Japan’s Self-Defense Forces have agreed to purchase three uncrewed ground vehicles (UGVs) from the German arms manufacturer, Rheinmetall, for an undisclosed figure in the multimillion-dollar region.

The Mission Master is based on the 8×8 Argo all-terrain vehicle manufactured by the Candian firm Ontario Drive Gear. Rheinmetall showcased the Mission Master for the first time in 2019.

With its low-signature electric motor, Japan has selected the Silent Partner (SP) variant. This version is built for forward and last-mile resupply missions, silent watch operations and carriage for light payloads, such as sensors and weapon systems.

The SP can follow troops as a buddy system, allowing soldiers to get closer to the enemy without being seen or heard.

It has a length of 2.95 metres and a base weight of approximately 750 kilogrammes (kg). Its modular design allows for carriage of 600kg easy-to-install payloads for operations on land, while its payload carrying capacity is reduced to 300kg during amphibious operations.

Japan’s Mission Master SP UGVs are expected to be delivered in early 2025 for testing. Each unit will each be equipped with different payload modules, including cargo, surveillance and a remote-controlled weapon station. The contract also includes a long-term support and training programme, as well as spare parts.

It should be noted that this acquisition is not the first instance that Japan has opted for a European-made drone system. In mid-March 2024, the the Organisation for Joint Armament Co-operation (OCCAR) – Europe’s defence programme manager – hosted Japan, which has ‘observer status’ in the Eurodrone uncrewed aerial vehicle programme.

Japan initially expressed interest in the Eurodrone programme in September last year, whereupon the OCCAR director Joachim Sucker delivered a Letter of Approval confirming Japan’s observer status two months later.

Rheinmetall will deliver the three UGVs in collaboration with Japan’s prime contractor Marubeni Aerospace, a major Japanese business conglomerate that will be trained by the manufacturer to offer local support to the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force.