‘If there is a war I’ll become fodder’ In Taiwan, former conscripts feel unprepared for potential conflict with China | CNN


Taipei, Taiwan

Growing concerns about China’s more aggressive military maneuvers have prompted the Taiwan to extend the period of compulsory military service Most of the young men had to serve. But a former conscript interviewed by CNN said that Taipei will have to do more to make the training effective.

Outdated, boring and unusable. That’s the verdict of six men who interviewed CNN about their recent experience in Taiwan’s military service.

They describe a process designed decades ago with a heavy emphasis on bayonet training. But it lacks advice on urban combat tactics or modern weapons such as drones. Some say there are too few rifles to carry. Or the weapons they trained with were too old to use. Others described them as “specializing” in artillery, grenade and mortar units, but never received the ammunition to practice with.

Their criticisms come at a crucial time for the Taiwanese military. President Tsai Ing-wen recently announced that the conscription period for men born on or after 2005 will be extended from four months to one year, saying the current system It no longer “fits the needs” of island defense. The army said the rethink was based on comparisons with the armies of other democratic jurisdictions with longer conscription periods, such as South Korea (18-21 months), Singapore (24 months) and Israel (24-30 months).

The island’s military strengthening has become a key issue for Tsai. who has previously spoken of the need to underscore Taiwan’s commitment to self-defense amid increasingly harsh voices from Beijing. The self-governing Communist Party of China claims democratic autonomy of 23.5 million people as part of its territory, although it has never controlled it. and sent a record number of air and sea patrols to harass. Since former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited in August, Chinese leader Xi Jinping has repeatedly refused to rule out the use of force to “reunite the island” with mainland China.

“No one wants war,” Tsai said in December announcing the extension of his compulsory service. “This is true for the government and people of Taiwan. and the world community But peace doesn’t come from the sky. and Taiwan is at the forefront of the expansion of totalitarianism.”

Military drills in Taiwan simulate China's invasion on January 6, 2022.

But ex-military recruits were skeptical, telling CNN that the issue of conscription was not in such a short time frame. and will only be addressed by a thorough renovation.

Tsai admits that many people feel that being a soldier “Waste of time”

“In our company We have more than 100 assault rifles, but only slightly more than a dozen can be used for practice shooting,” said Frank Liu, a 26-year-old auditor from central Changhua County on duty in 2021. He said. About 140 conscripts were trained in his company.

“Many assault rifles have been produced for decades. and many of them were too worn out for practice. Weapons have to be rotated.”

Paul Lee, a factory manager from Taipei who worked in 2018, had a similar experience.

“We didn’t shoot a lot during military training,” Lee said. “I was training with the T65 assault rifle, and I only fired about 40 rounds during the entire training.

“I am worried that many The people who trained with me wouldn’t even be able to confidently operate a rifle.”

A reservist soldier takes part in a military exercise at a military base in Taoyuan City, Taiwan, March 12, 2022.

under current rules The four-month active duty period is usually split into two parts: five weeks of basic training and 11 weeks of ground training at a military base.

during ground training Recruits are often assigned as special specialists. But even so, some say they only get a rough insight.

Dennis, a 25-year-old engineer from Taichung who served last year, said although he was assigned to specialize in artillery But he never learned how to shoot a gun. Because the trainers were worried that the recruits might get hurt. He asked to be identified by his real name only because he was still a reserve.

“We were assigned a simple task. And we spend most of our time cleaning and rinsing artillery wagons,” he said. And I was ordered to work as an artilleryman. I think I’ll just become fodder.”

Adam Yu, a 27-year-old designer from the northern city of Keelung who served in 2018 and specializes in mortars and grenade launchers, said although he was shown how to prepare weapons But he never received ammunition or practiced shooting.

“I’m not sure if I can use those weapons,” Yu said, adding, “I still don’t know how those weapons should be used on the battlefield.”

That sentiment was echoed by another former conscript with the surname Liu. The 28-year-old salesman specializes in data processing with the Air Force. and trained in southern Pingtung County in 2015. He also asked to remain anonymous. It said he may still be called up for further reserve training.

“Our commander rarely teaches anything during ground training. Because they feel that we will only be here for a few months. And it won’t make much difference for them,” he said.

New recruits train bayonets at military training center in Hsinchu  Northern Taiwan on April 22, 2013.

Taiwan has a professional militia force, which as of last year consisted of 162,000 active-duty soldiers, according to the Yuan Legislature. What’s more, approximately 70,000 men complete the military service every year.

Conscripts were required to undergo a period of physical training and were taught to shoot a rifle and use a bayonet.

Many people who spoke to CNN questioned the amount of time it took to practice bayonets. By reasoning that the bayonet training is outdated. Although some armies still teach bayonet training in their enlistment training programs, they still teach bayonet training.

“I think bayonet training is a waste of time. Because I really can’t figure it out. How can we put it into practice?” said Frank Liu.

“Look at the Russo-Ukrainian War. Many types of weapons were used. When did a soldier have to use a bayonet to attack an enemy? I think it’s really outdated.”

Yu, from Keelung City, said his superiors paid great attention to bayonet training. as part of the final exam

“We were told to memorize a series of slogans,” he said. We must obey the command of the unit leader with a specific chant for each movement. And we have to repeat it in the exam.”

Some of these criticisms were tacitly acknowledged, or otherwise, when Tsai announced the extension of his conscription and in a press release by the Department of Defense in early January.

The ministry said that when the new policy begins in 2024, all recruits will fire at least 800 rounds while on duty. And they will be trained in new weapons such as anti-tank missiles and drones. Bayonet training will be modified to include other forms of close combat training. and conscripts may participate in military exercises with professional soldiers. meanwhile Basic training will increase from five weeks to eight weeks.

Su Tzu-yun, director of the National Defense and Security Research Institute of Taiwan The government-funded warlord said he was confident the reforms would boost the island’s combat capability.

He also thought that it was valuable to keep bayonet training in the course.

“It increases a soldier’s prowess and aggression,” he said. They might as well use a bayonet as an alternative.”

A CH-147F Chinook participates in a Chinese New Year Pre-Combat Readiness Exercise at a military base in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, January 11.

Su added, Although modern weapons are included in the new training curriculum. But not every soldier can learn to shoot a gun. because it will be too expensive

“In the United States, the practice of javelin [anti-tank missiles] run through the simulation Because each missile costs $70,000 and not everyone can shoot them,” he said. The commander then selects a few soldiers to practice shooting.”

Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement to CNN that it had invited experts to attend a number of academic seminars on reforming the conscription system. And accept a lot of suggestions to increase the intensity of training.

Still, not everyone believed it.

“I don’t think that extending the deployment alone will lead to better national defense,” said Lin Ying-yu, an assistant professor at Tamkang University’s Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies.

He said the “more important questions” involved clarifying the type of training new recruits will receive.

and on this issue Former conscripts who spoke to CNN still didn’t believe it.

“When I saw that they wanted to add drones to their training. My question is – will we have one drone per person and multiple opportunities to practice flying?” Yu said.

“If they stick to old teaching methods They will tell us to follow their advice. and memorizing its weight and flight distance And we won’t be able to process it.”

A recruit’s fear is that the new form of compulsory service may look like a very old one, but it will be longer.

“during duty Most of the time we are asked to do tedious tasks like moving weapons around. to show the commander And we spend a lot of time waiting,” says engineer Dennis.

It remains to be seen whether recruits’ time will be used more efficiently when the new rules come out next year. But all parties agree that the stakes are high.

“Active citizens are the foundation and foundation of our will to resist,” said Enok Wu, founder of the civil defense think tank Forward Alliance and a member of Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party.

“If the public decides that our home is not worth fighting for – or we don’t have a chance – you can have the most professional soldiers. And it’s still too late.”

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