Friday, September 01, 2006

JGSDF Firepower Demonstration

Last weekend, we met up with our friend Toshi who had tickets to the annual Japan Ground Self Defense Force Firepower Demonstration. It's a chance for the general public to see the capabilities that the JGSDF has. Of course, as a guy, what better way to spend a weekend than watching helicopters and tanks and other implements of war shooting rounds downrange and putting steel on target.

So, Melody and I joined our friends Ed and Kirsten and met Toshi at a mall nearby. He picked us up in his minivan, and we all drove out to Camp Fuji, on the lower slopes of the mountain that's the most recognizably Japanese thing here in Japan.

We got there after a 2 hour drive from the outskirts of Tokyo, just in time to see (and hear) a pair of F-16s finish a bombing run. We missed seeing the explosions, but heard them and saw the billowing clouds of smoke they left. We hurried to our seats so we could catch the rest of the show.

We had pretty good seats in what seemed to be the foreigner section of the bleachers. We were surrounded by a number of military folks from around the world who were most likely defense attaches from the different embassies. We saw lots of different uniforms from places like Egypt, Pakistan, India, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand...quite interesting.

Anyway, the first half were demonstrations of the different weapons systems in the JGSDF starting with the small arms, and moving up to the big guns. We watched as they demostrated mortars, artillery, anti-tank missiles, AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters, Type 90 tanks, armored personnel carriers...they even had guys fast roping out of the back of a CH-47 Chinook helo. it was really cool. They even had a big screen TV showing what was happening out of eyesight.

After a short intermission when the band played a variety of marches and Beatles tunes, the show resumed. This time, it was demonstrating the different systems as they would be employed to defeat an attacking enemy. They started out with the scout helicopters and insertions of dismounted scouts. Some rappelled in, while others pulled motorcycles out of UH-1 helicopters and rode off to keep an eye on the enemy.

As the enemy got closer, artillery began to engage them farther up the slopes of Fuji-san. Then, the attack helicopters got in the game, firing their 30 mm rotary cannons at targets closer in.

As the Cobras were hammering their targets, a Chinook flew in and unloaded a HMMWV-like vehicle that drove off to hunt enemy tanks.

Then, the armored personnel carriers came in firing their machine guns as tanks began to move into position to fire. With a deafening crack of the big 120mm guns and huge flames erupting from the barrels, the tanks fired. Two kilometers downrange, one could see the impact, fractions of a second after the shot. Ed, a former tanker himself, had to strain to keep from letting out a thunderous "HOOAH!!" It was awesome.

I was juggling taking video with my small camera with one hand and shooting with my Canon with the other. In spite of the double duty, I managed to come out with a few good shots. Of course, I took over 500 in the space of an hour or so...a few had to work.

After the climax of the show, with a line of armored vehicles shooting white phosphorus smoke grenades, they cleared the field and reassembled one of each type of vehicle involved so people could go up for a closer look. We all did, and afterward grabbed some yaki soba, chicken, and a beer (except Toshi who was driving) before we headed back. As we walked to the van, we passed over a HUGE line of people patiently, quietly waiting for buses to come pick them up and take them back to wherever they came from. We contrasted this with the fact that, had they been Americans, they would not have been so well behaved...

It was an awesome day, and we're quite grateful to Toshi for setting it all up, getting us great seats, and driving there and back.

Below is a movie of one of the Cobras firing it's cannon. If you follow the tracers, you can see the impacts of the rounds downrange...kakui, desu ne?

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