A tankette fad occurred in Europe in the 1930s, which was led by United Kingdom's Carden-Loyd Mk VI tankette. The IJA ordered some samples from the UK, along with some French vehicles and field tested them. The IJA determined that the British and French machines were too small to be practical, and started planning for a larger version, the Tokushu Keninsha (meaning "Special Tractor"). It was reclassified as the Type 94 (tankette) and was designed for reconnaissance, but could also be used for supporting infantry attacks and transporting supplies. The Imperial Japanese Army also experimented with a variety of armored cars with limited success. The wheeled armored cars were not suitable for most operations in the puppet state of Manchukuo, due to the poor road conditions and severe winter climate.
From the early 1920s, the Imperial Japanese Army tested a variety of European light tanks, including six Carden-Loyd Mark VIbs machine gun carriers and several Renault FTs, and a decision was reached in 1929 to proceed with the domestic development of a new vehicle based largely on the Carden Loyd design to address the deficiencies of wheeled armored cars.
The initial attempt resulted in the Type 92 Jyu-Sokosha for use by the cavalry. However, Japanese infantry commanders felt that a similar vehicle would be useful as the support vehicle for transport, scout and communications within the infantry divisions, and could be used as a sort of “flying company” to provide additional firepower and close support in infantry operations.
The development was given to Tokyo Gas and Electric Industry (later known as Hino Motors) in 1933, and an experimental model was completed in 1934. It was a small light tracked vehicle with a turret armed with one machine gun. For cargo transportation it pulled an ammunition trailer. It was given the name Tokushu Keninsha ("Special Tractor"), abridged to “TK”. After trials in both Manchukuo and Japan, the design was standardized as the Type 94 tankette. It entered service in 1935. The Type 94 was later superseded by the Type 97 tankette.
Oddly, many British and American sources have confused the Type 92 Cavalry Tank, of which only 167 were built with the Type 94, although the Type 94 was the model almost always encountered in the various fronts of the Pacific War.
The design of the Type 94 was based on the British Carden-Loyd Mark VIb tankettes.
The hull of the Type 94 was of riveted and welded construction, with the engine at the front with the driver to the right. The engine was an air-cooled petrol motor that developed 35 hp at 2,500 rpm. Like many armored vehicles intended to operate in hot conditions, the engine was given asbestos insulation to protect the occupants from its heat. The commander stood in a small (unpowered) turret at the rear of the hull. A large door in the rear of the hull accessed the storage compartment.
Initially the armament was a Type 91 6.5×50mm machine gun, although in later models this was replaced by a Type 92 7.7 mm machine gun.
The suspension consisted of four bogies - two on each side. These were suspended by bell-cranks resisted by armored compression springs placed horizontally, one each side of the hull, externally. Each bogie had two small rubber road wheels with the drive sprocket at the front and the idler at the rear. There were two track-return rollers. In combat service the Type 94 was found to be prone to throwing its tracks in high speed turns. Further redesign work was carried out on the suspension and the small idler was replaced by a larger diameter idler wheel which was now in ground contact; it did not completely solve the problem. A better suspension on a longer chassis appeared in later models of the Type 94.
The design was also the basis for the Type 94 "Disinfecting Vehicle" and Type 94 "Gas Scattering Vehicle" amongst the "Type 97 Pole Planter" and "Type 97 Cable Layer".