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Japan Is Readying A New Truck Howitzer For Its Army

May 10, 2020

Via Wikimedia Commons.

As part of its efforts to assemble a rapid deployment force that can deter Chinese claims on its small islands Japan’s defense ministry wants 3,000 marines supported by tanks, wheeled combat vehicles, and their own artillery. These are enumerated in Defense Programs and Budget of Japan – Overview of FY2020 Budget Request (available for download here) that’s released to the public on a yearly basis. The artillery specified in the document is an 8×8 truck mounting a 155mm 52 caliber howitzer called the Type 19. The widespread adoption of truck howitzers by ground forces everywhere is motivated in part by having smaller crews to operate them.

The defense ministry is requesting seven Type 19 truck howitzers in 2020 worth $42 million (based on the current exchange rate) after seven were acquired in the previous year. This brings the total to 14 but it’s unclear if more will be requested by 2021. The value of a truck howitzer for the JGSDF’s “rapid deployment division” is it can either be flown or shipped to a desired location. The hypothetical war scenario envisioned by Japan’s defense ministry is an imminent annexation of a remote island in the southeast that must be defended. Once special operations units arrive by helicopter the main body follows in naval landing ships, roll on/roll off transports, and medium-lift aircraft. The inclusion of truck howitzers in this force structure means the JGSDF anticipates land combat over a small but strategic island.

The Type 19 truck howitzer of the JGSDF is based on a MAN truck and armed with an improved 52 caliber howitzer whose slotted muzzle brake is a departure from the double baffle muzzle brakes used on the army’s earlier towed and self-propelled artillery. The reader will notice an auxiliary power unit in a small compartment above the fuel tank. This is needed for the large hydraulic spades or stabilizers that are lowered to the ground when the gun is being prepared. The Type 19’s layout conforms to the larger variety of wheeled artillery systems found among NATO armies and other Western-oriented forces. The Type 19 is comparable to the current variants of the French CAESAR, the Israeli ATMOS, or the South African T5 that are all based on 8×8 trucks.

Of course, truck howitzers like the Type 19 have their disadvantages. The vehicle can’t travel anywhere without being accompanied by its ammunition transport as there isn’t enough space on the bed for storing live rounds. While the crew is small with just five members compared to a towed howitzer that may require as many as 11 members they are unprotected unlike the crews of tracked self-propelled howitzers–counter-battery fire is back in the forefront of ground warfare and is even more dangerous with the broad usage of low altitude surveillance and tracking drones.

Japan’s approach to national security and military procurement is a model for lean and open public administration. But the military, who remain committed to their “self defense” role, is left catching up with an aggressive neighbor that’s on a war footing. The truck howitzers and other types of artillery systems manufactured by Chinese state-owned enterprises have a greater variety than Japan’s own modest arsenal. The Type 19’s equivalent in China is the exportable SH15 whose domestic production can reach hundreds. But Chinese manufacturers face no barriers or restrictions inventing new artillery pieces in every caliber. Japan, on the other hand, even with a mature military-industrial sector of its own, is more deliberate and specific in this regard.

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