The Ministry of National Defense’s (MND) personnel costs for next year saw a NT$2.5 billion (US$83.5 million) year-on-year decrease as a result of the planned abolition of conscription and a reduced target for recruitment of volunteer soldiers, a military budget statement showed.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方) expressed concerns that the gap between actual military strength and authorized strength could be bigger than has been expected, calling on the ministry to “prepare contingency plans to ward off possible impacts on national security.”
After the parallel systems of conscription and volunteers ends at the beginning of next year, there will be no conscripts entering the military, with the goal of an all-volunteer military of 176,000 soldiers reached by the end of next year.
However, according to the budget statement for next year presented to the legislature on Friday, the MND received a budget allocation for only 159,000 volunteer soldiers, 17,000 short of the target, Lin said.
In line with the government’s goal of creating a leaner and meaner military, the MND is planning to gradually decrease its active duty force from 270,000 to 215,000. At present, the armed forces comprise 235,000 volunteers and conscripts.
Considering recruitment difficulties, the ratio of actual strength to authorized strength in the forces could be lower than 77 percent, causing concerns over national security, Lin said.
Lin said that the ratio of 77 percent was “much lower than normal,” but did not specify what were normal ratios for the forces, citing confidentiality.
According to the MND, between January and July, 4,290 volunteers had enlisted, a far cry from this year’s target of 28,000.
In the budget of NT$312.7 billion allocated for the MND next year, spending on personnel took up the largest share of NT$153.5 billion, followed by military investment of NT$86.1 billion, an increase of NT$4.9 billion compared to this year, and then NT$68.5 billion for maintenance demands, while NT$4.6 billion was earmarked for other purposes.
The MND budget statement indicated that the MND plans to buy two rather than four Perry-class frigates from the US navy as previously reported by the media to replace some of its Knox-class frigates, Lin said.
About NT$177.65 million was allocated for the warships next year, and NT$5.38 billion would be included in the budget for 2015, the budget statement showed.
A four-year plan for the air force to enhance the capability of 57 Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDFs) based at Ching Chuan Kang Air Base in Greater Taichung was set to begin next year, with a budget of NT$2.4 billion, out of a total of NT$16.7 billion for the project, listed for next year, Lin said.
As in the past, a budget of NT$2 million to assess the feasibility of buying F16 C/D aircraft and NT$500,000 to investigate the possible purchase of diesel-electric submarines from the US was included for next year, despite the fact that Washington is still evaluating these sales.
With the budget allocated to the programs, the MND can demand additional funds should the US agree to the sales, Lin said.