On July 10th, 2011, the Ground Self-Defense Force’s Fuji School of Combined Arms threw open its gates for the annual open day. The main events of the day were the drill ground review and the disaster relief displays. Despite all attempts by the summer sun to burn your correspondent to a crisp, I bring you this report of the day. This event was not the same as the GSDF Fuji Firepower Review, that event will take place on August 28th and is of a completely different scale to this – I will of course be there too. Instead, this event more of a family event, with bus-loads of tourists on Yomiuri and Sankei Bus packages. I am eternally grateful to the people at Sooshin Shoji K.K. for furnishing me with a ticket for the day.

The Drill Ground

Over 700 GSDF servicemen and women stand on parade as guests take their seats

Over 700 GSDF servicemen and women stand on parade as guests take their seats

Like every Japanese ceremony, this one started with a speech. The Commandant of the Fuji School, Lt. Gen. Hiroshi Yamamoto, kicked off the event, followed by six more speeches. The 700 male and female service-members had been standing to attention on the drill ground since before we arrived, and now they had to sit through the six speeches in the blistering sun in helmets and overalls. Politicians and businessmen discussed the critical role played by the SDF in the recent Tohoku Earthquake and also the hardships felt. The tone was one of gratitude for the hard work they have done, as well as the need to keep looking to the future. The troops had been standing in the sun for over 2 hours by the time the speeches ended, and one of the men had already collapsed on the field (he was hustled away to his vehicle with no interruption to the proceedings).

Type-82 six-wheeled APC drives past sporting the GSDF flag

Type-82 six-wheeled APC drives past sporting the GSDF flag

The Commandant did a drive-by inspection of the troops before the entire line dissolved one-by-one with a drive past the audience to the beat of the GSDF Eastern Army Band. The most impressive part of this phase of the event was how the multitudes of tanks caused the ground to vibrate as they drove past, but this was only the prelude to the main event: the performances.

Japan's newest tank, the Type-10, flies past

Japan's newest tank, the Type-10, flies past

First up was the Type-10, Japan’s future main battle tank. It demonstrated how its lightweight chassis left it with impressive speed and agility. The GSDF has a lot of pride in this vehicle, not least because it will actually be deployed across Japan unlike the Type-90, which could only be used by the Northern Army due to traffic laws that made transporting the vehicle impossible.

An AH-64 Apache provides cover as a UH-1 Huey delivers troops

An AH-64 Apache provides cover as a UH-1 Huey delivers troops

As the Type-10 left, an OH-1 observation chopper flew overhead to check out some OPFOR Type-74s that had taken up position behind two berms. This was then followed by an AH-64 Apache Longbow which (without firing – one of the major differences between this event and Fuji Firepower) pinned down the tanks while a UH-1Huey dropped troops via fast-ropes.

Motorcycle outrider jumps a ramp as Type-87 APCs fire their guns in the background

Motorcycle outrider jumps a ramp as Type-87 APCs fire their guns in the background

As the Huey retreated to safety, motorcyclists zoomed past, dismounted and fired prone using their bikes for cover before beating a fast retreat only to return with Type-87 APC support. I couldn’t help but wonder how either piece of hardware would have survived a direct hit from the Type-74′s large-bore cannon, but that was neither here nor there – this was a capabilities demonstration rather than a tactical display. That would at least explain the ramp the motorcyclists jumped on their approach to the OPFOR tanks.

Type-99 and 203mm self-propelled artillery fire on enemy tanks

Type-99 and 203mm self-propelled artillery fire on enemy tanks

With the APCs and motorcyclists getting nowhere, they too disappeared to be replaced by Type-99 and 203mm self-propelled and towed 155mm artillery, plus resupply vehicle. At this point, we were warned that the cannons would fire… If you’ve never heard artillery firing, it is like the largest firework you can buy: the floor shakes and you cannot help but jump a little. Kids began to cry while the adults nervously laughed away their surprise.

Type-74 tanks rush into the frontlines

Type-74 tanks rush into the frontlines

Friendly Type-74s came in to assault the OPFOR tanks. Working in pairs, the pepper-potted forward into firing positions, took a shot (at this point the tanks and artillery were firing one after another) and then retreated back to reload. There was smoke everywhere, a spectacular experience.

MLRS does a whole lot of nothing

MLRS does a whole lot of nothing

To provide further artillery support, a second MLRS drove up behind the assaulting tanks. The commentator explained that due to the wear each shot causes on the missile tubes, the MLRS wouldn’t be firing today, so it just lifted its tubes and sat there between the booming cannons of the tanks and artillery.

Two Type-90s firing their cannons beside a Type-74

Two Type-90s firing their cannons beside a Type-74

Thankfully, something more interesting came on, Type-90s, taking up position between the Type-74s and adding to the cacophony of firepower.

A Type-89 tracked APC delivers troops to make the final assault on the enemy position

A Type-89 tracked APC delivers troops to make the final assault on the enemy position

Type-89 APCs then drove onto the drill ground to deliver troops to assault the enemy position – out of sight over large berm.

Otsukare-sama desu!

Otsukare-sama desu!

Taking their final bow, the entire complement of fighting vehicles and helicopters came back to the drill ground and then stopped. It is unclear how long they stayed there, but the Type-74s/Type-10s (I’m not sure) would remain for the lucky individuals who managed to secure a ride through an earlier lucky dip – of the three people who tried in my group, no-one won a ride.

It was an interesting display, especially for someone who is only used to air shows. I never expected the artillery and tanks to fire their cannons, so that was a pleasant surprise, but I was left with the deepest respect for the men and women on the drill ground that day, not because of their display, but because of the discipline and endurance required to have stood out in the sun during those six long speeches. Incredible.

[Next time: The Disaster Relief Displays]

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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