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Type 90 Tank

The main battle tank, Type 90, is domestically designed and produced by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Development of the Type 90 tank was initiated in 1977, and it was accepted for service in 1990. The Type 90, equipped with 120mm gun, is a first-class tank that is equal to any tank made by leading nations of the world. The tank is equipped with a the same Rheinmetall 120-mm tank gun as the the German Leopard. The Type 90 tank carries a smoothbore barrel rather than a rifled barrel, and ammunition includes armor-piercing projectiles, antitank howitzer shells, and adhesive [high explosive plastic (HEP)] howitzer shells.

The Type 90 weighs 50 gross tons, is powered by a 1,500-horsepower engine, and has a 30-horsepower-per-ton power-to-weight ratio. With the exception of the turretless Swedish Stridsvagn (S-type) tank and various Russian models, the Type 90 tank is the first tank to achieve manpower savings by reducing the crew to three through the development of an ammunition autoloader.

Innovative technology includes a laser and thermal-guided gun and turret controls. The automatic target tracking system using a thermal image display is controlled through a tank commander's targeting periscope attached to the top of the turret in an independently rotatable mode. Night-vision range finders are integrated into fire control systems (FCS) and night vision thermal imaging systems of a passive type use the infrared rays emitted from the opposing target to provide a substantial improvement in visible range. These features enable the tank to achieve high-precision, mobile firing, and enhanced the tanks capabilities to respond rapidly to multiple targets. Proprietary technology was used on the composite armor, including steel and ceramics with superior projectile-resistant qualities.

The initial request was made during the 1988 fiscal year, while the Soviet threat was still the number one issue to the Japanese Defense Agency (JDA). In the Mid-Term Defense Program from 1991 to 1995 the total acquired was 108 tanks. For the 1996-2000 Mid-Term Defense Program the GSDF acquired a total of ninety new Main BattleTanks. Japan's military establishment in 1994 began to reflect a new independence and asignificant enhancement of capabilities. The Ground Self-Defense Force possessed a total of 1,160 main battle tanks. This number included the first of the new Type 90 tanks.

The capabilities of this tank compare with those of the US Ml. The Type 90 tank's 120 milimeter gun and 70 kilometer per hour speed make it comparable to the US Ml. The weight of the Type 90, at fifty tons, is significantly lighter than the Ml. The reduced weight makes it more suited for the terrain of the Japanese islands, and more transportable, than the Ml.

The “90-model tank,” which the Self-Defense Forces continued to buy from FY 1990 to FY 2010, had been developed on the assumption of Soviet landing operations in Hokkaido. the Type 90 tank was designed tomatch the Soviet T-80. As the model had to be larger and more powerful than Soviet tanks, it was very heavy, weighing 50 tons and costing 1 billion yen each. The weight limit on Japan’s highways is generally 40 tons, and on bridges, 25 tons. It was repeatedly questioned if the heavy tanks can actually operate on roads and bridges in the country. The government, however, said that the tank can go through water if it cannot use a bridge, and that it can be loaded on a trailer when taken apart. Using these rationales, the government decided to purchase the 90-model tank.

The Type 90 tank contributes to defense by giving the GSDF a highly capable armor force. The question becomes who is the most likely invader? However, the tanks were actually deployed after 1991, when the Soviet Union had collapsed. At first glance, it would appear that this was now a weapons systems without a threat. The main threat of North Korea isfrom ballistic missiles, not from amphibious or airborne invasion.

The only countries in the region capalbe of threatening a direct, ground attack on Japanese territory are Russia and China. As stated in Japan's 1998 defense white paper, "[T]hough the number of Ivan Rogov-class and other amphibious assault landing ships has decreased, it still holds strategic amphibious capabilities." The likelihood of armed invasion of Japan is remote, particularly by forces employing the latest Russian-designed T-80 tank. The other threat to which the Type 90 tank could apply is the growing Chinese amphbious force.

Why did the government continue to buy the type-90 tanks, which were developed to counter a Soviet attack, when there was no longer a viable threat of a Soviet attack? The Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) is undergoing a qualitativeimprovement similar to the GSDF. The Osumi class ship can carry up to ten Type 90 tanks, 390 troops, and canlaunch two air-cushioned landing craft (LCAC) from its floodable well deck. The Osumi goes well beyond logistical support and gives the MSDF the beginnings of a credible power projection capability.

Though unable to explain the need, the government went on procuring the Type-90 tanks. 341 tanks in total were procured for about 300 billion yen between FY 1990 and FY 2009. With the procurement of the Type-90 tanks ending in 2009, the government began to procure a new model, the Type-10 tank, from FY 2010. Type 90 tanks cost $10.5 million apiece, or about twice what a comparable tank would have cost in the United States.

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Page last modified: 17-04-2013 13:30:42 ZULU