The Howa Type 89 Assault Rifle is only seen in a flashback i the hands of the dead soldier. Because of the export ban on Howa assault rifles in Japan, it is safe to assume the dead soldier was part of the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force.
Development was handled primarily by Howa since it was already licensed to produce the AR-180 version of the Armalite AR-18 rifle for commercial purposes. In order to determine suitability of the rifle, it was issued in limited numbers to the Japan Self-Defense Forces for field testing purposes. After the data collected from the field testing stage of the AR-18 was examined, formal development of the next-generation assault rifle began with its designation as the HR-16 (HR1604). The HR-15 was the first version of the experimental rifle that would eventually become the Type 89, but was developed concurrently with the HR-10, HR-11 and HR-13 by 1989.
J.G.S.D.F soldiers practice CQB tactics at the Central Training Area's combat town, armed with Type 89s.J.G.S.D.F soldier of the 20th Infantry Regiment engages mock enemy soldiers in the Ojojibara Maneuver Area in Sendai, Japan during Exercise Forest Light 2004.*One of the most advantageous features of the Type 89 rifle over the Type 64 was the ability to ease the load on the individual soldier in relation to the amount of ammunition that he could carry. Also, due to the use of aluminum and thermoset plastic as opposed to the steel and wood construction of the Type 64 rifle, the speed with which a soldier could react to a threat was increased. The fixed stock version of the rifle contains a storage space covered by a rubberized cap that may be accessed by pulling the cap away from the body for the rifle and rotating it in either direction. Although the typical issue model is equipped with a fixed stock, a small number of the steel tubing folding stock version were produced for AFV crews and paratroopers. Type 89*It is believed that the rifle is at least as accurate as the Type 64 rifle, but it has not been verified since the information has not been released officially by the Defense Agency. The Type 89 rifle is equipped with an integrated bipod as its predecessor the Type 64 was in order to facilitate accuracy. However, unlike the bipod on the Type 64, the version on the Type 89 is easily removable as it is clamped onto the barrel behind the bayonet lug with a clothes-pin style spring mechanism and retained with a lever-like lock. Also, the Type 89's handguard is molded with inlets along its lower edges in order to accommodate the legs of the bipod if they are folded inwards for storage.
- Fit and finish of the Type 89 was improved greatly over the Type 64 due to the use of forged aluminum, molded thermoset plastics and stamped steel manufacturing methods pioneered by the processes used to produce the AR-18, FN FAL and Heckler & Koch G3 series rifle. Also, because the rifle was designed from the beginning for the Japanese physique it shares the ergonomic and weight advantages of the Type 64 rifle over similar weapons of its type.
- The Type 89 was designed with simplified operation and minimal number of parts due to the understanding that the complex structure and large number of parts were responsible for the often defective operation of the Type 64 rifle. Because of this, the cost of the Type 89 rifle was roughly half that of the 870,000 yen Type 64 rifle in 1989. According to the Defense Agency, the unit cost of the Type 89 rifle was reduced to about 340,000 yen by fiscal year 2005. Despite this, it is still considered too expensive for general issue as the ideal price required by the Japanese Government for general production is between 10,000 to 100,000 yen per unit. This is further complicated because the procurement method for the weapon is limited to single fiscal year accounting and further reductions in manufacturing process costs are currently non existent.
- Type 89 rifle ammunition is interchangeable with the 5.56x45mm SS109/M855 round used by the U.S. Military and NATO. Along with the 7.62x51mm 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.
Type 89 trigger group.*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. The magazine designed for the Type 89 also differs from ones produced for the M16 because it has holes in the sides of the body to indicate if it has been loaded with 30 or 20 rounds of ammunition. Unfortunately this feature is considered a bit of a nuisance because it allows sand and other foreign bodies to enter the magazine easily and cause malfunctions in the operation of the weapon.
- Unlike the M16, the magazine well of the Type 89 is not beveled or tapered to ease loading because the lower receiver is only slightly wider than that of the magazine body. This is a point of considerable dissatisfaction by S.D.F members since it was discovered during recent urban combat training scenarios that it increases the time it takes to reload the rifle under certain combat situations.
- The selector switch is located on the right side of the lower receiver and is often referred to as the "Atare 3," (アタレサンAtaresan アタレ(Atare) means "hit it") referencing the different selection positions. The markings and associated feature are as follows in functional order:
- Its 3-round burst feature is built separately from the rest, so as to prevent the selector switch from being totally useless in case it can't be used due to accident or a malfunction.
- The bayonet manufactured specifically for the Type 89 rifle can be used as a wire cutter by connecting it to a lug on the scabbard. Furthermore, the end of the bayonet scabbard can be used as a bottle opener. The US Military M9 bayonetmay also be affixed to the rifle.
- The Type 06 rifle grenade is designed for Type 89 and Type 64 rifle. And attachment of the M203 grenade launcher is possible with the proper adapter.
- Special forces units of the J.G.S.D.F are additionally issued a pressure switch activated targeting laser and flashlight which are mounted on the barrel end of the weapon ahead of the front sight assembly. Regular members of the Self-Defense Forces may also obtain these, but must pay for them out of their own funds.
A number of recent modifications have been made to the Type 89 due to the recent armed deployment to Iraq of J.S.D.F members as well as an overall concern over counter-terrorist and possible future combat deployments.
- In accordance with the "Iraq Revival Support Law on Special Measures on Land for the U.S. Military" (イラク復興支援特措法) or the "Self-Defense Forces Iraq Dispatch Law," a selector switch has been manufactured and installed on the left hand side of the lower receiver for ambidextrous use for rifles issued to J.S.D.F members in Iraq. However, this is only a temporary modification and the rifle must be returned to its original state (with the selector switch on the right side only) when it is returned to Japan.
- In 2004, JSDF elements that had the possibility of seeing combat were issued an optic (an unmagnified red dot sight) with their Type 89 along with a mounting bracket in order to decrease target acquisition time. However, since the use of the sight is still in its provisional stage individual J.S.D.F members are expected to purchase their own commercially available model for use in a possible combat theater. Among the commonly used optics include the MD-33 manufactured by Tasco Optics Japan under license.
- During the initial deployment in Iraq, JSDF elements that had the possibility of seeing combat (for example the Western Army Infantry Regiment) were issued a removable foregrip and a 25 mm Weaver rail was installed under the front handguards of their Type 89s to accommodate it. Shortly afterwards, the restriction was lifted and all units began to receive foregrips despite common complaints about damage to the handguards that were caused by the mount.
- A three-point sling was issued to J.S.D.F elements that had the possibility of seeing combat due to the positive testimonials of various international military and police forces. Individual J.S.D.F members were also allowed to purchase their own commercially available models for their own use if they wished.
- Overall, individual J.S.D.F members that were not issued combat based improvements to their Type 89 rifles were allowed to purchase and install commercially available accessories at their own convenience. Nevertheless, those that had the accessories issued to them were required to reimburse their quartermasters from their own pay.
Type 89-F with a folding stock.*As part of the development of the JSDF's Advanced Combat Infantry Equipment System (先進個人装備) -- which is the approximate equivalent of the AmericanFuture Soldier program -- some Type 89 Rifles have been modified to a carbineformat with an overall length of about 800 millimeters, a four-sided rail system, a polymer retractable stock, and a shorter barrel. Publicity photographs taken at exhibitions hosted by the Technical Research Institute of the Japanese Ministry of Defense also show that the third generation of the prototyping process for ACIES has now produced a full size version of this modified Type 89. That variant has a full-length barrel and an overall length of about 940 millimeters. An underbarrel digital interface switch connected to a foregrip has also been developed, along with an unusually large top-mounted sighting system. The sighting system incorporates a ranging device and a video camera so that, at least under shooting range conditions, it is possible to hold the rifle at a distance from the body to train and fire it around corners -- much like analogous foreign systems. There was also some evidence of evaluation of other assault rifles as possible replacements for the Type 89, but this may no longer be the case.
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