MELBOURNE, Australia — Japan’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) has unveiled a prototype eight-wheel drive armored personnel carrier (APC) as part of a research project for a new class of modular vehicles.

The project, known for now as the Wheeled Armoured Vehicle (Improved), will eventually lead to a new vehicle type to replace the Type 96 eight-wheel drive armored personnel carrier in use by the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF).

The new vehicle will feature improved protection against a variety of threats such as improvised explosive devices, versatility and room for future growth in capabilities compared to the Type 96 it is replacing. It will also be fitted with a more powerful engine and a strengthened suspension to cope with the increased weight and payloads.

In a news release, Japan’s Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency (ATLA) announced that the prototype was handed over on Jan. 10. Built by Japan’s Komatsu Limited, the vehicle is 8.4 meters (27 feet) long, 2.5 meters (8 feet) wide and 2.9 meters (9 feet) high, with a weight of approximately 20 ton. It can carry 11 onboard including three crew members in its basic APC guise. 

An ATLA spokesperson told Defense News that the engine onboard the prototype is a 10.8 liter diesel engine capable of developing approximately 500 horsepower (372.8 kilowatts), allowing the vehicle to attain a maximum speed of 100 kilometers per hour (62 miles per hour) on paved roads.

The ATLA spokesperson has also revealed that the rear compartment will be modular in nature, with swappable mission modules fitted on the vehicle as required by the mission. In addition to the basic APC variant, a communications support vehicle as well as an engineering variant were shown on the video released by ATLA. 

Japanese MoD budget documents indicate that 4.7 billion yen (US $41 million) had been earmarked to produce the prototype and conduct trials, with manufacturing starting in 2015. Trials with the prototype are expected to last until 2019.

Tokyo-based defense analyst James Simpson expects full-scale production to start following the trials, also noting that the Japanese MoD will be looking to fit the new vehicle with a remote weapon station currently being developed.

It is envisaged the new vehicle will equip JGSDF combat and combat-support units for peacekeeping operations as well as what the ministry terms "counter island invasion" scenarios, with obvious inference to taking back Japanese-administered islands in the East China Sea against an invading force.

Japan has revamped its defense posture in recent years, with an increased emphasis on a more "dynamic deterrence based on a reorientation southwards in terms of geographic focus" as opposed to the previous policy of "static deterrence based on an evenly spread distribution or slight northern bias for force and equipment deployment," according to Corey Wallace, a security policy analyst at the Graduate School of East Asian Studies at Freie Universitat Berlin.

Wallace added that this shift in posture can also be seen in Japan's recent acquisition of AAV-7 amphibious troop transports from the United States and development of the wheeled Type 16 Maneuver Combat Vehicle. Japan will also formally establish an Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade in 2017 and is acquiring Boeing MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft to support the new unit.

Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.

More In Land