One of the core challenges for any defense force or military is balancing between preparations for the war that might come in the future and the operations it will most likely execute today.

Lately, the news surrounding Japan's Self-Defense Forces has focused on the government’s decision to pursue counterstrike capabilities and double the defense budget to be ready for potential conflict in the region. But the anniversary of the triple disaster on 3/11 serves as a reminder that the SDF has another essential role.

When the Great East Japan Earthquake struck, approximately 100,000 SDF personnel deployed as part of “Joint Task Force Tohoku.” There, they conducted rescue, relief and reconstruction efforts. A few years later in April 2016, they again deployed tens of thousands of troops as part of JTF Chinzei in response to the Kumamoto earthquake. Every year, the SDF averages upwards of 500 small scale disaster relief operations following landslides, floods, earthquakes and blizzards, among other things.