Taiwan ended compulsory military service on 26 December 2018, when the final group of 412 conscripts was discharged. By 2018, Taiwan had approximately 215,000 personnel in the armed forces (approximately 70 percent of whom were volunteers), supported by approximately 1.7 million reservists and nearly 1 million civil defense volunteers. Taiwan’s military modernization program envisions a continued decrease in Taiwan’s active duty force to approximately 175,000 personnel as part of the transition to an all-volunteer force by 2019. This transition has slowed due to severe difficulties recruiting enough volunteers.
The cost savings from manpower reductions provides some margin to improve individual pay and benefits, housing, and incentive pay; however, these savings have been insufficient to cover the full increase in manpower-related costs needed to attract and retain personnel under the new system. The unanticipated magnitude of transition costs has led Taiwan to divert funds from foreign and indigenous defense acquisition programs, as well as near-term training and readiness.
In the past, because the military’s capacity to train new recruits was insufficient, most new college graduates had to wait up to six months to start performing their military service, with only a small fraction of them being able to do so within one or two months of graduation. This delay translated into wasted time for the young men, who could not enter the workforce in the interim period due to the uncertainty of the waiting time. The situation also indirectly contributes to an increase in the nation’s unemployment rate.
The military planned to streamline total military personnel from its 2004 force level of 300,000 servicemen to 265,000 men by 2009, three years earlier than was projected by former Defense Minister Tang Yiau-ming. According to the 2008 defense budget plan, as of the end of 2009, the number of military personnel was to be reduced to a total of 275,000, including 250,000 on the regular MND payroll. On 05 December 2008 Vice Defense Minister Chang Liang-jen said that the Ministry of National Defense (MND) had started planning to push a fully professional voluntary military service system in a bid to build the country's military into "lean and mean" fighting force.
The fully volunteer military program would be promoted in a gradual manner, with the number of uniformed men and women recruited through a voluntary enlistment system increasing 10 percent year-on-year from 2010 and eventually reaching a fully volunteer force by 2014, Chang said during a forum held in Taipei. According to an MND budget plan, the number of military personnel will have been reduced to a total of 275,000 by the end of 2008, including 250,000 on the regular MND payroll.
On 19 January 2009 the Ministry of National Defense (MND) said in a statement that the military was still working on a troop restructuring plan that will be drawn up based on the principles of integrating its service branches for combat missions and maintaining its overall combat capabilities. The ministry issued the statement after the China Times, a Taipei-based Chinese-language newspaper, reported that day that the military will proceed with a plan to slash the number of troops to facilitate its all-volunteer service program. According to the report, the military will cut the country's current 275,000 troops over the next four years, but had yet to decide on the level of cuts. The paper speculated that the final target would be 180,000 troops.
According to statistics released 01 September 2014 by the Ministry of National Defense (MND), a total of 21,294 men and women had applied to join the Taiwan military since January. The number is almost double that of the MND's original annual target of 10,557. President Ma Ying-jeou attributed the recruitment success to a salary raise for volunteer soldiers that was approved by the government earlier in the year as well as a series of reforms within the military to offer a better environment for military personnel.
As of 2014 Taiwan aimed to trim its armed forces to 215,000 by the end of the year. Defense Minister Yen Ming said that a planned program to further trim the country's military personnel to below 200,000 by the end of 2019 will be formally implemented in 2015. The goal will be to cut the number of troops to between 170,000 and 190,000, according to Yen.
In order to establish the military officers’ and soldiers’ correct cognition toward “the nationalized military”, the MND actively carried out various propaganda and education in 2012. The proportion of the military education in various troops, organizations, and schools was increased to mold the loyal and brave integrity of “not being greedy, not being afraid of death, loving country, and loving civilians,” and to shape the military officers and soldiers to have moral integrity and be promising by imperceptible influence.
Following the governmental guidance, the MND has been diligently promoting gender equality. By hosing “Gender Equality Promotion Taskforce” meeting periodically, the MND has been inserting views of gender quality into policy discussions. The number of female members has grown to over 23,000 in 2019 from a little more than 15,000 in 2012, amount to 12.4% of the total force. With the climbing trend of female participation, the MND continues improving their living quarters, providing nursery rooms, and offering childcare assistance and information, in order to create a gender friendly environment.
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