New 5.56m assault rifle Howa Type 20 for Japan Ground Self Defense Forces

The Japanese Ground Self Defense Force currently uses the Howa Type 89 assault rifle. On December 6, 2019, the Japanese Ministry of Defense announced that plans had started to get a successor. It’s done! The Type 20 assault rifle, so named since it is being introduced in fiscal 2020, was displayed to the media on May 18 at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward.
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Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force’s new Howa Type 20 assault rifle (Picture source: Japan newspaper website)

The Howa Type 20 was designed to be more resistant to water and corrosion, improving its use in amphibious operations on the remote island chain, which stretches about 1,200 kilometers from the Osumi islands in Kagoshima Prefecture to Yonagunijima island in Okinawa Prefecture.

Howa Machinery Ltd. in Aichi Prefecture, which made the Type 89 one generation ago, also manufactures the Type 20. One rifle costs about USD 2,606 (280,000 yen). The Defense Ministry will spend about 900 million yen to purchase about 3,000 of the weapons in the fiscal year 2020. The GSDF troops will begin receiving them from fiscal 2021.

The Howa Type 20 looks very similar to modern assault rifles produced today in Europe and the United States. The new 5.56-mm assault rifle Type 20 is about 78 cm long and weighs about 3.5 kg. It seems, that Type 20 is a gas-operated weapon with a short-stroke piston design similar to the German-made Heckler and Koch HK-417. It uses standard NATO magazines. It features a foldable buttstock, which provides a more compact weapon that can be used for Close-Quarters Battle (CQB).

The Howa Type 5.56mm assault rifle includes rear and front iron sights that are fully adjustable and foldable. A Picatinny rail is mounted on the top of the receiver and additional rails are mounted on each side at the front of the weapon, as well as under the barrel. A full range of accessories can be mounted on the top receiver as Red dot sight or scopes. It can be also fitted with a grenade launcher mounted under the barrel.

Army Recognition Global Defense and Security news

Japan Ground Self-Defense Force conduct small arms weapons training aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu (LHA-5) in 2012. The soldiers are armed with the Howa Type 89 assault rifle (Picture source: U.S. Navy)

The Howa Type 89 assault rifle is the current assault rifle of the GSDF

The Howa Type 89 Assault Rifle, referred to as the type 89 5.56mm rifle, is an assault rifle used by the Japan Self-Defense Forces, the Japan Coast Guard's Special Security Team units, and the Special Assault Team. It has never been exported outside Japan due to its strict anti-hardware export policy. It was introduced to replace the Howa Type 64 battle rifle in frontline units.

The Type 89 can accept magazines designed for the M16 series of rifles. However, the magazine produced specifically for the Type-89 uses a follower that has a special shape to hold the bolt open after the final round is spent. If an M16 series magazine is used, the bolt will not lock back after the final round is expended.

Type 89 rifle ammunition is interchangeable with the 5.56×45mm SS109/M855 round used by the U.S. Military and NATO. Along with the 7.62×51mm round used in the Type 64 rifle, this allows for interchangeability with ammunition stockpiles of U.S. forces stationed in Japan. Since the ammunition developed for the Type 89 rifle is produced in Japan, it is head stamped with the sakura mark of the Self Defense Forces instead of the typical NATO circle-cross used on the SS109/M855 round.