On Sunday, August 28th 2011, the GSDF held its extravagant annual public review at the Higashi Fuji Maneuver Area near Gotemba, Shizuoka. The live-fire spectacle costs a few hundred million yen, an incredible amount of taxpayer’s money that this blogger was able to see being put to ‘work’.

GSDF service members conduct traffic as an AH-64D Apache flies around

GSDF service members conduct traffic as an AH-64D Apache flies around

Background

Around 20,000 visitors gathered in the spectator area, a cross-section of Japanese society: families, young couples, the elderly, serving personnel and their families. It was quite surprising just how many young people came out to see the event, a trend that predates the SDF’s new-found post-quake popularity by several years. Tickets are hard to come by, with only 10.9% of postcard applicants and 8.8% of internet applicants receiving their tickets in the lottery. These were apparently for a place on the tarp-covered ground, no chairs. Family and friends of SDF members, such as myself, along with official visitors – US, Indian and Germany military personnel were among the spectators – were able to sit in the stands. It was anything but comfortable on a humid Japanese summer day, although luckily it was overcast unlike the scorching day we had at the GSDF Fuji School Open Day.

The display consisted of around 2,400 personnel, approx. 80 armored vehicles, about 80 pieces of artillery, around 30 aircraft and somewhere around 600 other support vehicles. It is an incredibly well-orchestrated affair, unsurprising given the guests of the day: Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa and new GSDF Chief of Staff and former Commander of the Tohoku Earthquake Joint Taskforce Gen. Eiji Kimizuka. Also present was Col. Masahisa Sato, commander of the GSDF unit in Samawah, Iraq and now an Upper House politician with the Liberal Democratic Party.

The day’s program reads like an overview of the capabilities of the entire GSDF. The event was split into two shows, one from 10:10-11:15, the second from 11:30 to 12:00. Videos and music book-ended each part.

A missile soars overhead in the Gotemba cloud

A missile soars overhead in the Gotemba cloud

Display Program

(Tables taken and roughly translated from event program produced by Boei Home)

First Show
Explanation of
GSDF Equipment
Long-Range
Firepower
Air
  • F-2
Artillery
  • Type-99 155mm Self-Propelled Howitzer
  • 203mm Self-Propelled Howitzer
  • FH70 155mm Howitzer
Medium-Range
Firepower
Mortars
  • L16 81mm Mortar
  • RT 120mm Mortar
Guided
Missiles
  • Type-79 Anti-Tank/Landing-Craft TOW-Guided Missile
    (Type-89 Infantry Fighting Vehicle)
  • Type-87 Anti-Tank Laser-Guided Missile
  • Type-96 Multi-Purpose Missile System
Close-Range
Firepower
Anti-Personnel
Obstacles
  • Shaped Directional Charges (FFV 013)
Anti-Tank
Obstacles
  • Helicopter-Dropped Landmines
 Infantry
  • Komatsu Light Armored Vehicle
  • Type-89 Armored Combat Vehicle
  • M-24 Sniper Weapons System
  • Type-01 LMAT Light Anti-Tank Guided Missile
  • Type-96 Armored Personnel Carrier
  • Type-89 5.56mm Assault Rifle
  • 84mm Recoilless Rifle
  • Type-96 40mm Automatic Grenade Launcher
  • 110mm Light Anti-Tank Munition (Panzerfaust 3)
  • Type-06 Rifle Grenade
  • 5.56mm Light Machine Gun (MINIMI)
  • 12.7mm Heavy Machine Gun
 Helicopters
  • AH-1S Anti-Tank Helicopter
  • AH-64D Combat Helicopter
 Anti-Aircraft
  • Type-87 Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun
Tanks
  • Type-90 Tank
  • Type-74 Tank
Airborne Drop
  • Automatically Deployed Parachute
  • Freefall Parachute

 

Second Show
Aerial Reconnaissance
  • OH-1 Observation Helicopter
  • Flying Forward Observation System (FFOS)
Heliborne Mobilization
  • UH-1 Multipurpose Helicopter
  • Reconnaissance Motorcycle
  • AH-1S Anti-Tank Helicopter
  • AH-64D Combat Helicopter
  • CH-47J Transport Helicopter
  • UH-60J Multipurpose Helicopter
  • Komatsu Light Armored Vehicle
  • High Mobility Vehicle
Offensive Reconnaissance
Activities
  • Type-87 Reconnaissance Combat Vehicle
  • Reconnaissance Motorcycles
Offensive by
Frontline Forces
Pre-Assault
Gunnery
  • 203mm Self-Propelled Howitzer
  • FH70 155mm Howitzer
  • L16 81mm Mortar
  • RT 120mm Mortar
  • Type-90 Tank
  • Type-74 Tank
  • Type-89 Armored Combat Vehicle
  • Type-92 Mine Clearance Vehicle
  • Type-79 Anti-Tank/Landing-Craft TOW-Guided Missile
  • Type-87 Anti-Tank Laser-Guided Missile
Obstacle
Clearance
Forward Support
Gunnery
Offensive by
Infantry Team
Assault Support
Gunnery
Assault
Expansion of
Combat Gains
  • All equipment

 

Highlights

Worth it?

The real question of all this is whether it was worth the time and energy to watch? It is pretty difficult to get to, even by car (due to traffic) or train (due to crowds for the bus). The tickets are really difficult to get a hold of too, not to mention a bit pricey, so you’ll want to be getting the most for your money. On the plus side, it’s the largest display of GSDF firepower around, the scale of which really puts local base events to shame.

It’s also live-fire and there really aren’t many occasions in a civilian’s life when they can watch missiles steaming off towards the horizon. However, while it is live-fire, what you are often shown is an elaborate display of timing: you have vehicles and weapons on show in front of you, but particularly with artillery, the actual live-fire is hidden in dead ground, presumably to avoid any accidents.

For me, the biggest downside was the lack of a side-show. If you asked me to choose between the Fuji School event to the Firepower Review, I would go with Fuji School in the future. Alongside the, albeit less wide-ranging, weaponry review, it also had a fantastic set of display stands where you could find out more about the GSDF’s mission. Fuji Firepower, on the other hand, only had an incredibly crowded row of markets selling pretty cheap and useless official and unofficial goods (although at Fuji School, the vending machines and stalls ran out of beverages – other than coffee – by noon). Considering how much space they have available, and considering how many people were attending, Fuji Firepower felt more like a tourist trap than a PR event, and I believe the GSDF is missing out on a chance to show off its equipment to a captive audience.

Once is enough for this blogger. It’s an incredible sight to behold, but at such an expense underwritten by the taxpayer, I was really expecting much more. If you can get your hands on tickets, by all means go and see it. However, if you live near any bases, you’d be better off trying to get (cheaper) tickets to their events where you’ll at least get a bit of hands-on and face-time with the service members and their kit.

 

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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