Ragtag military left to defend Japan on shoestring budget
Camp Takada in Joetsu City, Niigata Prefecture, was established as an army post in 1908. Some of the wood-frame buildings originally constructed as horse stables are currently being used by the Ground Self Defense Force garrison as offices or barracks.
Their weatherbeaten appearance is not the sole problem. Writing in Shukan Shincho (April 8), journalist Misa Sakurabayashi notes that over 150 buildings used by the Self Defense Force are in need of seismic reinforcement.
“They’re potentially dangerous,” says a high-ranking member of the JSDF. “The previous LDP government had allocated 7.4 billion yen for refurbishing, but after the Hatoyama cabinet took over last August, 6.8 billion yen of those funds were frozen. So it’s not going to happen.”
Japan’s defense budget declined from 4.93 trillion yen in 2002 to 4.63 trillion this fiscal year. Another result of the economy measures has been increasingly obsolete equipment. An officer at armored brigade in Tohoku explains that at the time of its introduction in 1990, Japan’s main battle tank, the Type 90, was highly rated for its “world class” firepower. But that was 20 years ago.
“The ‘90 lacks the capability to share tactical data links between units, which has become the global standard,” the source says. “We are finally getting the newest models, but of 58 units requested, this year’s budget will only allocate 13.”
If an army marches on its stomach, one shouldn’t expect the GSDF to get very far. Despite its intended role as stalwart defender of the nation, mess hall allocations are said to be less than the 287 yen budgeted by some Tokyo middle school cafeterias.
“The daily budget is 850 yen per man, or about 283 yen per meal,” an unnamed field grade officer tells Sakurabayashi. “Strapping paratroopers need heaping bowls of rice, so the budget for other foods has to be cut. If we serve curry with rice, there’s not enough left for a salad to go with it.”
At one base in Kansai, soldiers supplement their meager rations by picking plums from a nearby orchard and preserving them as “umeboshi.”
“We’ve also found ‘warabi’ (bracken) growing wild on the hill by the powder magazine,” says a junior officer. “We boil it in soy sauce; the men say it’s not bad.”
MSDF sailors on refueling assignment in the Indian Ocean around December 2001 had other problems. The air conditioning in their antiquated tanker was not suited for duty in the tropics, and the rice stocks became infested with mealy grubs.
“We laid out sheeting out on the deck and spread the rice over the sheets, and removed the grubs one by one,” a mid-ranked officer tells the reporter.
Shukan Shincho parades out the some other belt-tightening measures on the land, sea, and in the air.
- During training exercises, MSDF escort ships remain stationary or run at half power, with one propeller screw disengaged.
- ASDF fighter pilots are under orders to conserve jet fuel by reducing speed to and from the training areas.
- Existing equipment is typically cannibalized due to lack of spare parts.
- Soldiers at some facilities are limited to bathing every other day, with only two hours of hot water availability per day.
- Office supplies and stationery are in such short supply, some men are obliged to use their own money for coin-operated copy machines.
A GSDF sergeant at one post reveals that due to chronic shortages of toilet paper, it’s literally every man for himself.
“It’s better that way, at least from the standpoint that one person won’t accuse his colleague of using too much,” he says. “But we can’t very well expect guests to bring their own toilet paper, so the men take up a collection and buy some for the visitors.”