Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) have placed an order to acquire more than 300 Carl-Gustaf recoilless rifle weapon systems from the original Swedish manufacturer, Saab, according to a press release from 19 October.

As an island nation in the north-west Pacific, Japan is under pressure to strengthen its defence posture as the threat of China and North Korea mount across the region.

China’s coast guard has already threatened Japan’s economic exclusion zone in the waters around the Senkaku islands contrary to international law, while North Korea has also tested ballistic missiles aimed toward Japanese territory.

In response, the JSDF is looking to reinforce its multi-domain joint force so that the country can rapidly respond to any threat level. This involves increasing its defence budget, which GlobalData intelligence expects to grow to $85.9bn (Y12.88trn) by 2028

“By 2027, or five years from now, Japan will reinforce its defence capabilities to the point at which [it] is able to take the primary responsibility for dealing with invasions against its nation,” according to the buyer’s FY2023 budget overview.

This extensive development will expand the nation’s existing reserves of Carl-Gustaf recoilless rifles, a weapon system the country has procured since 1979, with deliveries taking place in 2025.

What does the Carl-Gustaf bring to the table?

Carl-Gustaf is a man-portable weapon system that allows dismounted soldiers to deal with multiple challenges. It has open, red-dot, telescopic sights.

The system is also compatible with programmable ammunition, while advanced fire control devices provide greater accuracy and faster responses. Carl-Gustaf provides the Japanese joint force with a flexible and precise weapon system.

The order comes just after the country held a joint training exercise, Red Dragon 23, with the Marine Expeditionary Force of its western ally, the US, on 14 October.

As Japan attempts to strengthen its interoperability with its allies, the Carl-Gustaf represents a link with other global users of the Swedish weapon system. According to Saab, this includes 14 other countries comprising Australia, Austria, Estonia, Denmark, India, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden, the UK, the US and two other customers.

The benefit of the Carl Gustaf M4 rifle is that it is interoperable with various types of ammunition such as the HEDP 502/502 RS, which has an effective range of 500m and is stated by Saab as being able to target armoured vehicles, and enemies protected by structures and bunkers.

Additional reporting from Richard Thomas.