Japan is the last of the minor nations of Wargame: Red Dragon with a 30% availability boost - supposed to represent countries which typically have a solid line up of units, with a few strengths, but also lacking some critical units and with some weaker sections. This is a perfect description for Japan, which far more so than South Korea, the other nation which typically makes up the Blue Dragons coalition, has severe deficiencies in several categories such as poor grinding infantry, awful logistics, problematic anti-aircraft defense, an awkward tank tree, and limited artillery options, counterbalanced by a great reconnaissance arm, strong ATGMs, and some individually strong tanks. Playing Japan is a hard struggle, but still possible.
Logistics for most nations is an afterthought, hardly important, since most countries cna assume that they have some decent supply trucks, and at least some survivable command vehicles, If only it was the same for Japan! Logistics are far from being a secondary factor for Japan, since it has what is assuredly the worst logistics tab in the game. It only gets access to 10 point trucks, which are terribly supply inefficient, highly vulnerable to artillery bombardment or any damage, and exceedingly slow: for other countries, a twin stack of 15 point supply trucks generally suffices for most needs, or a single 30 point supply truck, but for Japan, triple or even four stacks of 10 point supply trucks are de rigeur. This is made even worse by the low range and high supply costs of Japanese vehicles, which means fueling them is a constant endeavor, and the constant effort of shuttling supplies to and from the frontline annoying.
CVs are just as problematic. While there are the normal range of infantry CVs, with some acceptable wheeled transports and some helicopter transports, there are no CVs which are survivable - ie. with more than 2 armor on all sides and on top. Japan has a tank CV, but since it only gets 1 armor on top, it is just as vulnerable to artillery bombardment as any other unit. This means there is no point to take it, and 1 armor APC CVs are just as good for the vast majority of purposes.
Japanese infantry is terribly mediocre, for a number of reasons, which can be summed up by two key points: cost effectiveness and capabilities.
1)Japanese infantry is not cost effective. Cost effective infantry tends to be cheap and capable of being deployed in large numbers, with decent weapons: the best examples are Finnish Jaakari '90, Israeli Roviat '90, American Riflemen, Chinese Zhanshi, and South Koreak Souchong-Su '85 line infantry, who all get good transports with at least 2 armor, and all except the riflemen (who also get a very good transport) get a 16 AP AT weapon or an RPG-7. Japan's problem is that its line infantry only get a base LAW, like the American Riflemen, but also don't get access to the great transports that the American Riflemen have, making them significantly worse. There is no cheap and numerous shock infantry to make up for this.
2)Japan lacks for significant capabilities for infantry uses. When one looks at the types of units that Japan has covered - line infantry, upgraded line infantry, light infantry for shocks, and commandos, one would think that Japan has most of what an essential army would need. But Japan's AP values for infantry cap out at a critical 18, which makes it terribly ineffective at fighting enemy heavily armored tanks with infantry, a great problem when against coalitions which can bring their medium tanks into forests or have a range of heavily armored killing options like the USSR. The solution to this in other nations would be to bring ones own heavily armored tanks into forests, such as the Americans with the M1 Abrams or the Soviet T-80s, plus units like the BMPT - but the Japanese don't have any units like this. This hurts them far more than it does other nations which lack for an ultra-high AP launcher, like the United States.
With these limitations in mind, what sort of units are worth taking? Again, in theory Japan has most everything covered. Its basic line infantry, the Syoujyu-Buntai are distinctly mediocre, but at least they can provide for a swarm of cheap, expendable, line infantry that can be relied upon to well - hold the line. They are best in their 5 point transport, the Nana-san Shiki, although they also get access to the Hachu-kyu Shiki, an interesting IFV - not particularly good however, since it doesn't fulfill any roles very well. Normally I bring base line infantry in the 5 point transport, and the upgraded versions in the IFV. The upgraded versions, with their Carl Gustav M2 launchers, have a good AT weapon for a line squad, but the increased cost, to 15 points, makes them less cost effective.
While not a superstar, light infantry are probably the best individual unit which Japan has, as the Hudou-ren give a competent, fast, shock infantry unit with a 1,400 meter range recoilless rifle which can provide stand-off anti-vehicle firepower and enable them to defend a forward position. They also come with the good WAPC transport, with an automatic grenade launcher, 2 frontal armor, and a very good speed, which makes them the standard fast-deploying opener troops to seize important terrain at the beginning of the battle. Of course, their recoilless rifles lack for AP against well... almost anything, requiring 2 hits to kill a 2 armor transport due to their 13 AP, but at least they can generally hold their own against motorized enemies while follow-on mechanized forces come up.
Commando infantry in the Kutei represents a major choice: the base or upgraded version? The base version are surprisingly competent town grinding infantry with a cheap price and submachine guns, but with atrocious AT firepower since they only get the M72 LAW. The upgraded version are more general purpose, all-around commando infantry. Personally, I think that the base version are better than Kutei '85, as the base version at least give good town grinding infantry and are cheap to deploy, filling an important niche in the Japanese line of battle, while the upgraded versions are simply cost-ineffective and don't shine very well in any particular way.
The jewel of Japanese infantry is the Chu-MAT, an infantry ATGM team. Compared to other high level ATGMs, the Chu-MAT only has medium range, 2,450, and somewhat mediocre armor penetration - 21. But its advantage is the massively better speed it has compared to most other ATGMs except for the newly introduced DLC ATGMs belonging to Israel and Finland. Furthermore, it is much more accurate, at 60%, and cheaper at just 20 points. Japan gets 8 of them upvetted, so they can be deployed extensively around the map, in tree lines and buildings, to complement AT firepower.
Like other 30% nations, Japan has the crucial advantage of being able to take all of its infantry upvetted, since its 30% availability bonus significantly increases the number of troops which it can field. Thus, I get all of my troops upvetted save for the Kutei, where 8 rather than 10 might in some circumstances offer something of a shortage, and they should theoretically be conserved, resupplied, and returned to battle with additional experience anyway. I take 1 card of base upvetted line infantry in the 5 pointer Nana-san Shiki, 1 card of upvetted line infantry in the Hachi-kyu Shiki IFV, 1 card of upvetted Chu-MATs in the Japanese Humvee, the HMV, 1 card of base Kutei, downvetted, in the HMV, and 1 card of light infantry, upvetted, in the WAPC grenade launcher wheeled transport.
The other two infantry options, MANPADs and a fire support team, are not really effective or possible. The fire support team has significantly lower AT than the Chinese Tanke Shashoue, which makes them less effective on their own, since 13 AP rather than 16 AP means that they cannot two-shot a transport. They still have the low rate of fire of a recoilless rifle team, and thus are not very good in most situations. Worse they don't get a good transport - only the mediocre IFV, while the WAPC is too card limited to put on them when there is both valuable reconnaissance infantry and the light infantry to have them in. Japan's PSAM MANPAD is a great team, with good range, HE, and accuracy, but Japan needs all of its infantry and can't give up one card for the MANPAD.
Artillery is the god of war, but in Wargame, it seems the Japanese are mostly atheists, since their artillery arm is distinctly mediocre. Their base 155mm howitzer, the 155mm SP, is a decent option for area bombardments, since it is rather cheap at just 60 points, with much improved range over the base M109, out to nearly 19 kilometers, and low supply cost. Its problem however, is the accuracy is terrible and these area bombardments are generally inefficient in Wargame. Without a 10 second aim time FCS howitzer, one has to rely upon the 203 SP - a 203mm piece, which at least has nearly 25km range and high accuracy, but with a slow aim time and which fires just 2 shells, and which is completely pinned to a FOB by the low ammo count. Still, for sniping enemy FOBs or CVs it is generally acceptable, and I generally take it upvetted for this to increase accuracy, and since one won't get too many of them anyway. The other option, the 75 MSSR, is essentially a worse Grad, very ineffective at actually killing things but decent at stunning an area. Perhaps it is acceptable if one wants to stun a forest or town prior to attack, but it isn't nearly as good as other rocket artillery like the Chinese BM-24 or the Yugoslav Plamen.
Anti-air defense is somewhat better, although anti-plane options are strictly mediocre. The Japanese do get a good anti-helicopter piece, the Tam-sam Short Arrow, which has the maximum anti-helicopter range allowable for an infrared piece - 3,325. Furthermore, it is wheeled, which makes it keeping up with motorized spearheads and getting into position early completely possible for it. It is most similar to the French Crotale, but with the disadvantage of having 1 less HE - so it doesn't 1-shot 6 HE helicopters - and reduced accuracy, at 50% instead of 60%, as well as being 5 points more expensive. In exchange, it gets 8, instead of 4, missiles, but it has to reload after firing 4. The Crotale is better, but it still is a great anti-helicopter piece.
Anti-aircraft artillery is provided by the Kairyou HAWK, the standard mid-range heavy SAM, providing good anti-plane range, but slow, lacking any armor, with limited ammunition capacity at just 3 missiles, and most importantly only have 50% accuracy, making it hitting a real coin toss. It is a distinctly mediocre anti-air piece, and another unit has to hit to finish off most planes unless if it gets a critical hit, since it just has 9 HE.
This can be provided by the Japanese SPAAG, the Guntank, which is an accurate, stabilized SPAAG which is good at getting the last tick of damage in on a plane. However, fitting it in is sometimes hard, since Japan also gets a a great motorized stabilized AA piece, the Closed Arrow, which gets the same missile as the MANPAD, but fully stabilized. This makes it excellent for accompanying attacking formations since it doesn't have to stop to shoot. Personally, I prefer the Closed Arrow over the Guntank, but it is your choice. All of the anti-air pieces are available in sufficient numbers to be taken upvetted.
The M24 AAG and 105 SP are both terrible and shouldn't be taken.
The mortars are both mediocre but decent, and I prefer the 107mm mortar over the 81mm one.
There was a time when the Japanese superheavy tank, the Kyu-maru, ruled the roost of Blufor armored, since it was un-prototyped and gave access to a superheavy tank which could be brought with multiple cards. Things have changed, since the Kyu-maru is now prototyped, as well as receiving some nerfs, but it still has the unique feature of having multiple cards available for a superheavy tank. This is a more dubious benefit than one would think, since while superheavy tanks in Wargame are the single most powerful land units in the game, it is exceptionally rare that in a 1v1 match one would be able to have the funds to purchase x6 superheavy tanks - the maximum number of Kyu-marus which can be deployed. Normally, a single card of them would suffice, which gives 3 - still a heavy amount and more than many other nations can deploy. On the field, relatively weak armor at 20 makes them more vulnerable than other superheavy tanks, but they do have side armor capable of preventing the tank from being oneshot by a Spike ATGM, a full-powered 23 AP cannon with an excellent stabilizer, high accuracy, and an autoloader that gives 12 rounds per minute, and very good mobility - the Japanese Leclerc, trading armor for AP and some mild other balancing factors.
The problem with Japan's deck is that there is a massive gap between this and the next highest unit that Japan has - the Nana-yon Shiki G, a 60 point light/medium tank. The Nana-yon Shiki is interesting, since it gets a unique 3-round autoloader which gives a high rate of fire before requiring reloading, which is paired to good armor penetration at 16, high accuracy, a great stabilizer, and interestingly enough an automatic grenade launcher. The problem is that the Nana-yon Shiki only gets 8 armor, which makes it horrifically vulnerable to ATGMs which will almost all one-shot it, and any gun with an AP level higher than 26 (which is easily achieved with AP scaling, as guns get a higher AP value as they get closed).will do the same. Normally a medium tank in Wargame has somewhere between 15 to 18 armor: the Nana-yon Shiki is simply not well armored enough (and is also slow) to fulfill the role. It can be a useful sniper and fire support vehicle, but not a general purpose medium tank.
This forces japan to rely upon its superheavy tank for many operations, and it is at a terrible disadvantage against enemy medium tanks in any circumstance but long-range fighting.
The rest of the tank tab is essentially infantry support tanks, other than the less advanced units of the Nana-yon Shiki line, which serve the same glass cannon role. Japan gets the M14A1, which is a very useful, cheap, 10 point light tank, very good at providing cheap infantry support and beating up light enemy APCs or even some IFVs, and famous for being able to be spammed en masse for tank rushes. The Roki-iki Shiki is a more odd vehicle, since for just 15 points it gets a relatively astoundingly good 6 frontal and 3 side armor, a 90mm gun with 3 HE and 8 ROF, and a Browning machine gun - but has some of the worst autonomy in the game, 200 seconds which combined with slow speed means it will quickly run out of fuel. I personally like it since it is so cheap that if it runs out of fuel it doesn't matter and they make useful picket forces, but certainly they are a niche unit.
If there is one category where Japan has a very good selection of units, it is in reconnaissance. Japanese reconnaissance infantry are not stellar, as the the JSDF Rangers are Japan's only reconnaissance infantry, with an odd mixture of a sniper rifle and submachine guns, as well as poor AT capability due to their base LAW weapon. However, at least they are still shock trained and come in a decent transport range including good ground transports such as the WAPC grenade launcher transport which gives 2 frontal armor and high speed, and decent helicopters for infiltration missions. While certainly not excellent, they get the job done and come in large enough numbers that one doesn't feel a lack for reconnaissance infantry.
The Hachi-Nana Shiki is a great 30 point autocannon armed reconnaissance vehicle, which combines the important traits of being reasonably cheap, extremely fast, having 2 frontal armor and an upgraded KBA 25 autocannon with a mixture of good range, rate of fire, and accuracy. It is great as a skirmisher, leading motorized columns, and base defense. Although it would have been great to have a Japanese cannon-armed wheeled vehicle, the Hachi-Nana Shiki at least gives Japan a potent motorized opener.
Most important for Japan however, is the OH-1 Ninja which has some great anti-air missiles, packing 5 HE, 2,450 meter range, and fully stabilized and highly accurate at 70% - but which even more importantly has good stealth and exceptional optics. This makes it a brilliant scouting unit, and can annihilate enemy helicopters unless if they have scouts alongside them due to the good stealth that it has. Much of the success that one can have with Japan relies upon using the Ninja to scout, infiltrate, provide vision, and wipe out enemy helicopters. Other than the German recon Tiger helicopter, there is no unit in the game as good at this as the Ninja - but the Ninja is cheaper, can be deployed in greater numbers, and is more survivable due to its small size, although of course it cannot engage ground targets.
The final part of the Japanese reconnaissance vehicle trio is the regular reconnaissance helicopter, the OH-60. This is a useful unit in openers since its rocket pods, although limited to just 14 rockets, can destroy enemy light vehicles in the opener and it is cheap for a helicopter, at just 30 points.
These units have to be used aggressively to locate initial enemy pushes for air strikes, work around flanks, and infiltrate the enemy base. Reconnaissance is one of the few strengths Japan has and must be used to maximum effect.
Japan has few vehicles of use, and precious few in what it really would find useful: close range ultra-high rate of fire infantry support autocannons like the American M163 CS, to make up for its deficient forest fighting. There are two possible units which are useful: the Rensou 106mm and the Mitsubishi Chu-MAT. Neither is particularly stellar. The Rensou 106mm is interesting since it gives a double 3 HE, 15 AP, HEAT shell on a 15 point chassis, with 35% accuracy - admittedly low - and 1,750 meter range, making it an effective medium range infantry fire support. It is let down however, by only have 1 armor, mediocre range, and that its HEAT shell just barely misses the 16 AP threshold which would enable it to one-shot two-armored vehicles. Furthermore, there is already competition for the role from the Roku-ichi Shiki which while it doesn't have the double-shot quirk, does get 6 frontal and 3 side armor, slightly better accuracy, a kinetic rather than HEAT gun, and a browning - making it much better in most situations for regular infantry support.
The Mitsubishi Chu is an incredible cheap ATGM jeep, at just 25 points, which would seem to offer a highly mobile, very cheap, anti-tank vehicle with one of the best infantry ATGMs in the game. Unfortunately, the Chu-MAT is a good infantry ATGM because of its excellent stealth accompanying it, which in buildings and to a lesser extent tree lines makes it hard to spot. The jeep version lacks this, and while at least unlike Milan units (the other NATO 2,450 meter range ATGM), the high speed means that it will hit the target, against enemy heavy tanks from the front, 21 AP does very little. Furthermore, while cheap, the Chu-MAT in infantry version is similarly cheap, and far more versatile.
Helicopters are another lacking category for Japan, outside of the reconnaissance tab at least. Its transport helicopters offer no rocket pod helicopters which are tremendously useful for fire support, and instead it only has some minigun armed helicopters. Its regular helicopters are limited: only the OH-60 TOW and AH-1s. The OH-60 TOW, whose chassis is good but which only has x4 15 AP missiles, can be safely discarded as next to useless. The AH-1s is a decent helicopter, giving a good balance of a 20mm Vulcan Gatling gun, rocket pods, and 20 AP I-TOW missiles - but this means that it cannot hope to defeat enemy superheavy tanks frontally. Still, it is acceptable for providing a quick response helicopter to mow down enemy infantry and vehicles that aren't superheavy tanks. It is a mediocre helicopter tab, but at least it has one useful unit.
Aircraft are one of Japan's weaker sections, which is unfortunate since one of the most important benefits for a 30% availability nation is that it gets an effective 50% boost to its aircraft arm. With Japan however, a mediocre fighter, lack of SEAD, lack of an ATGM plane, a mediocre bomber, a worse-than-average laser guided bomb plane, an ok helicopter hunter aircraft, and a bad napalm bomber makes it distinctly less than stellar.
To star with is the worst aspect of Japan's air arm - its lack of a good fighter. Japan gets two choices: the F-4EJ, and the F-15J, both of which only come at hardened at maximum - a serious problem since this greatly reduces their accuracy. The F-4EJ has low accuracy and mediocre range missiles which do not synergize well (5 HE on the long range ones, 4 HE on the short range ones), bad ECM, poor maneuverability, and only mediocre speed at 900 kilometers per hour. This makes it awful, and the F-15J is better - but not good, since it only has semi-active radar missiles, with a shorter range than equivalent Redfor semi-active missiles, and 4 of them which is too many to shoot off in a closing engagement. Accuracy is only average at 50%, and what is worse, being hardened means their effective accuracy is significantly lower than most equivalent fighters. While the rest of it is good, with 40% ECM, 1,000 kilometer speed, good infrared missiles which synergize well with the radar missiles since they have 5 HE and the top missiles 6, acceptable maneuverability, and a Vulcan, the best aircraft autocannon in the game, it makes for a distinctly underperforming fighter. It is still the best Japan has, and if Japan had good anti-aircraft ground units this would be ok - but it doesn't.
The rest of the air tab is equally underwhelming. The bomber, the F-4EJ Kai, is bad: 125 points for x8 12 HE bombs is a poor price exchange, while at its rookie status which is needed to get 3 of them, the Sparrow missiles it carries will almost always miss. It has mediocre ECM and only decent speed, making it a very inefficient plane.
A laser guided bomb is Japan's only unique aspect, and the F-1 isn't bad - although probably the worst of any laser guided bomb plane, since it only gets x2 12 HE bombs, which often seem to miss or go awry. But since it only costs 90 points, gets decent ECM for its price, and has a great top speed of 1,000 kilometers per hour, it can sortie rapidly, bomb, and leave, and it gives the closest thing Japan has to an anti-tank plane. The auxiliary armament with the Vulcan cannon and twin (only average but still present) infrared air-to-air missiles gives at least some anti-helicopter and light anti-aircraft role.
The final useful aircraft is the F-104J, which is a good anti-helicopter plane since it is cheap, has a 750 kilometer speed which means that the Vulcan cannon will be able to put out a lot of HE damage on targets, assisted by the twin infrared missiles. While it struggles against aircraft naturally, it does provide a useful point defense interceptor and anti-helicopter plane.
Napalm aircraft like the Japanese F-86 are generally not worth it, and the Japanese one has limited payload to boot.
In general, the Japanese air arm gives at least some fast reaction aircraft, but its poor fighters and mediocre bombers means that it cannot really hope ot gain command of the air and it seriously lacks for killing power of more conventional air force.s
Playing Japan requires taking into account what strengths Japan has, and using these to cushion its weaknesses. Japan has a good opener with some fast wheeled transports with decent armor, and capable of providing at least some fire support (although inferior for most purposes to autocannon transports like the WZ-511, VAB T/20, or the Finnish KT), a good autocannon reconnaissance vehicle, the wonderful Ninja reconnaissance helicopter, fast motorized anti-aircraft vehicles, and at least some air support in the form of the laser guided bomb planes. If it had a wheeled cannon-armed vehicle like the French AMX-10 RC, the situation would be perfect - but of course, it doesn't, although this doesn't mean it is terrible. Using Ninjas to wipe out enemy reconnaissance helicopters, followed up by laser guided bomb strikes on advancing enemy AA is a useful strategy, but outside of the exceptionally lucky situation where this happens, one can at most rely upon the fast motorized ground units reaching the front first, defeating the enemy ground units, and Hiddou Ren and Chu Mats digging in to defeat follow on mechanized forces.
Japan's other strength is its superheavies, where it has at least some of the tools required to support them - there are acceptable, if not good, anti-aircraft radar missiles, long range anti-helicopter infrared missiles, mortars, and an excellent suite of reconnaissance options. In general, wherever possible, it is best to go to open terrain to make use of Japan's armored forces, which are built around the Kyu Maru Shiki.
The biggest weakness for Japan is its poor capacity for grinding forest, urban, and broken country fights. This particularly goes for forests, where Japan lacks the combination of good, cheap infantry in good, cheap transports which are essential for forest fights. Base Syoujyu-Buntai are the Japanese line infantry, and are exactly the same as American Riflemen, which are good infantry - because of their very good high level IFVs and great 5 point APC, the M113A3. Syoujyu-Buntai only get the mediocre Japanese Nana-san Shiki, which while it gets 2 machine guns (only one of which can fire while moving), only has 1 armor, making it exceptionally squishy. Upgraded Syoujyu-Buntai do not improve on this, just getting better AT weapons, but at additional cost. Neither can hope to be nearly as cost effective in a forest fight as factions such as Baltic Front or Israel with hordes of cheap highly effective 10 point infantry in great 5 point transports. Special forces units do not provide a cost effective option. The proliferation of grenade launcher vehicles might help - but don't, because none of them have the survivability for such close range fights. The same goes for Japanese tanks, as there are no Japanese medium tanks with the necessary combination of armor and affordability. Japan simply does not have many units well equipped for close combat.
Other nations can get around this through some degree of supporting arms. Powerful rocket artillery, heavy bombers, unicorn units like the Bkan for artillery support, mass mortar barrages, they can provide firepower to make up for limited front line effectiveness. Japan is not particularly strong in any of these categories. This means that forest fights are to be avoided for Japan: instead,, it has to rely upon being able to find open terrain and dictate the engagement there.
This makes Japan into one of the most map-dependent nations in Wargame: Red Dragon. Maps such as Mud Fight, or even Nuclear Winter is Coming, with lots of open expanse or city fighting for Kutei, are good for Japan, while it struggles terribly on more enclosed and forest-centric maps like Plunjing Valley or Hell in a Small Place. Overall, playing ranked battles with Japan is a hard experience, one which relies on guile, cunning, and sneakiness to overcome an inferior deck.