For the first time in 30 years the Japanese Ground Self-Defence Force (JGSDF) is to adopt a new 5.56 mm rifle, initially it appears for limited service. A purchase of 3,000 Type 20 rifles is to be made this year with costs of approximately 280,000 yen (c. US$2600) per rifle.

Produced by HOWA, the Type 20 follows the modern design philosophy of mounting multiple picatinny rails for the fitting of the range of additional equipment that infantrymen add to their rifles to improve combat efficiency.

The JGSDF had announced last year their choice of the HOWA rifle to supplement their existing Type 89 rifles, which are now somewhat dated. An evolution of the AR-18, the Type 89 is related to a number of the other rifles which are similar developments.

Though details are lacking on the exact operating system on the Type 20, an improved design taking account of new features as found on other rifles that have undergone Japanese testing, such as the FN SCAR and H&K 416, seems logical. It is likely that the rifle will be analogous to the H&K 433, with which it certainly appears to share similarities.

Initial deployment will be with specialized units such as the Land Mobile Corps that are responsible for the defence of remote islands around the coast of Japan, as well as the elite SBU – Japan’s equivalent to the SEALs/SBS. According to the Japanese Ministry of Defence the new rifle is specifically designed for maritime environments, being salt-and-rust resistant.

Although a minor purchase this is a notable nod by the Japanese that they are planning on the possibility of having to actively defend remote territories such as the Senaku Islands, which sovereignty disputes with China have seen mounting tensions in the last decade.

In line with this the JGSDF has also announced they will be purchasing a new pistol for limited service with officers in units involved. Three hundred H&K SFP9M are to be purchased this year, winning in competition against the Beretta APX and the Glock 17. Like the Type 20, these pistols have been designed with improved resistance to maritime conditions.