Sun, Oct 06, 2002 - Page 3 News List

Legislators question army experiment

VOLUNTEER UNITS The MND has appropriated NT$1.29 billion in its fiscal year 2003 budget plan for recruiting volunteers, but legislators say the plan is a waste of money


A group of ruling DPP lawmakers yesterday questioned the wisdom of an experimental all-volunteer recruitment program proposed by the Ministry of National Defense (MND) for the next fiscal year.

The MND has appropriated NT$1.29 billion in its fiscal year 2003 budget plan for recruiting volunteers to staff three selected units in the armed forces -- an armored infantry battalion, a marine infantry battalion and an air force guard battalion.

Members of the DPP's legislative defense policy research panel said that, as the three units do not really require high levels of professional skills and expertise, they can be manned by conscripts.

"At a time when the government faces a shortfall of funds, is it appropriate for the MND to waste money on such an experimental program?" Legislator Lee Wen-chung (李文忠) asked at a news conference.

In his view, Lee said, the MND should instead set up new units that truly require sophisticated professional technologies, such as an electronic warfare unit, a battlefield management unit and a special warfare unit.

"The MND can recruit both volunteers and conscripts to man those special professional units in the initial stage," Lee suggested, adding that if the MND fails to give a good reason for going through with its all-volunteer program -- or fails to make suitable adjustments -- he will push for a cut in the experimental program's budget.

Another member of the DPP panel, Legislator Kuo Jung-chung (郭榮宗), said the MND should cash in on the trend that more young people are willing to enter into military academies to enhance professionalism in the armed forces.

"While experimenting with an all-volunteer recruitment system, the MND should give top priority to professionalism. Otherwise, the experimental program will be meaningless," Kuo noted.

Meanwhile, Legislator Tang Hou-sheng (湯火聖) expressed disappointment at the continued increases in personnel spending in the MND budget.

Noting that personnel fees account for 55.79 percent of the MND's NT$261.5 billion for the coming year, Tang said the figure indicates that the military's budget structure has not been planned in line with the government's 10-year troops reduction plan aimed at building up an elite deterrent force.

"We'll invite the relevant MND officials to deliver a report to the Legislature's defense committee on the military's personnel trimming plan, personnel deployment and future budget planning," Tang said.

More worrisome is that the MND's spending on weaponry procurement and defense technology research has continued to decline, Tang said, adding that weapon and military equipment procurement accounts for only 21 percent of the MND's 2003 budget, down from this year's level.

He also questioned the value of the MND's NT$6.16 billion budget plan for purchasing LVT-7 amphibious armored landing tanks.

"I think the military should better use its financial resources on improving its capabilities to counter China's asymmetric and unlimited warfare strategies as well as its combined services combat capabilities," he asserted.

According to the DPP legislative panel's study, Tang said, the planned procurement of US-built Kidd-class destroyers can largely upgrade the Taiwan Navy's combat capabilities. "We hope the MND will offer more information to help the general public better understand the necessity of buying these new warships."

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