As regional tensions rise, Japanese ground troops hold their first military exercises in decades – .

As regional tensions rise, Japanese ground troops hold their first military exercises in decades – .

Since mid-September, approximately 100,000 people, 20,000 vehicles and 120 aircraft have participated in various exercises across the country focused on operational readiness.

In recent years, the Indo-Pacific region has become a focal point of tension, with GSDF officials claiming that the security environment surrounding Japan is the worst it has been since the end of World War II.

“This Land Self-Defense Force exercise is really focused on improving operational effectiveness, deterrence and response capabilities,” said Col. Noriko Yokota, GSDF spokesperson.

“Each unit conducts the exercise with in mind what is needed to achieve that goal. She prepares herself so that she can react with confidence when she is forced to take further action.

Earlier this week, North Korea said it had successfully tested a new ballistic missile from a submarine that landed in the Sea of ​​Japan, also known as the East Sea. Meanwhile, further south, China has stepped up pressure on Taiwan by sending military planes into its air defense identification zone.

Without identifying any country by name, GSDF officials say regional powers are ready to change the status quo by force – and one country in particular continues to develop nuclear weapons, missiles and challenge the non-proliferation system. .

“The current security environment surrounding Japan is extremely severe,” said Lieutenant-General Yuichi Togashi, commanding general of the 2nd GSDF Division. “We, the Self-Defense Forces, have a responsibility to improve the efficiency of operations. ”

Build defensive strength

Troops from the 2nd GSDF Division in Asahikawa, Hokkaido, traveled approximately 2,000 kilometers (1,242 miles) to the Hijudai Handling Zone in Oita Prefecture, Japan, to conduct defensive combat exercises.

Since arriving in September, they have spent weeks building logistics zones, command posts, battlefield positions and underground marshalling units. Some are built underground and all are covered in camouflage, making them difficult to identify.

GSDF officials say the exercise is not held to prepare for a potential conflict in a specific region or against a particular country.

But the training environment at Hijudai Manuvering Area has similar terrain to what troops would experience if war broke out in the islands of southern Japan. This includes the Senkaku Islands – a chain of uninhabited rocky islands in the East China Sea – administered by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing, where the islands are known as Diayou.

Tensions on the uninhabited rock range – 1,900 kilometers (1,200 miles) southwest of Tokyo but only a third of that distance from Shanghai – have simmered for years, and claims about them date back centuries.

Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi recently told CNN that the islands are unmistakably Japanese territory and will be defended as such.

“(The) Senkaku Islands are an integral part of Japanese territory, both under international law and historically,” Kishi said.

“There is no territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands between Japan and other countries. Against Chinese action against the Senkaku Islands and other parts of the East China Sea, we must continue to send a strong message.

“As the Ministry of Defense and the Japan Self-Defense Force, we need to strengthen our own military capabilities and respond to this situation. “

Troops training on the southern islands

In a marked departure from post-war Japanese pacifism, the combat training portion of the exercise in the Hijudai maneuver zone includes unscripted simulated war games.

The 2nd GSDF Division was split into two teams to simulate invaders and defenders with the aim of eliminating rival fighters and practicing first aid.

Instead of live ammunition, ground troops are armed with simulation weapons that fire lasers. Troop uniforms, tanks and other vehicles are all fitted with sensors that notify them if they have been killed or injured by the enemy.

The combat-oriented training portion of the Hijudai Manipulation Zone exercise includes unscripted simulated war games.

In the simulated combat exercise, if someone is hit, the troops on the battlefield apply first aid in the field before leading the individual to a yard unit. Depending on the severity of the simulated injury, injured troops are treated and either return to the battlefield or are evacuated to hospital for more specialized care.

Other troops are deployed for exercises on the islands of southern Japan – Miyako Island, Amami Oshima, and Yonaguni Island, the latter of which is just 234 kilometers (145 miles) from Taiwan.

“The deployment of troops to the southwest region is a major concept of the Land Self-Defense Force,” Yokota said. “We believe it is important for the SDF to deploy troops where they are needed. “

For Japan, these war games have never been more important.

“We are now aware that the security environment surrounding Japan is of unprecedented severity,” Yakota said.

“In this context, we, the Self-Defense Forces, we prepare for all kinds of eventualities, considering that we have to respond to all kinds of situations. “

Since the establishment of Japan’s GSDF in 1954, the force has never been involved in an actual conflict – meaning exercises like this are the closest members to war. The exercises end in mid-November.


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