Back in the early 1980’s, the Japanese Ground Self-Defence Force (JGSDF), or “Jieitai“, recognized the urgent need to replace their badly outdated Type 60 APCs. Having no experience designing modern Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs), they looked around to see what other militaries were adopting. It appears they focused their attention on Germany and their, then new, Marder IFV. That proved a wise choice, as the Marder was considered state-of-the-art, and the Jieitai was also preparing to adopt the Type 90 tank, the design of which was influenced by Germany’s Leopard 2.
The first prototypes of the Type 89 were delivered for testing in 1984. Like the Marder, the Type 89 had a low, sloping hull, with a sharply angled front glacis, firing ports along the sides and rear, and troop hatches along the top. Where the Type 89 departed from the Marder’s design was the inclusion of a two man turret. Though the Marder only mounts a small one man weapons station, most other IFVs had gone with a two man turret. In that respect, the Type 89 was in lockstep with contemporaries, such as the Bradley M2/M3, the LAV series, the British Warrior, and the later German Puma.
The Type 89 also differentiated itself by mounting a 35mm Oerlikon cannon. Most similar vehicles mounted no more than a 20-25mm cannon. This gave the Type 89 a decided edge in firepower. If the larger main gun weren’t enough, the Type 89 also mounted two Type 79 Jyu-MAT anti-tank/anti-landing craft missile launchers, one on either side of the turret.
Testing was completed by 1988, with only minor changes requested. Mitsubishi was selected as the main contractor, with Komatsu as the principal sub-contractor. Initially, it was felt 300 vehicles would be needed. The end of the Cold War dampened enthusiasm for this project, however, and by 2004 merely 68 vehicles had been produced. Many sources indicate production was cancelled around that time, but in following years, with increasing territorial threats coming from China, production quietly resumed, and it’s now reported that 120+ Type 89s have been produced.
As is often the case with Japanese weapon systems, the Type 89 is one of the most expensive vehicles of its ilk. This can be attributed to the high costs associated with development, and the low numbers of vehicles produced. Though they usually decline to report actual expenses, none of this seems to trouble the Japanese, as they have firm policies against importing equipment they’re capable of producing themselves. Also, they refuse to consider export sales, which could help spread the costs of development and production.
All the esoteric qualities of the Type 89 make it a compelling subject for scale modellers. Trumpeter offers the Type 89 in 1/35th scale “made in cooperation with Pit-Road models”. The Trumpeter kit is well detailed, but for those seeking ultimate realism, Eduard used to offer a photo-etch set for this model. It seems the PE set has been out of production for several years, and is becoming increasingly scarce. I spent an entire evening trying to track one down, before I managed to snag the last one listed by a major dealer in the United States. Even paint was a bit harder to source. I had to order Tamiya XF72 and XF73, the primary JGSDF colours, from a Japanese online store, because dealers in Canada typically don’t stock it. With my heightened interest in Jieitai vehicles, I made sure to order plenty of paint.