The Japanese Army’s Assault Rifle Has Some Weird Features

WIB land November 29, 2016 0

A JGSDF soldier fires his Type 89 during training in California in 2014. Photo via Wikipedia Such as a separate, three-round burst mechanism by...
A JGSDF soldier fires his Type 89 during training in California in 2014. Photo via Wikipedia

Such as a separate, three-round burst mechanism


In the late 1980s, the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force decided to replace its aging 7.62-by-51-millimeter Howa Type 64 battle rifles. The JGSDF selected a lighter, modern assault rifle — the Howa Type 89 — in 1989.

It’s a solid weapon, but one with a few weird features. Its biggest problem, however, is that there aren’t enough copies of it in existence.

The Howa Machinery Company, Ltd. had previously produced the Type 64 and also manufactured a licensed copy of Armalite’s AR-18. The Japanese Defense Agency and Howa developed a series of prototypes during the 1980s — and the JGSDF eventually adopted the HR-16 prototype as the Type 89.

The new rifle represents a vast improvement in ergonomics over the Type 64. It chambers the NATO-standard 5.56-by-45-millimeter round and feeds from a 20- or 30-round magazine. The rifle features a short-stroke gas piston system with a rotating bolt derived from the AR-18.

The Type 89 is significantly handier than the earlier Type 64. It weighs 7.7 pounds and measures 36.1 inches from muzzle to butt. Its fire selector has four positions in an unconventional order — safe, full auto, three-round burst and semi-automatic.

Another unusual feature of the rifle’s fire control group is the inclusion of a separate, three-round burst mechanism.

The Type 89’s gas system is designed to lower the recoil impulse. This extends parts-life and improves the rifle’s handling. The rifle has a stamped receiver combined with forged aluminum parts and polymer furniture.

Like the Type 64, the Type 89 comes with an integrated bipod. The Type 89-F variant has a shorter overall length and a side-folding, variable-length stock.

The Type 89 can be fitted with a canvas cartridge-catcher and a bayonet. It can fire the Type 06 rifle-grenade without additional attachments. It’s possible, with an adapter, to also fit the M203 40-millimeter under-barrel grenade launcher.

The rifle’s top cover has a mounting point for rails in order to attach optics. The JGSDF issues a few unmagnified red-dot optics, and personnel are allowed to purchase their own optics, if they wish.

The JGSDF is currently updating the Type 89 with a quad-rail system as part of Japan’s Advanced Combat Infantry Equipment System program.

However, the JGSDF has not made any effort to install an ambidextrous selector switch or to improve the magazine well to aid magazine-changes.

Howa has produced around 100,000 Type 89s — not enough to arm the entire JGSDF. The older Type 64 thus remains in service with second-line units.

Originally published at

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