Japan Security Watch: Japan Cuts Main Battle Tanks

20.12.10

Categorie: Japan, Japan Security Watch, Kyle Mizokami, Vehicles |
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Type 90

Type 90. Creative Commons photo.

by KYLE MIZOKAMI

According to Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan is planning on slashing the number of main battle tanks from a 790 to 400. The cuts would result in a savings of just over a billion dollars annually, which would then go towards reinforcing the Nansei islands. This would result in a national tank force less than half stipulated in the 1995 defense planning guidelines.

Wikipedia lists the number of Japanese tanks as 902, broken down as follows:

Type 74: 561
Type 90:341
Type 10: 0

Wikipedia numbers for Japanese equipment are generally pretty accurate, and I assume these numbers were accurate at some point. The discrepancy between the Yomiuri’s numbers and Wikipedia’s is probably due to Type 74s being phased out. The Type 74 is roughly in the same league as the American M60A3, Russian T-72, and British Chieftain. It’s an old, obsolete design and really should have been retired a long time ago. Two reasons why it hasn’t so far are a flat defense budget and a budgetary emphasis on the ballistic missile defense mission.

The planned cuts mean the Type 74 will be phased out completely, and their numbers not replaced. The Type 90 is still fairly new, so one can assume that all of them will remain in service for the foreseeable future. However, under the new plan, this would only leave room for a 60 tank purchase of the new Type 10.

Japan maintains two basic types of divisions: infantry divisions, which have a small, battalion-sized complement of tanks, and tank divisions. Implementation of the planned cuts almost certainly means the disbandment of the only tank division, the 7th Armored Division, as keeping it would hog all the tanks and tie them all up in Hokkaido. (The 7th AD is an anachronism now anyway, without the threat of a Soviet invasion of Hokkaido.) My guess then is that Japan will parcel out what tanks that remain to the infantry divisions. 400 tanks divided by 60 (per battalion) = 6 1/2 battalions. That’s enough to equip 6 infantry divisions and one understrength training battalion.

That’s fine, but Japan currently has 9 infantry divisions, not to mention several separate brigades.

Japan doesn’t need a lot of tanks — terrain-wise, Japan is a mixture of extremes not conducive to tank warfare: narrow streets in built-up areas and forested mountains cut through with equally narrow roads. In an all-arms Japanese ground force, tanks should probably be de-emphasized in order to make room for more helicopters and engineers. But is it wise for any industrialized country lower tank inventories to the level of three tanks for every one million people, especially one that that is separated from 3,600,000 active duty PLA and NKPA only a short skip across the Sea of Japan?

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5 Responses to “Japan Security Watch: Japan Cuts Main Battle Tanks”

  1. Marcase says:

    As Japan is still unwilling to deploy its armor abroad, the tank battalions are some of an anachronism. When Japan needs to resort using its tanks in its own streets, then something has gone terribly wrong on a giant mushroom scale.

  2. SM says:

    Well, Canada has 100 Leopard IIs as its only in-service tanks, and a population of 33 million. That’s about 3 tanks per million Canadians. The Icelanders have no army at all. Canada and Japan are in different strategic positions, but that seems reasonable for Canada’s strategic position. There is no way the Chinese or North Koreans could invade Japan, and South Korea would not need a large amount of help to win a war with the North.

  3. Logan Hartke says:

    “The Type 90 is still fairly new, so one can assume that all of them will remain in service for the foreseeable future. However, under the new plan, this would only leave room for a 60 tank purchase of the new Type 10…

    Implementation of the planned cuts almost certainly means the disbandment of the only tank division, the 7th Armored Division, as keeping it would hog all the tanks and tie them all up in Hokkaido…”

    I don’t know, Kyle. Getting rid of the 7th AD and spreading out the Type 90s doesn’t solve the replacement issue of the Type 74s and significantly reduce the need for Type 10 MBTs. The reason for the Type 10′s development isn’t that the Type 90 NEEDED replacing or that it was not a good enough tank to replace the Type 74. It was just too heavy for deployment outside of Hokkaido. No matter how many Type 90s you free up, their weight makes them inherently unsuitable as a Type 74 replacement in the southern islands–at least that’s what the JGSDF. The weight/size issue has been a major factor in the indigenous development of post-war Japanese tanks since the Type 61 and it is a factor here.

    You will likely see a reduction–if not elimination–of an MBT requirement in the standard infantry division OOB/TOE if this plan goes through (likely). Even so, the increased military posturing between China and Japan has shifted Japan’s focus from the defense of Hokkaido in the Cold War to a more realistic need to strengthen the defenses on Honshu and Kyushu. For this the Type 90 is unsuitable.

    In short, I think they’ll reduce the planned Type 10 buy, store a portion of the Type 90s, and get rid of the Type 74s entirely. Even though the Type 90s are pretty new, they can’t spread them out across all the islands, just Hokkaido. Japan wants to remain strong, but as they gain confidence in their position globally, they’re shifting their focus from defeating a possible invasion on land to preventing an invasion from the sea in the first place. This is the more intelligent strategy, but it requires a more offensively-oriented, larger blue water navy. For political reasons, this has been a sensitive issue in the past. Now the main country to fear in Asia is China and everyone knows it. A lot of countries are willing to forget WWII and let Japan face down China to avoid WWIII. In essence, Japan is reducing its anti-armor capabilities (fewer MBTs, Type 89 IFVs, AH-64s, OH-1s, etc) in favor of increasing its anti-ship capabilities (more submarines, stronger surface units, new purpose-built P-1 patrol aircraft, new longer-ranged ASMs and SSMs, increased focus on attack capabilities for new fighters). I think this is just part of that.

    Japan increased the number of submarines it wants to buy by 6 units. At a cost of roughly $600 million a sub, that’s not necessarily cheap. Cutting some new Type 10 MBTs and the AH-64DJPs would pay for them, though. My guess is that’s what we’re seeing here.

  4. James says:

    Agree with Marcase. The US had to resort to unconventional methods to attack the Japanese home islands and that was during an era of total war. If China or North Korea were getting to the point of invading the Japanese home islands, the tanks aren’t going to be all that useful. But the cut is useful for several reasons, (i) budgetary and (ii) for domestic and foreign politics. It says “we have no ambitions on the mainland.”

  5. bhairaw rai says:

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