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The Japanese Ministry of Defense (MoD) has placed a major order with Saab for 84 mm Carl-Gustaf recoilless rifles for the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF). Although Saab did not specify which model of Carl-Gustaf the JGSDF had ordered in a 19 October 2023 press release, ESD has determined that the weapons ordered are M3 systems.

The contract, signed in October with Saab’s Japanese agent, Sumisho Aero-Systems Corporation, covers 325 M3 systems to be immediately procured for JPY 3.5 Bn.

The Carl-Gustaf M3 was adopted by the JGSDF in Financial Year 2014 (FY14) as the replacement for the Carl-Gustaf M2, which was introduced in 1979 and licence-produced by Howa Machinery from 1984. The M3, meanwhile, has been procured directly from Saab, with a total of 61 M3 units procured from FY14 to FY22, although the M3 was not procured during FY17-21 due to budgetary constraints.

There are two reasons for the large M3 order in FY23. The first is a significant uplift in defence funding. The Japanese defence budget stands at JPY6.8219 Tn (EUR 42 Bn) in FY23: an increase of 26%, or JPY1.4192 Tn, compared with FY22. The government also has a plan to allocate around JPY 43 Tn over five years, which is 1.5 times larger than the previous amount and allows the JGSDF to afford more equipment.

The second reason relates to the fact that Saab reportedly intends to terminate the M3 production line, for which the JGSDF is the last customer.

A spokesperson for Japan’s Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency (ATLA) told ESD. “We are asking for budget for procurement of the M3. Also, we are considering to introduce the M4 as the successor of the M3. Thus, we are asking for a FY24 budget request for research into the cost of the M4.”

A Carl-Gustaf M3 84 mm recoilless rifle in service with the JGSDF, which is the last customer for the weapon. (Photo: JGSDF)