Japan’s GSDF begins nationwide drills for first time since Cold War

For the first time in nearly 30 years, Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force (GDSF) started nationwide exercises on Wednesday that involved all units — part of an attempt to boost deterrence and strengthen its capabilities amid China’s ramped-up regional assertiveness.

The GDSF drills, including transporting supplies and testing communication systems, will be carried out until the end of November across the country, with the aim of strengthening the ability to defend remote islands.

The GSDF last conducted exercises on this scale in 1993 after the Cold War ended. This time, around 100,000 personnel, 20,000 vehicles and 120 aircraft will join the drills, which will also involve Maritime and Air Self-Defense Forces as well as a U.S. Army landing ship.

A total of 12,000 personnel and 3,900 vehicles from two GSDF divisions based in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost main island, and in the Tohoku region of northeastern Japan will start an expeditionary mission to the Kyushu region in southwestern Japan next week. They will be joined by one brigade from western Japan’s Shikoku region.

Ground Self-Defense Force members load supplies into a truck on Wednesday, the first day of nationwide military exercises. | GROUND SELF-DEFENSE FORCE / VIA KYODO
Ground Self-Defense Force members load supplies into a truck on Wednesday, the first day of nationwide military exercises. | GROUND SELF-DEFENSE FORCE / VIA KYODO

During the mission, the troops will carry defense equipment, including tanks, to several training grounds in Kyushu via road and sea. Private trucks, ferries and railways will also be used in the exercise.

A GSDF official in charge of the drills said the exercises are based on the 2019 National Defense Program Guidelines, which call for strengthening defense capabilities to help safeguard the Nansei Islands, including the Japan-administered, Beijing-claimed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

“In order to respond effectively to various situations, including attacks on the islands, it is essential that the necessary forces are deployed quickly and extensively,” Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi has said on the drills.

“In an increasingly uncertain security environment, the focus of our work will be on operational readiness,” the GSDF official said, with China’s rapid military buildup in mind.

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