Harsh Conditions of Movement of JSDF Found in Accident Injuring 8 Personnel on Expressway | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Harsh Conditions of Movement of JSDF Found in Accident Injuring 8 Personnel on Expressway

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JSDF members being transported by truckload (some images have been edited)

Blunder of GSDF truck bed transportation

At around 9:00 a.m. on November 25, a rear-end collision between two large GSDF trucks occurred on the Tohoku Expressway in Oshu City, Iwate Prefecture. Eight members of the team were transported to a hospital in Iwate Prefecture in an SDF vehicle, all with minor injuries. At the time of the accident, 25 members of the team were being transported in the back of the vehicle. At the time of the accident, strong winds were blowing in the vicinity of the accident site, and snow piled up on the side of the road, making visibility poor.

The fact that as many as eight people were injured in the accident suggests that the company failed to fulfill its duty of care for the safety of the crew members on board. Normally, the Self-Defense Forces trucks do not have seat belts or airbags to protect their passengers. The injured crew members at the time of the accident would have had no way to protect themselves from the impact of the accident. With no safety devices, if the truck were to overturn or crash violently, there is no denying the possibility of a serious accident resulting in the loss of human life.


One of the Ground Self-Defense Force’s senior SDF officers told us why the SDF still transports personnel on the back of trucks.

“It is because there are no sufficient vehicles or means of transportation to replace truckloads. If there are enough buses and charter fees to transport the personnel, we will use them.”

Only a limited number of high-ranking officers and special cases receive travel expenses for transporting personnel. Ordinary SDF personnel use a transportation expense called a transportation fee. They do not have the budget to use public transportation and cannot casually use buses or airplanes. Most of the time, the general public members of the SDF travel in vehicles owned by the SDF.

The SDF does not have enough vehicles or money to transport personnel, so they continue to use truck transportation. Accidents involving SDF trucks occur frequently, often resulting in the death or injury of personnel being transported in the back of the truck. In order to protect the health and safety of the personnel, truck transportation should be stopped in peacetime, and a change should be made so that the best means of transportation can be chosen, as in the case of the U.S. military.

Generally, the Road Traffic Law only allows people to ride in the back of trucks with the permission of the chief of police for the purpose of guarding the cargo. Even when permission is granted, only the minimum number of personnel required is permitted. Only special occupations exempted from the Road Traffic Law, such as the police and the Self-Defense Forces, are allowed to transport a large number of people on the back of a truck. However, the police, which have ample budgets, have already switched to air-conditioned bus transportation after the war. Only the Self-Defense Forces personnel, who have no budget, still continue to transport personnel by truck bed.

Truck bed (some images have been doctored)
A SDF vehicle with an inadequate backrest. There is a risk of falling while driving.

There is no air conditioning system in the back of the truck. ……

The SDF truck bed is not suitable for transporting personnel in the first place. There is only a hardwood bench and a backboard. In addition, the vehicle vibrates heavily, which puts a constant strain on the legs and backs of the personnel. Long hours of trucking have caused hemorrhoids, sciatica, and hernia, which are occupational diseases of SDF personnel.

The lack of air conditioning in the cargo beds is also a problem.

A reserve SDF officer who has experienced truck transportation said, “I once went from Sendai to a place called Higashine Range in Yamagata during a shooting training for reserve SDF officers several years ago. We were put in the back of a truck in the middle of winter with no heaters, and we had to go over a mountain pass, and it was really cold. I didn’t get frostbite, but I did catch a cold. Because of the lack of air conditioning, the members riding in the back of the trucks are at risk of heat stroke and hypothermia. It is doubtful that truck-bed transportation is acceptable, even in peacetime, if the health of the SDF personnel is deliberately compromised.

The U.S. military actually charters buses to move around at overseas deployment sites. The difference from the Self-Defense Forces personnel, who seem to shrug their shoulders and ride on a narrow cargo bed, is obvious at a glance.

On the other hand, what means of transportation do soldiers in developed countries use? Dangerous truck-bed transportation is almost non-existent, and soldiers are transported to the front lines in perfect condition.


In the U.S., the most important and expensive equipment is considered to be the military personnel, and truck-behind-truck transportation, which can wipe out the entire army if hit by gunfire, is thoroughly eliminated. A U.S. veteran revealed to me.

“When I deployed to Iraq (during the Iraq War that began in 2003), I took a chartered bus from Kuwait International Airport to Camp Buehring. From there, I traveled by army bus and used helicopters or armored vehicles to get around Iraq.”

The U.S. military frequently uses chartered buses for relatively safe rearward travel even during contingency deployments. The underlying thinking is that since they will always be placed in a poor environment in a contingency, there is no need to put themselves in a bad environment during peacetime. Countries other than the U.S., such as China and India, have also adopted air-conditioned armored personnel carriers. Unfortunately, the difference in perception of the treatment of military personnel between Japan and other developed countries is quite large.

Returning to Japan, the transportation of Self-Defense Force personnel in truckloads is not even considered a problem. Perhaps it is because soldiers were transported by truck in old war movies, but many people think that truck-bed transportation is natural for military personnel. The more one tries to reduce the financial burden spent on SDF personnel, the more it puts a strain on their bodies as they try to protect the country on the front lines. Wouldn’t that be a reversal of the original plan?



  • Interview, text, and photographs Rie Ogasawara

    National defense journalist. After graduating from Kansai Gaidai University, she worked as a freelance writer focusing on the Self-Defense Forces and security issues. 19 years later, she published a book, "Self-Defense Forces Personnel Buy Toilet Paper at Bases with Their Own Money" (Fusosha Shinsho). Winner of the 15th "True Modern Historical Perspective" Essay Competition sponsored by the APA Foundation for the Revitalization of Japan, and the Sanshuji Seishi Prize.

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