Self-Defense Force to promote Japanese machinery
TOKYO — Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force has started training military units from developing countries in Africa to build facilities, maintain roads and do other infrastructure work using heavy machinery.
The government wants to use the Self-Defense Forces' role in U.N. peacekeeping operations to kill two birds with one stone - promote the SDF's skills and the performance of Japanese-made machinery.
In Kenya in early September, GSDF personnel were demonstrating road maintenance using excavators and other machinery made by Komatsu Ltd. Military engineers from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and other African countries were there to observe and applauded the GSDF members' skill.
"Many of the units were interested in Japanese heavy machinery," said Col. Akiyoshi Sasajima, who took part in the instruction.
The lesson was part of a project run by the SDF, the Foreign Ministry and other government bodies to support early-stage development. This was the first time the project had been put into practice. It was created in keeping with the intentions of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has vigorously supported peacekeeping operations.
Eleven GSDF members, including some who were involved in operations after the Great East Japan Earthquake, are teaching African troops to operate heavy machinery and other equipment for a little more than a month through the middle of this month.
Peacekeeping units are dispatched at the request of the United Nations to countries that become embroiled in conflict. However, many engineering units in developing countries lack equipment and skills, so preparing roads and accommodations can take time and sometimes delays deployments.
"Time is critical when units are deployed to peacekeeping operations," said a senior SDF official who has experience with U.N. deployments. "If the delay lasts half a year, the conflict can turn into a quagmire, and it can fatally hinder support for refugees and reconstruction."
The SDF has provided educational support to military units in Asia and elsewhere, but has not been able to provide its equipment and other goods, as these are government property. For the new project, the government donated about 3.8 billion yen (about $31,694,394) to a U.N. fund, which includes money to pay for the leases of four pieces of Japanese heavy machinery requested by the SDF.
The SDF is treating the latest project as a case study, and plans to expand it in coordination with the United Nations. It also plans to use the fund to provide countries with other Japanese-made machinery.
"Japanese products perform well and are popular overseas. There's no reason for not making use of them," a senior SDF official said, envisioning SDF members serving as salesmen of a kind.