On Saturday, May 7th, Asahi Shimbun published the views of three experts on the SDF’s role in providing assistance and relief to Tohoku (p. 13). The opinions did not make it onto Asahi‘s website, so it is up to JSW to step in with a rough translation. Here is the first pundit’s view:

Clear need for additional manpower for relief efforts

Shingo Nakamura (former Commanding General, GSDF Middle Army)
Born in 1948. Graduated from the National Defense Academy of Japan and US Army War College). As former commander of GSDF 2nd Engineering Brigade and GSDF 6th Division, Nakamura spent much of his service in Tohoku before  finally retiring in 2008 as Commanding General of the GSDF Middle Army.
GSDF members stand to attention during a show at Camp Senzou in 2010

GSDF members stand to attention during a show at Camp Senzou in 2010 (Source: 吹田住人/Photozou)

I believe the current disaster relief operations have made good use, here and there, of the experience gained during the 1995 Hanshin Earthquake.

Firstly, we see this in the rapid readiness and the precision of the operations. The Prime Minister exceeded expectations in ordering the preparation of 100,000 members, close to half of the SDF’s full force of about 230,000, for support operations within the first week.

Rescue units were rallied together from Kyushu, as well as Hokkaido and Kinki. This was helped by the plans and training for a large-scale dispatch in place as part of standard preparation for the expected Tokai Earthquake.

The current situation is made unique by the need to deal with the disaster and nuclear power plant accident at the same time. After the Hanshin Earthquake, the need for an the automatic dispatch of the SDF following earthquakes over Shindo 5+ was greatly recognized.

At bases, helicopters and other equipment are placed on 24-hour standby to help gather reconnaissance immediately following a disaster. This information guides the dispatch of units to the best locations. However, this time the critical source of information, local authorities, took devastating damage.

Heads of local authorities can only report damage from their city halls in earthquakes not exceeding Shindo 5 at most. We must discuss at national level during peacetime how to deal with situations in which such functions of local authority are lost.

In the 1980s, at the GSDF North-Eastern Army Command we held a command exercise alongside police and firefighters from across Miyagi Prefecture responding to a hypothetical earthquake out in the ocean. I believe this mental exercise in how soon the police could regulate traffic, and how soon the SDF could erect emergency bridges, was helpful, as too were the annual exercises after that.

On the other hand, the major tsunami presented a significant challenge. Until now we referred to the 1960 Chile earthquake and other such experiences, but we must now start from scratch and look again at coastal disaster prevention in the face of a 20-30 meter tsunami.

It is also essential that we reconsider how we cooperate with nuclear power plant operators. While we have emergency laws in place, and training for a possible terrorist attack on a nuclear power plant, there has not necessarily been enough done on how to cooperate with those running the plants. Daily communication is essential for reacting to disasters.

With the predicted Tokai, Tonankai, Nankai earthquakes, as commander of the GSDF Middle Army I have studied the effects on regions such as Kinki, and I’m sorry to report there is a danger that there are currently not enough SDF members to conduct relief operations.

On top of units hit by personnel cuts, in areas like the Kii Peninsula dotted with small towns and fishing villages, personnel have become more and more decentralized. At the very least, it is necessary to double the SDF’s current planned manpower.

Alongside this personnel problem, last year’s National Defense Program Outline reforms slashed the size of the GSDF by 1,000. In addition, with the continuing post-Cold War financial constraints on defense, the GSDF has reduced in size from 180,000 to 154,000 members.

Seeing the dedication of the young SDF members in their work, I feel its clear that for disaster relief, people are the most important solution. While the organization and equipment of the SDF will be the focus of attention, I want them to consider what is really necessary for the forces’ continual improvement.

Original article available here (JP)

[Thanks to Hisanori Hirata for his advice on areas of the translation.]

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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch