The Modernized Howa Type 89 Rifle

A reader sent us this photo showing three Japan Self-Defense Force members (they are not called soldiers for political reasons) with Modernized Howa Type 89 rifles (ignore the “sniper” mannequin on the right who is holding a Bushmaster ACR airsoft gun). The Modernized Howa is part of Japan’s Future Solider program (Advanced Combat Infantry Equipment System).

Modernized Howa Type 89

The stock appears to be either an original Bushmaster/Remington ACR folding stock or a replica of it. The barrel looks to be about 14″ in length, down from the 16.5″ barrel of the original Type 89. The flat top receiver, full length top rail and quad rail forend is a significant improvement over the original rifle. The rail can carry electrical signals allowing the day/night scope to be controlled from the foregrip. For comparison, here is the standard issue Type 89 …

type 89 rifle


The Modernized Type 89 would be the newest variant of Eugene Stoner’s famous AR-18. Unlike newer carbines inspired by the AR-18, the Type 89 is an actual version of the AR-18 originally produced under license from Armalite, not a clone or copy (although I suspect the patents have long expired and Howa no longer has to pay royalties).

Overall the Modernized Type 89 looks like a pretty decent carbine. I am not so sure about the complicated optics and electronics package. Despite just about every country with a future solider program, even Sudan, producing their own take on this idea, none of them have proved the concept in the real world.

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • USMC03Vet

    The tech is progressing but still not there yet. A comparison of older US Army Land Warrior program.

    • LCON

      older canceled land warrior. now it’s Nett Warrior and severely cut back, but commercial makers and products on the cutting edge like Tracking Point may allow it to catch up.

    • Avery

      It’s a helpful reminder that, despite all the supposed superiority of Japanese consumer electronics, advances in their military technology has been severely curtailed, perhaps deliberately due to Article 9. The Type 89 is probably the best domestically-designed and -produced military firearm they have had in hundred years, which should tell you about the state of their arms industry,

      • Morgan Collins

        Yes, but they have a robot that can play soccer. So, you know…

  • ColaBox

    But will it be enough to stop Godzilla?

    • LCON

      they can’t stop him there goal is just lure him to the evacuated parts of Tokyo and let him tire himself out.

    • Menger40

      Nothing can stop Gojira!

      • Damocles

        True! History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of man…

  • kalashnikev

    When do the parts kits get here?

    • Rusty Shackleford

      Unfortunately, around the time hell freezes over.

  • Okay, now THIS is tacti-kewl! Or maybe just incredibly stupid. I think a mixture of both.

  • resident weeb

    Too bad Japanese law prohibits exporting arms. I’d LOVE to get my hands on a semi auto one.

    • Raven

      How’s that work for Howa and the Miroku Browning clones?

      • Sporting rifles and shotguns are okay for export. Military arms and handguns are forbidden. The Japanese government once blew a gasket when they found out that Weatherby was using a Howa receiver for their competition/hunting bolt-action pistol.

        • noguncontrol

          how do they define sporting rifles? would clones of bolt action mausers or the Ljungman semi auto rifle be considered sporting rifles?

          • That’s a good question for which I have no answer. I suspect it boils down to the usual test of “Does it look scary, or hold too much ammunition?” Howa once sold a M1 Carbine sporter as the Model 300. SKB makes semi-auto shotguns.

    • Manny Fal

      Well there’s hope in that Japan is trying to change that law so it can export submarine tech or submarines to Australia. Also hopefully their tank too.

      • M40

        The Japanese have never exported tanks to Australia as far as I know, but they sure ‘exported’ a lot of subs and fighters back in the 1940’s.

    • percynjpn

      The current administration is currently working on changing that law.

  • Josh

    Lol at this”advanced soldier” system that has no real world experience. US, british, german, and even South Korean operators have much simpler, but very effective setups. Apparently japan has a very milsim/fantasy/ overly-technical mindset, given that they have very little actual battle experience

    • Anonymoose

      iirc, they’re trying to expand anti-piracy operations in the Malacca Strait Somalia and they sent troops to aid in logistics during the Iraq War and some UN thingies. But really, what do you expect from 60 years of US-enforced “pacifism” and repression of masculinity?

      • Josh

        I do agree that the cultural perspective on war and practical violence is a bit absurd, but I still stand by my point. I will say, however, that their technical expertise is excellent. In an actual war, their infantry enlisted, nc officers, and commissioned would be horribly unprepared, but would be deadly in air and naval warfare. Only exception would be that special forces may have experience that is just classified

      • Manny Fal

        Masculinity encompasses more than just killing your fellow man. Personally think Japan unlike feminized countries like Sweden is so masculine they chose to commit demographic seppuku rather than be ruled by women. Respect.

  • toms

    Are they building new rifles or completely rebuilding old recievers? I had read that the Howa also borrowed from the Sig, manruhin, beretta rifles of the the late 70’s. I remember talking to an SMU back in the aerly 90’s who claimed the type 90 was the softest recoiling assault rifle in 5.56 out there.

  • Aleksey Dyukov

    That ACR stock certainly looks like an improvement compared to what they had in 2008:

    The body armour looks like novelty to me as well.

  • ghost

    I’ll take the standard issue please.

  • Lance

    never cared for AR-18s find them cheap and less accurate. remember the L-85 and SA-80 are both AR-18s in bullpup config. They riped off a Mag pul stock and cut the barrel down. Hate to say a Chinese infantry Type 56 or Type 95 is still a far better weapon.

    • Wanderer

      That’s odd, I’ve heard nothing but praise for the AR18’s accuracy from everyone else who’s tried one. Also, I don’t think the L85A1’s problems really reflect on the AR-18 itself, more info here:
      Also, it’s worth noting that a few more successful modern assault rifle designs are at least partially derived from the 18, such as the G36 and the SCAR.

      • Seburo

        Don’t bother replying to the troll. He’s usually full of crap.

    • MIstwalker

      I haven’t compared accuracy between ar-18s and ar-15s/m16s, so I can’t speak to that point. However, the design lineage isn’t a straight line to l-85s/sa-80s. There’s some similarities, but they’re not just ar-18s jammed into bullpup config. Also, most variants of the l-85/sa-80 have a longer barrel, in fact. The amount of visible barrel looks shorter, but of course bullpups move the barrel much farther back.

  • John Double

    I wouldn’t mind one in my collection.

  • jason

    Most likely the stupid huge looking optic is for show. I’m sure actual Jap troops will have more manageable optics.

    • M40

      Based on my experience with Japanese tourists, I’d guess the huge optic is Nikon lens equipped. The big, boxy appearance comes from multiple terabyte hard drives stacked all around, allowing each soldier to take at least 30 million pictures of colorful autumn leaves and trees. Again… just a guess based on my own experience.

  • kevin kelly

    What are those huge optics for? Nightvision or something? Why are they so damn big?!

    • noguncontrol

      they look like something that was taken from a man portable anti aircraft missle.

    • Manny Fal

      Thermal/Night vision, red dot with optical zoom sight, and probably ballistic calculator as well.

    • LCON

      This video is of a even older version but it shows what they are thinking. and Manny it right it is a Thermal and night vision sight with Day light modes as well. Mush like land warrior one of the goals was to shoot around corners without having to look around the corner.

      You see something similar with the French Felin system and Russian Ratnik even the American Land warrior. Part of the Reason I think Tracking point might end up with a government contract is they do the same thing.

  • Joshua

    Why does that one guy have this random tan ACR?

    • LCON

      well he’s not exactly a guy. it’s a dummy. best guess is that they are using it to show a set of possible features they might add later.

  • Grammar Nazi

    Soldier not solider you freaking incompetent author and editor…

    • Leonard Poujeaux


  • zalex

    Actually France has fielded its félin program in both Afghanistan and various conflicts in Africa

  • Piotr Jarosławski

    Does this modernised version have bolt catch release?

  • Nicholas Chen

    That joystick like vertical grip seems to possibly control the functions of the scope.

  • Bill

    In a few years we are going to laugh at this huge optics just like we now laugh at the ’80s huge laser pointers.

  • dp

    The rifle is loosely patterned after AR18 – father of most assault rifles away from AK. The designer od AR18 was Mr. James Sullivan. Mr. Stoner was that time with Cadillac-Gage, busy at Stoner 63 system.

  • SentouYoui

    These photos are over 2 years old, the vests designs which were shown in this trial project have since been discarded in favour of the new Type 3 body armour vest. I am quite sure these rifle upgrades have since been discarded as well.

  • idahoguy101

    Is it a better service rifle than the Daewoo K2 is?

  • ghost

    I will take the 5 lb. rifle with 40 lbs. of crap on it……….not.