25 May 2016 – The Japanese Self Defence Force mixed up live and blank ammunition during a field exercise on Monday, firing 79 live rounds before anyone noticed. Nobody was hit.
According to the Japan Times, nine soldiers fired the live rounds at each other during an ambush exercise at Shikaribetsu Training Area, near the town of Shikaoi on Hokkaido Island, at the beginning of the week.
A sergeant and a private sustained minor injuries, reportedly because of their 5.56mm Howa Type 89 rifles malfunctioning after live ammunition was fired down them.
UK Shooting News cannot imagine in what way a conventional blank firing attachment (BFA) would cause injury upon failure. A photo on Wikipedia shows a Type 89 with what appears to be a BFA equivalent screwed into the end of the flash hider.
Causing more loss of face than the minor injuries to the soldiers, however, is the fact that 79 rounds were fired during an ambush scenario without hitting anyone. While obviously a relief for the section involved, it hardly paints a good picture of Japanese marksmanship training.
Also, the idea that trained soldiers did not recognise the difference between live and blank ammo is worrying. While the Japan Times reported that “in a typical exercise, bullets are handed to each troop just before the drill, and they are then loaded into their rifles”, UKSN’s author wonders at the mindset which blindly accepts ammunition issued without even a cursory visual check being carried out.
One plausible scenario is that the soldiers were issued with pre-filled magazines and not given time to examine what they were filled with, though this is just speculation.
The British armed forces use a belt-and-braces system of issuing BFAs along with specially modified blank-only magazines. These magazines accept blank but not live rounds, thanks to a restrictor that fouls a full length live round. Blank magazines are painted bright yellow to aid visual identification. In addition, standard operating procedures include personnel switching from blank to live (or vice versa) stopping training, supervising NCOs carrying out a full unload and inspection of the troops, and ammunition issuing points for live and blank being physically separated by at least 30 metres.
Last year the BBC branded the JSDF “toothless tigers”, while simultaneously praising their “emphasis on group cohesion, careful planning, and attention to detail”.