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Experts point out flaws in Taiwan's combat readiness

Taiwan military must improve basic training, morale: Wall Street Journal

Taiwanese soldiers salute during National Day celebration in front of Presidential Office Building in Taipei. 

Taiwanese soldiers salute during National Day celebration in front of Presidential Office Building in Taipei.  (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Military experts have suggested Taiwan’s armed forces train with the U.S. and other countries’ militaries to improve combat readiness, according to a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report published on Monday (Oct. 25).

One of the most urgent issues for the Taiwanese military is the lack of preparation and low morale among the approximately 80,000 active-duty servicemen and women and 2.2 million strong reserve force, the report said.

A 26-year-old man surnamed Hsiao (蕭) said that during his four months of military training last year, he mainly swept leaves, moved spare tires, and pulled weeds, per the WSJ. Courses other than shooting were meaningless, he said.

He rejected the claim that he was a "strawberry soldier," a term used to describe delicate or spoiled youths who cannot withstand the pressures of being in the military. Hsiao added that he is willing to serve in the military but believes that Taiwan has no chance of winning a conflict against China.

The WSJ cited other Taiwanese soldiers as saying they are worried about the quality of training and combat readiness. One of them said he had nothing to do during basic training and simply watched American war movies.

Another said that he spent most of his time reading and painting, as he felt there was nothing to worry about. Opinion polls and interviews show that many Taiwanese expect the United States to step in and take over when a serious crisis emerges.

Grant Newsham, a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel who went to Taiwan in 2019 to evaluate its defense capabilities, said the country has a solid core of well-trained troops and excellent officers who are ready to go to battle. Other military experts have said that Taiwan has some of the world’s best pilots and officers.

However, Newsham said that Taiwan’s military lacked sufficient funding and its reserve system was in chaos. He suggested that the military increase salaries and bilateral training with American and allied forces, the WSJ said.

Taiwan's government has acknowledged there are weaknesses in combat readiness and said it is working hard to address the problem. The WSJ cited an unpublished report commissioned by the Ministry of National Defense as saying the military’s clerical work culture has weakened combat training quality.

Some military analysts have suggested that Taiwan implement a conscription system similar to Israel’s, in which Israeli men must serve for two and a half years and women for two years. They pointed out that Israel’s population is less than half of Taiwan’s, and its annual defense budget is about 1.7 times that of the East Asian nation.

The WSJ conceded that Taiwan has some military advantages, including having limited beaches suitable for large-scale amphibious landings and the fact that the People’s Liberation Army has little combat experience.

Mandatory conscription in Taiwan began in 1951. By 1981, all conscripts were required to serve for two years.

Over the next 27 years, service time was gradually reduced to one year. Conscription for men born after 1994 was shortened to four months in 2013.