Mon, May 14, 2018 - Page 3 News List

INTERVIEW: MND sees defense self-sufficiency as priority

The Ministry of National Defense sees the rapid build-up of the military’s operational capabilities as its top priority and would like to see efforts to create a self-sufficient defense industry receive more funding than the procurement of US arms, Minister of National Defense Yen De-fa said in an interview with Liberty Times’ (sister newspaper of the Taipei Times) staff reporters Aaron Tu, Huang Wei-chu and Lo Tien-pin

For instance, defense technology transfers to the private sector are valued at an estimated NT$104.78 billion [US$3.52 billion at the current exchange rate] in 2016, and NT$101.64 billion in the following year, pulling ahead of program milestones.

In addition, the indigenous advanced jet trainer is scheduled to leavethe factory in September 2019 and make its maiden flight in June 2020. These programs are on track and we have the highest confidence in their continued success.

LT: Regarding enlistment for the all-volunteer force, the military this year fell short of its recruitment target by more than 17,000 enlistments. When will the military make up for this shortfall and what is the military doing to improve force retention?

Yen: The public is very concerned with the military’s ability to find recruits.

Actually, the armed forces do not have a shortage of troops. The military has met its recruitment goal of 15,000 volunteers every year since 2014; in fact, we exceeded our target last year.

There is nothing wrong with the program of enlisting volunteers. The great advantage of a volunteer force is that the troops serve for longer and have the ability to cultivate specialized skills at the intermediate or advanced level.

I have ordered all volunteer troops to gain proficiency in at least two specialist fields. For example, an infantry soldier should be a proficient sharpshooter with a rifle and a machinegun, but should also master the use of rocket weapons and mortars.

This system meets battlefield conditions more realistically. When a comrade becomes a casualty, soldiers are expected to step up and take their place immediately.

What armed forces do have a shortage of are junior-grade officers — lieutenants and captains.

For this reason, the ministry last year instituted career tracks for non-commissioned officers’ promotion into commissioned ranks, increased the recruitment of officer cadets and established volunteer officer reservists. The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) has also been meeting its enlistment targets.

Through flexibility and expedience, we have gained officers in both qualitative and quantitative terms. Currently, 128 institutions of higher education are participating in the ROTC program.

We are confident that by the end of next year, the gap in junior officer enlistments will be closed.

More importantly, President Tsai’s authorization of extra pay for seven categories of troops and officers has been a boon to morale. The military is in the process of requesting the Executive Yuan to improve the salary of command sergeants.

Furthermore, President Tsai has given a lot of attention to improving the quality of life for military personnel. The military is about to renovate 159 older barracks, which will stimulate domestic demand, improve the quality of life for service members and benefit recruitment efforts.

LT: US President Donald Trump signed the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. What progress has been made in Taiwan-US military cooperation? Are there any plans for high-level visits between the militaries of the two nations? What is our nation’s role in regional security?

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