Growing concerns over increasingly aggressive military actions by China Taiwan Most young men have to comply in order to extend their mandatory military service. But former conscripts interviewed by CNN say Taipei needs to do more if the training is to be effective.
Outdated, boring and unrealistic. That was the verdict of six young men who told CNN about their recent experiences of mandatory service in Taiwan’s military.
They describe a process that was designed decades ago with an emphasis on bayonet training, but without instruction for urban warfare strategy or modern weaponry such as drones. Some say the rifles were too few to be reused, or the weapons they trained were too old to be useful. Others have stated that they “specialize” in artillery, grenade, and mortar units, but have never received ammunition to train with.
Their criticism comes at a critical time for Taiwan’s military. President Tsai Ing-wen recently announced that he would extend the military service period for men born after 2005 from four months to one year, saying the current system “no longer meets the needs” of defending the island. rice field. The military said the rethink was based on comparisons with militaries in other democratic jurisdictions with longer conscription periods, such as South Korea (18-21 months), Singapore (24 months) and Israel (24-30 months). It states that
Taiwan’s military build-up is an important concern for Tsai. Tsai said he needed to underscore Taiwan’s self-defense resolve amid an increasingly aggressive roar from Beijing. The ruling Chinese Communist Party claims to be part of its territory even though it never controlled the 23.5 million autonomous democracy, which former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited on his August visit. Since then, a record number of air and sea patrols have been harassed. Chinese President Xi Jinping has repeatedly refused to rule out the use of force to “reunify” the island with mainland China.
President Tsai announced in December that she would extend her military service, saying that “no one wants war.” “This applies to the government and people of Taiwan, as well as to the international community, but peace does not come from the air, and Taiwan is at the forefront of growing authoritarianism.”
But former conscripts were skeptical, telling CNN that the issue of military service obligations is beyond the short term and will only be rectified by more radical reforms.
Tsai herself admits that many citizens feel that military service is “just a waste of time”.
“We had over 100 assault rifles, but only a little over 10 were available for shooting practice,” said a 26-year-old auditor from central Changhua county who served in 2021. One Frank Liu said: About 140 conscripts have been trained by his company, he said.
“Many of these assault rifles were manufactured decades ago, and many were too worn out to be used for training. Weapons had to be rotated among us. ”
A factory manager from Taipei, Paul Lee, who worked in 2018, had a similar experience.
“During military training, we didn’t fire many bullets,” Lee said. “I was practicing with a T65 assault rifle and only shot about 40 rounds during the entire training period.
“I worry that many people who have trained with me will not even be able to confidently operate a rifle.”
Under current regulations, the four-month military service period is normally divided into two parts: five weeks of basic training and 11 weeks of ground training on a military base.
During ground training, conscripts are often assigned a specialization, which some say still provides only cursory insight.
Dennis, a 25-year-old technician from Taichung who worked last year, learned how to fire a cannon when he was assigned to a mission specializing in cannons because his trainer worried the recruits would get hurt. He said he hadn’t. Since he is still a reservist, he asked to be identified by his first name only.
“We were assigned menial tasks and spent most of our time cleaning and washing Canon carts,” he said. “If there was a war today and I was asked to work as an artilleryman, I would be just cannon fodder.”
Adam Yu, a 27-year-old designer from northern Keelung who specializes in mortar and grenade launchers in 2018, said he was taught how to prepare weapons but was given ammunition and practiced firing. He said he never did. .
“I don’t even know if I can operate those weapons,” Yu said, adding, “I still don’t know how these weapons are supposed to be used on the battlefield.”
That sentiment was echoed by another ex-conscript named Liu. His 28-year-old salesman, who specializes in data processing for the Air Force, was trained in southern Pingtung County in 2015. He, too, said he may be called upon for additional reservist training and asked that his name be withheld.
“Our commanders taught us very little during ground training because they felt that we were only here for a few months and it wouldn’t make much of a difference for them,” he said. Told.
Taiwan has a professional volunteer force of 162,000 full-time troops as of last year, according to a Legislative Yuan report. In addition to this, an estimated 70,000 men complete a period of compulsory military service each year.
Conscripts must undergo a period of physical training and are taught to shoot rifles and use bayonets.
Several of those who spoke to CNN questioned the amount of time spent on bayonet training, claiming it was outdated.
“I think bayonet training was a waste of time because I really couldn’t think of how I could put it into practice,” Frank Liu said.
“Look at the war between Russia and Ukraine. There are so many different types of weapons in use. When do soldiers have to rely on bayonets to attack the enemy? increase.”
Yu, who is from Keelung, said the commander put a lot of emphasis on bayonet training as it was part of the final exams.
“We were ordered to memorize a set of slogans,” he said. “When I was doing bayonet practice, I had to follow the squad leader’s instructions and do a specific chant for each move, and I had to repeat it for the exam.”
Some of these criticisms were implicitly or otherwise acknowledged at a defense ministry press conference in early January following President Tsai’s announcement of the conscription extension.
According to the ministry, when the new policy starts in 2024, all conscripts will fire at least 800 rounds while on duty and will be trained with new weapons such as anti-tank missiles and drones. That’s it. Bayonet training will be modified to include other forms of close combat training, he added, and conscripts may also participate in joint military training with professional soldiers. extended to a week.
Su Tzu-yun, director of Taiwan’s government-funded National Institute for Defense and Security, said he was confident the reforms would boost the island’s combat capabilities.
He also sees value in incorporating bayonet training into the curriculum.
“It helps build courage and aggression in soldiers,” he said. “If a soldier is on a mission unsuitable for firing weapons, bayonets may be used as an alternative option.”
Hsu added that while the latest weapons would be included in the new training curriculum, it would be impractical and too costly for every soldier to practice firing them.
“In America, Javelin training [anti-tank missiles] Each missile costs $70,000 and not everyone can launch it, so it runs through simulation,” he said. “Normally, after the entire force has completed the simulation, the commander selects a few soldiers to practice firing.”
In a statement to CNN, Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense said it had invited experts to numerous academic seminars on reforming the conscription system and accepted many of their suggestions for increasing training intensity.
Still, not everyone is convinced.
“I don’t think that just extending the military service will improve national defense,” said Lin In-yu, an assistant professor at Tamkang University’s Institute of International Strategies.
He said “more important issues” include clarifying in detail the type of training new conscripts will receive.
On this point, former conscripted workers who told CNN were skeptical.
“When I saw them wanting to add drones to their training, my question was, are we going to have multiple opportunities to practice flying with one drone per person? said Yu.
“If you stick to the old-fashioned teaching method, you will be told to follow the instructions and learn the weight and distance, and you will not be able to operate it.”
The fear of conscription is that new forms of compulsory service may look much like old ones.
“On duty, we spent a lot of time waiting, mostly just being asked to do monotonous tasks like moving the weapon and showing it to the commander,” said engineer Dennis.
It remains to be seen whether conscription time will be spent more meaningfully when next year’s new rules are introduced, but all sides agree the risks are high.
“A proactive citizenry is the bedrock and foundation of our will to resist,” said Enoch Wu, founder of the civil defense think tank Forward Alliance and a member of Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party. said.
“If the public decides it’s not worth fighting to protect our homes, or decides we don’t have a chance, we can have the most professional army, but it’s still too few and too slow. Too much.