Japan: The Big Cost of Small Arms


Categorie: Asia, Industry, Infantry, Japan, Kyle Mizokami |


Japan is a wealthy country, but it’s also an expensive country to live in. From the insanely high cost of real estate in big cities to the notorious $6,100 watermelon, things can get pricey in Japan. Weapons, it turns out, are no exception.

Japan has the sixth largest defense budget in the world, yet has only 240,000 military personnel. Where does all the money go? The answer, in part, is it goes to expensive weapons. Very expensive weapons:

SiG 220 handgun: 1,004 @ ¥200,000,000 ($1,992 USD each)
Cost of U.S. Equivalent: SiG 226, U.S. civilian market, $816.00* (2010)

Type 89 Rifle: 10,012 @ ¥2,800,000,000 ($2,796 each)
Cost of U.S. Equivalent: M16A4 Rifle, $784.00 (2010)

M700 Anti-Personnel Sniper Rifle: 105 @ ¥200,000,000. ($19,047 each)
Cost of U.S. Equivalent: M24 Sniper Rifle (same thing): $2,105 (2005)

5.56mm Machine Gun MINIMI: 195 @ 400,000,000. ($20,512.00 USD each.)
Cost of U.S. Equivalent, M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (same thing), $4,087 USD (2005)

12.7mm Heavy Machine Gun: 123 @ ¥700,000,000. ($56,000.00 USD each.)
Cost of U.S. Equivalent, M2 Heavy Machine Gun (same thing), $12,000 USD (2010)

81mm Mortar L16: 5 mortars @ ¥100,000,000. ($200,000.00 USD each.)
Cost of U.S. Equivalent, M252 Medium Mortar (same thing), $24,717 USD (2005)

MO-120-RT-61 120mm mortar: 4 mortars @ ¥200,000,000. ($500,000.00 USD each.)
Cost of U.S. Equivalent, M120 120mm Heavy Mortar, unknown.

*Exchange rate of $1.00 USD = ¥100. This is a bit high for now. Round down by fifteen percent to reflect the current cost.

It is difficult to justify a Japanese-bought M700 sniper rifle costing ten times more than an American equivalent (which is the same rifle.) Even something as simple as a pistol costs twice as much. And it’s not just foreign imports: a domestically produced Howa Type 89 rifle costs more than three times more than a M16A4 purchased for the U.S. Marine Corps.

When the cost of a MINIMI bought by Japan is five times more than that by the United States, someone is getting ripped off. The MINIMI is not a new design, nor is it complicated, or infrequently made. (Email sent to FN, maker of the MINIMI asking for a comment went unanswered.)

These are all quality weapons, but the pricing is simply unacceptable. The Japanese taxpayer is getting royally jobbed. There is little interest in military matters in Japan and I suspect that these numbers are not widely known. If they were, one would think that outrage would be the only possible reaction.

Originally posted at Japan Security Watch.


4 Responses to “Japan: The Big Cost of Small Arms”

  1. Dear Kyle,

    it seems the only logical explanation is that there is a Japanese surtax on weapons bought abroad. Maybe a way to protect Japanese defense companies?

    Might be interesting to find out.


  2. Kyle Mizokami says:

    Good question. Looking into it, but haven’t found anything more than tariff data:


    I do think you’re correct in that a lot of this is to protect the local defense manufacturing base.

    The MINIMI/M249 for example is license produced by Sumitomo. (I contacted FN because they’re the license holder, and honestly, it’s easier getting a response from a Western company than a Japanese one.) So, having it made by a domestic manufacturer makes it cost five times as much as by a local manufacturer. Maybe that’s worth it: in a crisis, the factory is in Japan.

    That having been said, producing a wholly indigenous design must be cheaper than paying $20,000 per squad automatic weapon. When Japan eases the arms export ban, I expect that to happen.

  3. Nate says:

    You seem to be assuming that the government wants to pay less. Maybe they’re just cozy with the arms manufacturers and are happy shoveling taxpayer money into their pockets.

  4. cal says:

    How about the cost of 81mm/120mm Mortar bombs?

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