The war in Ukraine sparks a debate on the role of tanks in the defense of Japan

The ironclad case for Japan to maintain a full complement of tanks for national defense is called into question after Russian combat vehicles were destroyed during the invasion of Ukraine.

The Ministry of Finance has raised questions about the profitability of the tanks, while the Ministry of Defense maintains that they are necessary for integrated operations.

The tanks were cited as an example of “problematic defense equipment” in a document that the Ministry of Finance distributed to members of the Tax System Council, an advisory group to the Minister of Finance, at a session held on April 20.

“We need to fully explain to the public whether it is better to continue to depend on tanks,” the document says.

Referring to the fact that Ukrainian forces destroyed many Russian tanks with the US-made Javelin man-portable anti-tank missile system, the document states, “The deployment of anti-tank missiles improves our cost performance.”

The latest Type 10 tank costs about 1.4 billion yen ($10.5 million) per unit under the fiscal year 2022 budget.

The Javelin costs about 23 million yen per missile and about 270 million yen per launch unit, according to a study by the Ministry of Finance.

The ministry compiled the document as a basis for discussions in the Tax System Council, which influences the budget compilation process.

A member of the council said at the April 20 session that Japan, surrounded by ocean and seas, should prioritize boosting its sea and air defense capabilities, sources said.

“Department of Defense officials say the new areas of outer space, cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum are important, but they seem to get bogged down in giving importance to conventional equipment,” Takero said. Doi, a professor of public finance at Keio University who acts as an actor. head of the council’s expenditure reform committee, in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun.

The Ministry of Defense stressed the need for tanks during a briefing for journalists the same day.

“The Javelin requires coordination with friendly tanks, and it’s difficult for it to fight alone,” a ministry official said. “Tanks are effective because they have firepower, mobility and protection.”

A Type 16 mobile combat vehicle at the Ground Self-Defense Force’s Makomanai Camp in Sapporo in 2019 (Toru Saito)

Japan currently has around 540 tanks and plans to reduce that number to around 300 by 2023 or later, according to the Defense Ministry.

The nation had a Cold War-era record of 1,200 tanks, heavily deployed in Hokkaido to prepare for a Soviet invasion, but the government gradually reduced that number.

A senior ministry official said it is difficult for the Ground Self-Defense Force to drastically reduce its tank regiment as it has to maintain the operatives’ proficiency in maneuvering.

Some ministry officials have also said the tanks are unlikely to be used in Japan, an island nation.

When it comes to defending remote islands from China, which is strengthening its maritime expansion, it has been pointed out that eight-wheeled mobile combat vehicles are more useful because they are smaller than tanks and can be transported by transport planes.

While tanks can drive over rubble, mobile combat vehicles can travel on ordinary roads at a speed of about 100 km/h.

The Type 16 mobile combat vehicle, at around 700 million yen per unit under the 2022 fiscal budget, is also advantageous in terms of cost.

However, a senior SDF official said, “The battlefield functions of tanks are still needed, and they have not lost their superiority.”

Discussions in the Tax System Council aim to compel departments and agencies to keep their budget requests for fiscal year 2023, which will be submitted this summer, at appropriate levels.

“The defense budget should not be set on a scale and discussions should be head-on based on reality,” the council said in a set of recommendations submitted to the finance minister on May 25.

Comments are closed.