Japanese Ground Vehicle History

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After World War I ended, Japan, following the new trend of tank development, sought to mechanize their cavalry after unsuccessful armored car experiments, which were unsuitable for the poor roads and extreme winter conditions in Manchuria. Consequently, the Japanese Army purchased the following vehicles from their then Allied nations to kickstart Japanese tank development: one British Heavy Mk. IV (Female), several Medium Mk. A "Whippet", and a dozen French Renault "FT" tanks.

With their new tanks fully acquired by 1919, tank studies and research could commence in 1920, with Army command undergoing discussions on how tank usage, doctrine, and organization should be handled. By 1925, the first Japanese tank battalion (later upgraded to the 1st Tank Regiment) was established, along with a new tank school. The structuring of the Japanese tank force primarily relied on a main force of light tanks (<10t), supported by "Heavy" tanks (<20t), with a goal of forming 3 light tank battalions (190 vehicles) and 1 heavy tank battalion (30 vehicles). However, the limited number of imported tanks posed a challenge for ambitious plans to establish a completely new armored tank force. Initially, negotiations were considered for outsourced tanks to save on the costs of designing and producing domestic tanks. The first idea involved approaching the British, but they prioritized upgrading their own army and couldn't afford additional production. The Japanese also dismissed tank designs by the American John W. Christie due to concerns about suspension and track reliability. This led them to consider purchasing more Renault FTs from the French, who were preoccupied with developing their latest tank. This marked the beginning of favoring Japanese domestic tanks over buying technologically obsolete tanks simply to fill ranks. Meanwhile, behind-the-scenes tracked vehicle development was already proving worthwhile.

Imported tanks (1917-1930)
Origin Vehicle Amount Year
Britain flag.png Britain Mark IV Heavy Tank 1 1917 1918
Britain flag.png Britain Mark A Medium Tank, Whippet ~3-6 1917 1919
France flag.png France Renault "FT" Light Tank ~20 1917 1919
France flag.png France Saint-Chamond mod. 1921 1 1921 1924
Britain flag.png Britain Mark C Medium Tank, Vickers Mk III 1 1921 1927
Italy flag.png Italy Fiat 3000 2 1921 1928
France flag.png France Renault "NC" Light Tank 23 1927 1930
Britain flag.png Britain Mark E Light Tank, Vickers 6 ton 1 1928 1930
Britain flag.png Britain Mark VIb Tankette, Carden Loyd Tankette 2+6 1927 1930
Msg-important.png Editorial Note About "Chi-I" (Prototype No.1) and "Chi-Ro" (I-Go):

While internally these vehicles were retroactively counted into the Japanese IRoHa tank naming (chi-I, chi-RO, chi-HA, ...) these never were actually referred to as Chi-I and Chi-Ro.

Prototype No.1 & No.2 (Type 91 Heavy) were never adopted for service, and never got a "proper name / designation", the I-Go was the first adopted tank and was named under the short-lived "X-Go" naming, also based on the IRoHa, with the scheme simply translating to "Xth - Tank":

I-go = 1st Tank, RO-go = 2nd Tank, HA-go = 3rd Tank

Some sources suggest that the "I-Go Ko" & "I-Go Otsu" were internalized as "Chi-I" and "Chi-Ro" respectively, others mention I-Go and Ro-Go as "Chi-I" and "Chi-Ro" as these were the first 2 adopted tanks of the heavy/medium category.

Type 95 Ro-Go, a later iteration on the fundamental first Japanese design

The Army Technology Headquarters approved the development of a domestic tank, spearheaded by Tomio Hara, a young Japanese officer who, after extensive tank studies and advocacy for Japanese tank development, would become the father of many Japanese tank designs and principles. His first domestically produced Japanese tank eventually resulted in what was simply known as the 試製一号戦車 (Prototype Tank No.1), which was developed under tight deadlines. Most of the challenges did not stem from designing the tank itself; rather, the Japanese industry lacked the necessary tools and manufacturing setup for tank development. The Army opted to utilize the Osaka Arsenal (State Weapons Factory) instead of the then-new and fragile automotive industry. This meant that all parts had to be precisely crafted, requiring tens of thousands of blueprints for everything. The prototype was completed by February 1927, just a month short of its 22-month deadline of March, and was tested at the famous Fuji training range by June 21. After civilians and military personnel alike witnessed the first Japanese tank in motion, tests concluded that it was far superior to its Western imports in handling, firepower, and ease of operation, but its overall weight and production cost dismissed it from service. This success established confidence in domestic tank design.

Type 89 I-Go, First mass produced Japanese and diesel powered* tank

While the first Japanese tank reinforced the development and research into domestic tanks, the prototype was far too heavy at 18 tonnes, exceeding the requested weight of 12 tonnes. This prompted Tomio to return to the drawing board for a lighter main tank, aiming for around 10 tonnes. Development was inspired by the 1927 British-imported Vickers Medium Mk.C (export Vickers Medium Mk.III, not to be confused with the Medium Mk.C "Hornet"). By 1929, the new I-Go was ready, and its first prototype rolled out of Osaka Arsenal. Further mass production was assigned to Mitsubishi Aircraft, which would continue to mass-produce most of the Japanese tanks thereafter. By the time of adoption, it would be known as the Type 89 "I-Go" Light Tank. Its prototype weighed only around 9 tons, while production models weighed in at 11.8 tons. This designation later changed to become the Type 89 "I-Go" Medium Tank after Headquarters reviewed its tank doctrine, adding the new role of medium tank instead of just light and heavy. It was then replaced in the light tank role by the Type 95 "Ha-Go" Light Tank.

While production of Japan's new main-line tank had just begun, the Army decided to acquire more Western tanks to bolster and replace older models, as well as to learn from the latest advances made by their Western counterparts in 1930. They purchased multiple Renault "NC" tanks from France, along with several British Carden Loyd tankettes and Vickers 6-Ton tanks. The tankette, much like multi-turreted designs, was considered by the Japanese as a necessary branch of tank that required development and research. There were multiple attempts at building tankettes, ranging from the earliest Type 92 cavalry tank (and its amphibious prototypes) to the Type 94 tankette. While mobility was appreciated for combat and scouting purposes, tankettes were deemed lacking in serious firepower and upgrade potential, being armed only with machine guns. The latter Type 94 tankette also introduced Tomio Hara's bell crank scissors suspension, which became the standard suspension system for all subsequent Japanese tanks. It proved highly successful for off-road operations and helped reduce overall maintenance costs.

Type 95 Ha-Go, Japan's most numerous produced tank

As the early-mid 1930s rolled by, Japan employed its newly established tank forces in Manchuria and skirmishes along the Chinese border, showcasing the value of Japanese tanks. However, despite advancements in the automotive industry that increased the mobility of mechanized infantry units, with an average divisional speed of 40 km/h, the heavier and slower I-Go lagged behind, reaching a maximum speed of only 25 km/h, which further decreased to 12-8 km/h off-road. For frontline movement under infantry marches, this speed was deemed sufficient. With Japan's emphasis on light tanks as the main force and a growing need for higher mobility, the design of the 1928 I-Go began to fall short by the mid-1930s, necessitating a replacement.

Previous imports of British tanks and tankettes, along with Japanese attempts to produce tankettes, culminated in the development of the new main tank for the Japanese Army: the Type 95 "Ha-Go" Light Tank. Development of the Ha-Go began even before the need for the I-Go's replacement was acknowledged. The original request for its development came from the Kwantung Army, aiming to devise an experimental mechanized unit (which would become the "1st Mixed Brigade") to Mitsubishi Aircraft. This marked the first instance of a tank being based on a prototype from a private company.

Msg-info.png Japanese Machine Gun Doctrine:

While it may seem odd that Japanese tank machine guns are fed by standard infantry magazines, this was a deliberate choice taking into account the Japanese doctrine around automatic machine guns, preferring a more accurate and long range engagement on the machine gun. It was heavily implied that every shot counted and that it wasn't simply for suppressing enemy targets as every bullet was meant to hit. This would in theory save cost and bullets, and the additional benefit of reducing logistical strains by taking standard infantry ready munitions.

Second Sino-Japanese War

With Japanese tank development ongoing and reports returning from frontline border skirmishes, by 1936, a new infantry support tank was requested. While the I-Go, though modestly successful at the front, was deemed too slow for Japanese preferences. The new tank program aimed to fulfill the role of a medium tank, supporting infantry alongside the main force of Ha-Gos. Improvements were sought in armor, considering body construction and penetration defense (such as angled armor), and primarily focusing on increasing speed to ensure it could keep pace with both motorized infantry and light tanks.

The decision to use diesel engines in previous tanks, starting with the I-Go Otsu model, had proven necessary due to the ease of obtaining diesel fuel compared to gasoline. Diesel was less volatile and flammable, and alternative methods of procuring diesel from oil shale and even soybeans were considered. Additionally, the extreme cold conditions of the Manchurian battlefield favored air-cooled diesel engines to prevent the need for restocking or freezing coolant. However, this required larger air-cooled diesel engines to achieve the same output as gasoline engines, raising concerns about increased weight and material costs.

Mixed opinions emerged regarding whether to invest more in cost for better performance or to prioritize saving weight and cost, even if it compromised survivability and speed. This dilemma led to the development of two branching prototypes based on both concepts. The Army Technical Headquarters devised both concepts under Plan A (甲 , Kō) and Plan B (乙 , Otsu), resulting in:

Plan A - More Expensive:
  13.5 tons
  2 manned turret
  2 machine guns (1 hull, 1 rear-side turret)
  Roughly same crew compartment size as the I-Go
Plan B - Cheap Alternative:
  10 tons
  1 manned turret
  1 machine gun (1 hull, removed out of the turret)

The Imperial Japanese Army General Staff Office requested that Plan A be reduced to 12 tons, but the Technical Headquarters couldn't comply as the prototype reached 15 tons. This led to the idea of mass deploying Plan B to compensate for the performance difference using the "saved" cost. Despite the Tank School's opinion that the two-man turret provided an absolute and essential advantage over a one-man turret, even if the alternative vehicle had acceptable speed and armor, neither concept could find a compromise. This possibly resulted in the development of a third prototype (unrelated to the initial order), later known as the "Type 98 Chi-Ho medium tank."

Msg-info.png Japanese Tank Doctrine into the 30s:

During this period, there was a debate among nations about whether to prioritize infantry-based tank forces or independent tank units for combined arms strategies. In 1933, Japan demonstrated effective combined arms tactics during the Battle of Rehe, utilizing mechanized infantry alongside I-Go tanks which swiftly overtook retreating Chinese troops and reached the capital of Rehe, Chengde. Even with other successful examples, Minister of War Hideki Tojo favored an infantry-centered approach with dispersed armor support, which proved ineffective against both Chinese anti-tank defenses and Soviet tanks at Khalkhin Gol. This shift in tactics diminished the importance of Japanese tank funding.

Type 97 Chi-Ha, Japan's main medium tank

With the Second Sino-Japanese War escalating into a full-blown conflict, military funding increased drastically, tipping the balance in favor of Plan A. This led to Plan A being put into service as the Type 97 "Chi-Ha" Medium Tank, while the Plan B "Chi-Ni" was left behind with only a singular prototype built. The Chi-Ha was also notable as the first Japanese tank to be equipped with radio equipment by default. Previous models like the I-Go and Ha-Go had only begun experimenting with radio equipment around 1937 as technology advanced and equipment became smaller. Before this, tanks relied on signal flags, with specialized command variants being the only vehicles equipped with radios.

Type 94 Truck, Equipped with a 20 mm Type 98 Anti-Air Gun

The onset of the war also highlighted the need for advancements in ground-to-air combat. Machine guns were deemed insufficient as anti-air defense due to the increasing speed and capabilities of aircraft. Towed anti-aircraft defenses in convoys also suffered from slow response times. As a result, the quickest solution for defending moving units was to equip standard Japanese trucks with the guns they were towing, leading to the standardization of Japanese self-propelled anti-aircraft vehicles for the remainder of the war. However, development of self-propelled anti-aircraft vehicles didn't end there. It initially progressed to half-tracks before advancing to full-tracked tanks. Initial prototypes were based on the Type 97 Te-Ke light tank and evolved into the experimental Ki-To self-propelled anti-aircraft vehicle. Further development occurred with the following Type 98 Ke-Ni light tank, leading to experimental vehicles such as the Ta-Se and So-Ki.

Type 98 Ke-Ni, The planned replacement of the Ha-Go

The increased wartime budget opened up possibilities for upgrading the mainstay of the Japanese tank army. Numerous upgrades were developed, including welding the armor instead of using rivets, increasing its thickness, and adopting a more rounded shape to enhance shell deflection. This streamlined profile also saved weight while boosting speed. Additionally, the main turret, also rounded, transitioned to a two-man crew configuration after removing the hull-mounted machine gun and mounting it beside the main gun. Despite the Ke-Ni's superiority over the Ha-Go in various aspects, the Japanese Army continued to prioritize the production of the Ha-Go due to its battlefield effectiveness, reliability, and the performance differences not being decisive enough.

Battles of Khalkhin Gol

Msg-info.png Japanese Political War Doctrines:

Japan's path to war was marked by intense interservice rivalry and doctrinal clashes. The main doctrines, Northern and Southern Expansion, respectively focused on expanding into Northern Asia against Russia/USSR (Army-supported) and into Southeast Asia and the Pacific (Navy-supported). For the Southern expansion, Army factions favored counterclockwise expansion (island hopping), while Navy factions supported clockwise expansion (claiming naval dominance).

The last pivotal point in Japanese war policy occurred after the battles of Khalkhin Gol, stemming from border disputes with Soviet-Mongolia. These skirmishes escalated into a larger conflict, pitting Japanese units against Soviet troops. The Soviet Union's effective use of tanks, notably the BT series, underscored the significance of armored warfare. Meanwhile, Japan, relying on infantry support tanks like the Ha-Go and Chi-Ha, lacked adequate anti-tank capabilities, proving detrimental in countering Soviet armored assaults. These battles resulted in a significant defeat for Japan and a victory for the Soviet Union, leading to the signing of a ceasefire agreement and solidifying Soviet influence in the region. This prompted Japan to reevaluate its military standing.

The escalation of conflict at Khalkhin Gol occurred primarily due to actions by the Kwantung Army, without governmental authorization. Following the defeat, the signing of the Neutrality Pact, and the replacement and eventual purge of the largest supporters of the doctrine (Kōdōha faction), further attempts at the Northern Expansion Doctrine were disfavored. Priority and funds shifted to the Navy, and reforms within the Japanese army led to an increase in tank production from 500 to 1,200 annually. Additionally, a mechanized headquarters was established, returning Japanese tanks to a combined arms-focused development. This included the introduction of the Type 1 (47 mm) tank gun in response to the Soviet 20-K (45 mm).

World War II

Japanese Offensive

With the last straw pulled by the Army and support shift towards the Navy, the logistical strain that was the Sino-Japanese War required more resources to be sustainable, and with the recent embargo of US oil and other raw materials, Japanese eyes were drawn towards South Asia and the Pacific. With the higher-ups of the Navy planning a daring pre-emptive strike on America and its allies, hoping for a swift victory in the Pacific to procure a better resource income, the Army had to adapt for its island hopping campaign after naval dominance in South Asia. Japanese tanks took a lower priority but weren't completely ruled out.

Type 97 Shinhōtō Chi-Ha, "New turret"

After the restructuring of Japanese Tank Doctrine and Headquarters, a general purpose tank gun was developed under the designation of the 47 mm Type 1 gun which was fitted on the Chi-Ha and ready by 1942, elevating it from an infantry support tank to a more conventional standard (medium) tank of the late '30s/early '40s and was just in time for the opening phase of the Pacific War where it would face American M3 stuarts in the final battle of Corregidor with great success together with its earlier standard Chi-Ha configuration booking successes during the rest of the Philippines offensive and the earlier Malayan campaign, overwhelming Allied forces by armoured attacks through unfortified jungle positions allowed by the light nature of Japanese tanks.

Type 1 Ho-Ni, a self-propelled field gun
Type 4 Ho-Ro, the last variant to see combat

Like many nations, the main medium tank of the Army saw several variants with self-propelled gun variants being a crucial remodel for additional firepower. With the limited budget, tank assembly lines, and need for tanks, the Japanese Army still developed a limited amount of SPGs. Initially developed and purposed as an artillery tank, the Type 1 Ho-Ni I was still considered to be used in a direct fire role as it was equipped with the 75 mm Type 90 field gun, which in itself was a purpose-built artillery gun with direct fire capability. A later model Ho-Ni II was equipped with a 105 mm Type 91 Howitzer which was suited to the role of artillery tank and both tanks were ready by 1941 but production only really started in 1942 and deployment was even later, only being used in offensive-defensive operations during the Japanese defense of the Philippines in early 1945 where they faced a fierce American offensive and were essentially the only tanks capable of knocking out America's late '40s main tank, the M4 Sherman, which the '30s Ha-Go and Chi-Ha could only face off from the sides.

Another artillery-based tank that made it to the Philippines in combat in even less numbers was the Type 4 Ho-Ro, equipped with the 150 mm Type 38 howitzer which again was designed to be used in artillery units and operations but ended up directly facing off against Shermans in rather short engagement ranges, where it saw short-lived success against the targets in front of it, but were easily overwhelmed and knocked out by American troops like the previous tanks.

Japanese Defensive
Type 1 Chi-He, an upgraded classic
Type 3 Chi-Nu, last of the Chi-Ha lineage
Type 3 Ho-Ni III, complementary TD

The development of the Chi-Ha Kai's new turret was accompanied by advancements in tank production methods, such as welding instead of riveting, and a further emphasis on angling armor plates to reduce weight without sacrificing protection. This led to the creation of the Type 1 Chi-He medium tank, which was deemed ready by 1941. However, progress was hindered by the initial plan for a technologically complex servo-hydraulic transmission, resulting in delays. Eventually, this transmission was abandoned in favour of the standard one used in the Chi-Ha model. The abandoned transmission design found utility in later projects like the Chi-To and Chi-Ri.

Production of the Chi-He was initially overshadowed by the ongoing assembly lines for the Chi-Ha, with the Chi-He only fully replacing it by 1943. However, the Chi-He saw no combat, as it was reserved for homeland defense. Similarly, many other Japanese tank developments faced similar delays and were confined to the home islands due to prioritization of existing production lines driven by budget constraints and the dominant role of the Navy in war planning.

The Chi-He hull served as the basis for the final variant of the Chi-Ha series, born out of necessity due to the sluggish progress of larger tank projects like the Chi-To and Chi-Ri. This variant, known as the Type 3 Chi-Nu, became the backbone of Japanese tank forces prepared for homeland second line defense. Additionally, older Chi-Ha hulls were repurposed into Type 3 Ho-Ni III tank destroyers, armed with the same 75 mm Type 3 cannon, to complement the Chi-Nu in defensive operations.

Type 5 Na-To, the Sherman killer's test bed
Type 4 Chi-To, Sherman's nemesis
Type 5 Ho-Ri III, destroyer of dragons

With the looming threat of homeland invasion and the obsolescence of Japanese tank designs by the 1940s, the Japanese Army Armoured Headquarters faced urgent pressure to develop new designs that wouldn't be constrained by limited budget allocations in terms of size, weight, and capabilities.

The tank that eventually became known as the Type 4 Chi-To began its development in September 1942 as a low-priority upgrade over the Chi-Ha series. Initial plans called for a completely new hull design and a long-barreled 47 mm gun, which later evolved into a long-barreled 57 mm prototype gun by 1943. However, the urgency of tank developments on the Eastern Front between German and Soviet tanks, coupled with Japanese encounters with Sherman tanks, prompted a shift towards equipping the tank with a long 75 mm gun, kicking the tank's development in a higher gear.

The 75 mm gun itself underwent a lengthy development process. Originally a Swedish AA gun found on the Chinese front, it was captured and brought back to Japan for evaluation. This led to the development of two separate guns: the 75 mm Type 4 anti-air gun and its tank variant, the 75 mm Type 5 tank gun. The latter was tested on stilts and mounted on the Type 4 Chi-So armored tractor for chassis testing, under the designation of the 7.5 cm self-propelled anti-tank gun Na-To.

The capabilities of the gun were great enough to destroy Sherman tanks with ease and production was greenlit to the already stretched tank assembly lines of Mitsubishi, which together with Kobe Steel were tasked to aim for 25-35 tanks a month for a total of 200 tanks by the end of 1945. However, with constant strategic bombing and delayed development, only 2 known proto-production tanks were built with some sources noting an alleged 6 total being built.

Another end-of-war prototype was the Type 5 Chi-Ri tank, developed in parallel with the Chi-To. It served as a heavier companion tank, powered by a V-type 12-cylinder gasoline engine to support the increased armor, size, and capabilities. Unlike traditional Japanese tanks, the Chi-Ri drew inspiration from German and Soviet designs such as the KV-1. To make up for the limited resources, development was pushed to a quality-mass production model which included innovative features such as an autoloader and a secondary cannon in the hull.

The larger hull of the Chi-Ri also lent itself to the development of heavier tank destroyers, including the Ho-Ri series. These designs utilized the Chi-Ri hull and a 105 mm cannon to ensure the destruction of enemy tanks. While the first two designs maintained a square hull shape with a rear and mid-section superstructure for the gun, the third and most investigated design (the model in-game), featured an angled front hull for enhanced protection.

Japanese Navy

Amidst the factionalised and fragmented Japanese military, tank development was not exclusive to the Army. In the early stages of Japanese tank development, the Army explored amphibious tank designs before abandoning the endeavour, which was later revived by the Navy. The Japanese Imperial Navy, which maintained its own land units under the Japanese Naval Landing Forces, including its own tanks, primarily utilized existing tank designs such as the Type 89 I-Go, Type 95 Ha-Go and Type 97 Chi-Ha. Additionally, the Navy conducted experiments with tank designs to meet its specific requirements.

Type 2 Ka-Mi (w/o Pontoons), The Japanese Navy's first own tank
Type 3 Ka-Chi (w/ Pontoons), Submarine depth certified tank

With the vast number of islands scattered across the Pacific, the Japanese Navy needed increased firepower for amphibious landings. Despite possessing several armoured vehicles such as the Type 87 Vickers-Crossley Armoured Car, Type 89 I-Gos, and Type 95 Ha-Gos, these were not easily deployable for naval landings, which required superior firepower for successful operations. After a lengthy development process, the Imperial Navy adapted the Army's Type 95 Ha-Go into an amphibious tank, resulting in the Type 2 Ka-Mi in 1942. However, they missed the initial offensive phase of the Pacific War when they would have been most required. Although roughly 180 were built, most were used in defensive roles, with few amphibious landings occurring due to their late introduction.

With the success of the Type 2 Ka-Mi tank design, the Navy embarked on even larger plans. With the war at sea favoring the Americans, the Navy devised a design for tanks transportable by submarine, capable of evading detection only showing up once surfaced, released from the submarine, and landing on unsuspecting islands, providing considerable firepower with the latest Type 3 Ka-Chi tank and Type 4 Ka-Tsu armoured personnel carrier.

The Type 3 Ka-Chi, similar to the Ka-Mi, was a heavily navalized Army design, this time based on the Type 1 Chi-He. It was planned to be supported by the Ka-Tsu, another amphibious tank capable of transporting infantry like a naval APC. However, unlike the Ka-Mi, the Ka-Chi was exclusively reserved for homeland defense due to shifts in development, wartime priorities, and funding. As a result, no offensive naval operations were feasible with these vehicles.

12cm Short SPG, the SNLF's infantry support gun tank
12cm Long SPG, the Navy's last line of defense

With the Pacific War taking a turn for the worse for the Japanese, the Navy sought to bolster its defences along the coastlines, recognising them as the last line of defence. As the number of ships in the Japanese fleet sank on the frontlines, there was a surplus of naval guns that could be repurposed for coastal defence. Consequently, greater priority was placed on fortifying the coastlines with the remaining supplies and troops.

One notable development was the adaptation of existing tanks to serve in this coastal defense role. The Chi-Ha Short Gun, also known as the 12cm Short Self-Propelled Gun, was inspired by the Army's Type 2 Ho-I tank. Navy engineers armed Chi-Ha Kai tanks with 12 cm short guns meant for coastal and merchant ships, transforming them into mobile support tanks to aid Special Naval Landing Forces and other Imperial Japanese Navy personnel in land combat operations.

Another, more obscure development was the Chi-Ha Long Gun, or the 12cm Long Self-Propelled Gun, which was designed to mobilise coastal artillery. Equipped with the 120 mm/45 10th Year Type naval gun, typically found in coastal turrets, gunboats, or serving as secondary armament on cruisers, this vehicle was mounted on a stripped-down Chi-Ha chassis, only maintaining the driver's position and with hull extensions added so that the gun crew could operate on the rather narrow tank. Its purpose was to hold the coastlines, delivering devastating firepower, and then retreating to friendly lines at the first sign of danger. This vehicle was not perceived as a traditional tank but rather as a mobile artillery piece designed to bolster coastal defences.

Cold War

National Safety Force

After Japan's defeat in WWII, American forces occupied the country and disbanded its military. However, with the onset of the Korean conflict in the 1950s and the majority of American troops redeployed to South Korea, Japan found itself vulnerable. To address this, the National Police Reserve (NPR) was established in the 1950s with the primary aim of self-defense. Despite being legally designated as a police force, it was structured and trained similarly to the United States Army.

By 1952, the NPR had undergone significant expansion and was rebranded as the National Safety Force (NSF), evolving into an entity resembling a small army. Trained by American officers, NSF personnel were equipped with American military gear, including firearms and uniforms. However, due to treaty limitations, Japan was unable to develop its own military equipment and relied on the US for heavy machinery. This included standard and anti-air half-tracks, and even "special vehicles" such as the M24 Chaffee.

Following the formal establishment of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) in 1954, the equipment provided to the National Safety Force (NSF) transitioned into the newly established military. While these assets, including the M24 Chaffee tanks and anti-air half-tracks, saw continued use, their relevance diminished over time. Eventually, with the introduction of the Type 74 MBT, and due to their general obsolescence, the earliest hand-me-downs were retired from service.

Japanese (Ground) Self-Defense Force

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Post-War Generation
1st Generation
2nd Generation
3rd Generation

Modern Day

3.5 Generation

As the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) transitioned into the 21st century, there was a strategic shift towards enhancing mobility, reducing weight, and integrating advanced C4I (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence) systems. This transformation was driven by the need to respond to modern threats and improve the interoperability of various military units.

One of the significant changes in the JSDF's approach was the increased emphasis on mobility and lightweight design. The geographic and infrastructural constraints of Japan, such as rural bridges and narrow roads, necessitated the development of more agile and lighter military vehicles. The heavy Type 90 Main Battle Tanks (MBTs), which had been the backbone of Japan's armored forces, proved to be too cumbersome for many rural areas and lacked the capability for significant upgrades, especially in terms of integrating advanced C4I systems.

To address these issues, the Type 10 MBT was developed and introduced. The Type 10 is a modular armour kit state-of-the-art main battle tank designed to provide superior mobility and advanced technological integration. Its lightweight base design allows for better maneuverability across Japan's diverse terrain, and it is equipped with cutting-edge C4I capabilities. This ensures that the Type 10 can operate efficiently in a network-centric battlefield, providing real-time data and communication capabilities that are crucial for modern combat scenarios.

In addition to tank development, the JSDF also focused on enhancing its Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) systems and artillery units. Long-range SAM systems were integrated to provide robust anti-air and anti-missile defenses, while the Type 93 short-range SAM system was improved to increase its mobility and deployment speed. This shift towards mobile SAM systems ensures that air defense units can quickly reposition and adapt to changing threats.

Artillery units also saw significant advancements. The Type 99 Self-Propelled Howitzer (SPH) represented a move towards automated and highly mobile artillery. Furthermore, towed artillery pieces were gradually replaced by the more versatile Type 19 SPH trucks. These truck-mounted howitzers offer greater mobility and flexibility, allowing for rapid deployment and repositioning in various combat scenarios.

These developments reflect a broader strategic vision within the JSDF, emphasizing the need for a modern, agile, and technologically advanced military force. By focusing on mobility and advanced C4I integration, Japan aims to enhance its defensive capabilities and ensure that its forces are well-prepared to respond to a wide range of potential threats.

See also