Artillery delivered cluster munitions. Internet photo.

Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room posted earlier this week about the Convention on Cluster Munitions–essentially a ban on munitions that dispense “cluster” bomblets. As Spencer points out, the ban has hit the magic number of 30 countries ratifying the accord, and so the ban will go into effect August 1st.

Article 1 of the convention says:

1. Each State Party undertakes never under any circumstances to:

    1. Use cluster munitions;
    2. Develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer to anyone, directly or indirectly, cluster munitions;
    3. Assist, encourage or induce anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Convention. (Link)

Japan is both a signatory to the accord and has ratified it. No more cluster munitions for Japan.

On the face of it, the ban doesn’t sound like a big deal, since Japan doesn’t practice dropping a lot of aerial bombs. Japan doesn’t keep a lot of munitions on hand, as part of its pacifist policy, and tends to favor guided missiles with unitary warheads.

GSDF M270 MLRS.

The problem is when one considers Japan’s artillery. Japan has 90 M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System vehicles. Designed as a general support artillery system, MLRS is often used on soft targets behind the Forward Edge of Battle Area; rearming and refueling points, assembly areas, headquarters, etc. Integral to that mission is the ability to drop hurt on a wide area, and that’s where cluster munitions come in. M270 was designed from the start to use cluster munitions.

So, Japan may have a bit of a problem to fix. Unless it has started buying alternative rockets for its 90 M270 systems, as of August 1st those vehicles are out of the GSDF’s inventory. Recently a precision-guided rocket, the XM31, was developed with a unitary warhead. That’s great for engaging point targets, especially in counterinsurgency, but when it comes to area targets–such as that the MLRS was built for–the inability to use MLRS submunitions leaves a big gaping hole in the Ground Self Defense Forces’ battle plans.

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 536 post(s) on Japan Security Watch