Type 90 main battle tank. Creative commons photo, Flickr user Delta16v.

According to the 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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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 596 post(s) on Japan Security Watch