Japan is one of few avowed pacifist countries in the world. The island country has sworn off war as an instrument of the state, and a deep anti-military streak permeates Japanese society. Japan isn’t even supposed to have armed forces. Instead, the nation has the so-called “Self Defense Forces”—an army, navy, and air force in all but name that are trained and equipped strictly for defensive warfare.
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So it’s a little jarring to see crowds of Japanese civilians enthusiastically watching as tanks, attack helicopters, and self-propelled howitzers kill large swathes of grass at a training ground near iconic Mount Fuji. Japan has its military enthusiasts just like any other country, and each year the Ground Self Defense Forces treat them to an event named “Fuji Firepower.” Each year, Fuji Firepower involves more than 2,000 members of the Japan Ground Self Defense Forces, 80 tanks and armored vehicles, 80 artillery pieces, and 30 helicopters.
Japan designs and builds all of its own army vehicles, and this video serves as a pretty good primer on them. In the first minute of the YouTube video, a platoon of Type 90 tanks conducts an attack complete with live fire from the 120-millimeter gun. Introduced in the early 1990s, the Type 90 has the same main gun as the M1A1 Abrams, just with a shorter barrel and an automatic loader.
At the 1:20 mark you can see the Type 87 self-propelled anti-aircraft gun. Equipped with an air defense radar and twin 35-millimeter guns, the Type 87 is designed to shoot down enemy planes flying low over the battlefield. Next the audience is treated to an artillery battery consisting of 203-millimeter M110 howitzers and 155-millimeter Type 99 self-propelled howitzers blasting away at nearby targets.
Japan has 6,852 islands, and defending them all isn’t an easy task. The country has embraced helicopter warfare because these aircraft easily hop from one island to another, a capability that has become increasingly important as China has aggressively pressed its claim to what Japan calls the Senkaku Islands and China calls the Diaoyu Islands. In the video, Japanese AH-64J Apache gunships conduct an air assault with UH-60 Blackhawk and CH-47J Chinook helicopters, disgorging infantry and Japan’s version of the Humvee on an imaginary landing zone.
The real star of the show is Japan’s new Type 10 tank. One of the smallest tanks around, the Type 10 tips the scales at just 44 tons—26 tons less than the M1A1 Abrams. The Type 10 was designed to be easier to transport to Japan’s far-flung islands and more capable of traversing the country’s narrow roads and bridges.
Although the event is carefully staged and at times looks like the world’s deadliest offroad rally, it has a purpose. As an annual production, Fuji Firepower serves as a regular reminder to the Japanese public that the Self Defense Forces exist. This has taken on even more importance in light of China’s saber-rattling in the East China Sea, as well as the North Korean rocket and missile threat. The more Asia as a whole heats up, the more of the Ground Self Defense Forces you’ll see in the future.