The Sankei Shimbun learned on August 10 that the Defense Ministry made plans to develop domestic amphibious vehicles to be used for Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) operations to take back remote islands controlled by enemies. The government will earmark some 4 to 5 billion yen in a FY2017 budgetary request for research and development.
Although the ministry has been procuring U.S.-made “AAV7s” since FY2013, it has concluded that more advanced vehicles— in terms of speed and other functions— will be necessary for effective amphibious operations. The ministry intends to conduct research on such vehicles with the U.S. and connect it with Japanese export of defense equipment and technology.
The research and development will focus on improving the ability to cross over reefs when landing on targeted islands and miniaturizing the engine. The ministry plans to conduct the initial research until the end of FY2019 based on technology developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
In the meantime, the ministry is also aiming to start discussions with the U.S. for a possible joint study on such vehicles and to incorporate necessary costs into the FY2018 draft budget at the earliest.
The amphibious vehicle being developed by Mitsubishi possesses a superior miniaturized engine, reportedly capable of running significantly faster than the AAV7’s 13 kilometer per hour surface speed.
According to the current five-year defense build-up program, the ministry will procure 52 AAV7s by FY2018. The procured vehicles will be used as the main equipment for the GSDF’s new “Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade” to be established by the end of FY2018. The ministry began earmarking the procurement costs in FY2013, having secured the procurement of 47 AAV7s to date, including in FY2016.
However, the prototype of the AAV7 was first deployed by the U.S. military in the 1970s and its speed is regarded as insufficient to meet future needs. Opposition parties criticized the government procurement plan in the Diet sessions by saying, “The vehicles will be good targets for the enemy.”
Although the U.S. had begun developing EFVs (Expeditionary Fighting Vehicles), succeeding the AAV7 with drastically increased speed, the project was cancelled on account of the defense budget cut in 2011. Under these circumstances, the ministry decided to move forward with the development of an amphibious vehicle utilizing domestic technology. If Tokyo can successfully develop a new vehicle jointly with the U.S., Japan may be able to sell it to not only the U.S. but third countries as well. If that happens, selling the product would contribute to Japan’s export of defense equipment and technology based on the Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology decided by the Cabinet in April 2014. Eventually such sales will bolster the international reputation of Japan’s defense-related industries.
An amphibious vehicle is an armored fighting vehicle (AFV) that operates on land and at sea. In the event that foreign militaries occupy isolated Japanese islands, amphibious vehicles carried by the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF)’s Osumi-class landing ship will head for the targeted islands, absorbing enemy attacks, to secure the beachhead.