A US Department of Defense report on China’s military power raised doubts about Taiwan’s plans for an all-volunteer force as the Ministry of National Defense prepares to terminate one-year conscriptions this year.
The all-volunteer military would cost more than the government had anticipated and drain funds from self-defense, training and budget reserves, the department said in an annual congressional report titled Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2018.
The report, which focused on developments from late last year to early this year, said that the nation had about 215,000 armed forces personnel, 75 percent of whom were volunteers, in addition to 1.7 million reservists.
Following the modernization of the armed forces, active service personnel would probably fall to 175,000, it said.
Although savings from reducing troop numbers had led to improved pay, benefits, housing and subsidies for service members, the savings were inadequate to attract and retain soldiers in an all-volunteer force, the report said.
In the interim, unforeseen expenditure had been covered by allocating funds away from initiatives ranging from the procurement of indigenous arms, training programs and budget reserves, it said.
The annual budget for the military remained at about 2 percent of GDP, while China outspent that by a factor of 15, it said, adding that most of China’s military spending was in preparation to invade Taiwan.
The US report differed from public information published by the ministry on some points.
The ministry has said that personnel numbers would remain at 215,000 and there were no plans to further downsize in the immediate future.
Excluding new inductees, trainees and those hospitalized, the armed forces should have 188,000 troops, but actual numbers fluctuate from 150,000 to 160,000, ministry data showed.
Minister of National Defense Yen De-fa (嚴德發) in March told lawmakers that the ministry believes it would meet the goal of having 160,000 service personnel by the end of this year.
However, the Control Yuan and the Legislative Yuan’s Budget Center have also expressed misgivings about the effect of the all-volunteer initiative on budgets and troop quality.
Despite the transition to an all-volunteer force, the military’s combat power has not improved appreciably, a situation due largely to lowered enlistment standards and fast-tracked promotions, the Control Yuan said in a report earlier this year.
Control Yuan officials were unable to evaluate whether a volunteer or conscript force would be superior, while personnel and administrative costs have grown to a point where they could impede funding for other essential programs, it said.
Last month, the Budget Center submitted its fiscal report, saying the military in December last year had 146,785 service personnel, short of the ministry’s goals.
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