A rifle whose time has passed.
The standard issue rifle of the average soldier tends to be among the oldest equipment issued by a military. Russian Ground and Airborne Troops use variations of a rifle designed in the 1970s, the U.S. military uses variations of a design from the late 1950s. Japan stands in contrast, using a rifle designed in 1989 (albeit based on an earlier American design from the 1960s). But despite their usage of recent designs, the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) have fallen behind their Western and even Russian counterparts in updating their rifles to modern standards.
The primary rifle in JSDF service is the Howa Type 89. This rifle is roughly based off and uses the same operating system as the Armalite AR-18, a 5.56mm rifle designed as an alternative to the AR-15 family of rifles. Unlike the AR-15, in which gas travels all the way to the upper receiver to impinge on a piston inside the bolt carrier group, the AR-18 utilizes a short-stroke gas operating system where the gas impinges on a tappet which then pushes the bolt back to cycle the action. Like the AR-18, the Type 89 is made primarily from sheet metal due to its ease of manufacture and cost effectiveness. Despite being a stamped gun—due to strict Japanese export laws and limited demand from the JSDF—the per-unit cost of the Type 89 is rather high. The rifle comes in two variants, the standard Type 89 and the folding stock Type 89F. The rifle was adopted in 1989 following development throughout the 1980s and was a joint development of Toyo Corporation and the Defense Agency. Interestingly, the rifle features three fire modes: semi-automatic, three-round burst and fully automatic.