single seat version is the F-15J and the twin seat combat-trainer is the DJ variant. These are the largest fighters in the JASDF and have the longest range which enables them to defend the Japanese island chain effectively. They have the ability to carry over 10 tons of bombs, missiles or other equipment on their 3 main weapon stations and can carry AAMs on the remaining weapon stations.
Japan is upgrading its F-15J fleet to maintain combat capability as their older F-4J fighters will be retired and the F-35A deliveries have been delayed. The upgrades include new and more powerful radars, processors and engines. A recon variant named the RF-15J was planned but later canceled and the RF-4s were retained for recon duty.
6. Akizuki-class destroyer
Japan depends heavily on American radars for its large destroyers. The 6800 ton Akizuki class of destroyers is the latest class of warships to be commissioned by Japan. These medium warships feature a higher level of indigenous content compared to the heavier Atago and Kongo class. The focus point is the new radar system which replaces the SPY-1D+SPG-62 with a smaller and better system. So how is it exactly better? The US system used an electronically scanning SPY-1D search and track radar with mechanically scanning SPG-62 fire control radars. But the Akizuki features electronically scanning search & track radar panels which are equivalent to a smaller SPY-1D and electronically scanning fire control panels adjacent to them. This new fire control radar allows them to control more SAMs at the same time compared to other ships.
In terms of armament, they carry 32 SM-2MR SAMs in Mk41 VLS cells and have an 8 tube launcher for SSM-1B Anti-Ship missiles. They also have 2 × 20 mm Phalanx Block1B CIWS and 2 × triple 324 mm torpedo tubes. They have a well-balanced multi-role capability and are mainly designed to escort the large ‘helicopter destroyers’ of the Japanese fleet and protect them from submarine and air attacks. Presently, 4 ships serve in the Japanese Navy.
5. Type 10 MBT
This tank is a result of Japan’s program to develop a 4th gen Main Battle Tank to replace and complement its existing fleet of tanks. The notable features of this tank are enhanced networking with C4I, advanced armour protection which doesn’t sacrifice mobility and increased firepower. The C4I feature allows sharing of information with other Type-10 tanks and allows them to operate as an integrated unit. It has a maximum forward and backward speed of 70 km/hr.
It has a very advanced Nano-crystal steel, modular ceramic composite armor which gives it a very high level of protection and yet keeps its weight down to just 48 tons when fully loaded. It has a 120 mm smoothbore main gun along with a 12.7 mm and 7.62 mm gun. It features an autoloader which reduces its crew to just 3. The advanced day/night sights present around the tank provides the commander with a 360 view.
4. Kawasaki P-1
Japan has the world’s second largest fleet of Maritime Patrol Aircraft and Anti-Submarine aircraft after the US. Their geography again dictates such a requirement. Their current fleet of P-3 Orions was getting old and they decided to replace them with something indigenous and better. The P-1 with its excellent design and turbofan engines can fly faster and longer than its predecessors. It can also carry 9 tons of weaponry which includes a mix of anti-ship missiles and torpedoes. It also has an AESA radar which scans 360 and helps to track surface ships and even aircraft.
It is the first operational aircraft in the world to be equipped with a ‘fly by light’ flight control system in which optic fiber cables replace traditional wires and allow data transfer at extremely high rates. These ships are invaluable in patrolling Japan’s vast chain of islands and monitoring the passage of hostile ships and submarines. The P-1 is competing with its American equivalent, the P-8, in the export market. Japan plans to completely replace its fleet of 80+ P-3s with these P-1s.
3. Mitsubishi F-2
This fighter jet is an example of Japanese ingenuity. They took an existing and proven fighter from the US and improved and modified it beyond their wildest dreams to create the hi-tech F-2. This aircraft was so electronically advanced when it first flew in 1995 that it had the first AESA (Active electronically scanned array radar) on a combat aircraft, the J/APG-1. This was significant because it received such a modern radar way before the ultra-advanced F-22 Raptor could receive one! The F-2 differs structurally from its mother, the F-16. It has a longer and wider nose (to accommodate the AESA radar), larger air inlet, larger wing area, use of composite materials and a 3-piece cockpit canopy (F-16 had a bubble canopy).
The F-2 has a glass cockpit with 3 large multi-function displays. It also has an integrated electronic warfare suite and the weapon stations have been increased to 13 (F-16 has 9). The weapon load and the large range of weapons employed by the F-2 is impressive. It can carry a variety of Anti-ship missiles on 4 hardpoints for offensive duties. Locally made air to air missiles which have better performance characteristics than their American equivalent are carried. The primary role of the F-16 is as a fighter and they are frequently dispatched to escort nosy Russian bombers and recon aircraft.
The one drawback of incorporating so much technology was the high cost per aircraft which made it 4 times as expensive as an F-16 Block 52. This resulted in a reduction of order and finally 94 aircraft were procured.
2. Atago Class Destroyer
Japan commissioned their latest Atago class destroyers to supplement their Kongo class destroyers. The Atago class displaces over 10,000 tons which theoretically makes it a cruiser and not a destroyer. These ships are mainly tasked with long-range air defence duties and lately they are undergoing testing for anti-ballistic missile roles with the new SM-3 missile. Each ship is armed with 96 Mk41 VLS cells to mainly accommodate SM-2 medium range SAMs, SM-3 long-range SAMs and ASROC anti-submarine missiles. Though tasked with air defence, they possess strong atni-ship and anti-submarine capabilities. They have 8 (SSM-1B) anti-ship missiles which are similar to the Harpoon and have a 150 km range, 2 × Type 68 323 mm triple torpedo tubes and a 127 mm gun. They also have 2 × 20 mm Phalanx CIWS for last-ditch defence against missiles.
These massive destroyers have the SPY-1D passive electronically scanned array radar which enables them to search and track aerial threats hundreds of km around them. Theoretically, 2 of these destroyers acting together for homeland defence can create a no-fly zone for a diameter of 600 km around each of them if they are assumed to be at the center of the circle. This is enough to create a sea based anti-air barrier to defend the Japanese mainland. The 250+ km range SM-3 SAM is a vital part of their air defence network. To keep in line with Japan’s self defence policy, these ships don’t carry the Tomahawk land attack missile although they theoretically can.
1. Soryu Class Submarine
Every island nation needs a powerful submarine fleet to safeguard its territorial waters and Japan, which faces a lot of threats from hostile neighborhood countries certainly needs a powerful and large fleet. The Soryu class submarines are the answer to this requirement. These large subs displace 4200 tons when submerged and feature among the most advanced submarines in the world. They have a diving depth of 500 m which is probably the highest in its category. These boats are built with diesel-electric propulsion but to perform with the effectiveness of nuclear powered submarines.
Soryus also have the largest armament capacity among diesel-electric subs and it approaches the capacity of nuclear subs. It has 6×21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes with 30 reloads for Type 89 torpedoes and UGM-84 Harpoon missiles. It also has 2× 3-inch underwater countermeasure launcher tubes for launching of Acoustic Device Countermeasures (ADCs) which are used to deceive enemy sonar and torpedoes. Japan plans to eventually have 11 of these deadly submarines in service. Australia will most likely be their first and largest export customer.
There are many weapon systems which don’t feature on this list as they aren’t very powerful, but are equally essential for the Japanese military. I have listed the most significant systems and have given preference to locally developed ones. The US-2 Amphibian is one unique aircraft which didn’t feature on this list but is worth mentioning. The Kawasaki C-2 will be the backbone of Japanese aerial transport and the F-35s will augment the existing fighter fleet.
The most interesting thing is the Japanese program to develop their own light 5th gen stealth fighter. The name of the prototype is ATD-X (Advanced Technology Demonstrator – X). It will be a twin-engine, single seat fighter with advanced radars and electronic warfare capabilities. It will also feature a ‘Self Repairing Flight Control Capability’ which enables it to automatically detect failures or damage in its flight control surfaces and use the remaining control surfaces to control the aircraft by calibrating them accordingly. It will be interesting to know how this program fares as it will be a totally indigenous one without US assistance.