Like other leading world military powers, the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) has invested heavily in its ground-based mobility units. In 2002, the Komatsu LAV (Light Armored Vehicle) entered service to add a more modern element to mechanized forces - particularly in the realm of urban warfare. The vehicle was developed during the 1990s around a cross-country-capable chassis built atop a 4x4 wheeled arrangement. The Komatsu LAV has seen combat service with JSDF ground forces in the Iraq War Theater.
Nearly 2,000 of the type have been produced by Komatsu of Japan. It is recognized internally by the company as the "KU-50W".
The Komatsu LAV is a lightweight combat vehicle filling the role of scout car, security and general patrolling. It is lightly armed and armored so as to retain the needed speed and agility for its intended roles. As such, it is not a direct-combat vehicle but more of a supporting player. However, it is inherently versatile, able to accomplish several battlefield duties - both official and unofficial - as needed. It is compact enough to be carried in the hold of a Boeing CH-47 "Chinook" tandem-rotor, medium-lift helicopter or the Lockheed C-130 "Hercules" fixed-wing transport (or similar aircraft).
Internally the vehicle has seating for up to five including a dedicated driver and a weapons specialist. The crew is protected against small arms fire and artillery "spray" with solid surfaces being reinforced and vision blocks being bullet resistant to an extent. Power is from a 4-cylinder, diesel-fueled unit outputting 160 horsepower and driving both axles. Road speeds reach 100 kmh and operational range is out to 500 kilometers. Ground clearance is excellent, thanks to the vehicles high stance, yet the hull design is of a relatively low profile which makes for a smaller target on the horizon. The car also sports "run-flat" tires giving it inherent survivability in an active combat zone and all four wheels are suspended to promote strong cross-country capabilities - crucial when attempting to keep up with the main fighting force. Dimensions include a length of 4.4 meters, a width of 2 meters and a height of 1.85 meters.
The Komatsu LAV is modestly armed and can install either the 12.7mm M2HB heavy machine gun or the 7.62mm M249 light machine gun in a center hull-roof position. Both gun types, American in origin, are locally-produced under license by Sumitomo. A basic open-air shield is provided for the gunner who is half-way exposed when operating the roof-mounted weapon (a split-type hatch gives access to this weapons station). In addition to this, the vehicle carries an Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) launcher into contested areas for dealing with armored threats at range. This weapon can be either the Type 01 LMAT or Kawasaki Type 87 series launchers. Beyond these systems, the crew can depend on their own personal weapons for point-defense against enemy infantry. Smoke grenade dischargers are optional and can add a mobile self-screening effect to the vehicle.
The Japanese Ground Forces acquired an initial batch of 400 cars n 2005 and the series has been a staple in service ever since. Japan is currently (2017) the only recognized operator of the Komatsu.