Editorial Notes

Taiwan's troops deserve much better treatment: The China Post

Taiwan military soldiers stand guard next to a 155-millimeter howitzer during the Han Kuang 31 live fire drill in Hsinchu, northern Taiwan, on Sept 10, 2015.
Taiwan military soldiers stand guard next to a 155-millimeter howitzer during the Han Kuang 31 live fire drill in Hsinchu, northern Taiwan, on Sept 10, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

In its editorial on Sept 27, 2015, The China Post calls for more spending on armed forces

Taiwan's military has seen a few incidents — one of them likely to be a fatal plane crash — this month, and they all have pointed to one major common problem: the Armed Forces are not properly equipped or protected. 

As of Friday, rescuers were still searching for a locally developed AT-3 trainer jet believed to have crashed in the mountains of Central Taiwan.

The plane and its two pilots remain missing since the aircraft disappeared suddenly on the radar screen Tuesday without leaving any clues as to its fate.

Earlier in the month, there were some embarrassing developments concerning the Armed Forces' poor equipment. 

A lieutenant colonel from the Marine's elite frogmen corps was reprimanded for bragging about having spent NT$130,000 (S$5,622.50) buying his own equipment and weaponry to replace the military-issued gear. He said the military-issued gear was not up to his standards in terms of protection and performance.

Around the same time, a soldier was lauded by military authorities for bringing in his own sewing machine to mend the knapsacks for his unit, which was said to be unable to afford to buy new ones.

Why would the elite officer and the lowly soldier have to dig into their own pockets to be properly equipped? Isn't that the military's responsibility?

The soldier apparently wasn't doing it because of environmental concerns. The lieutenant colonel might have been showing off, but it highlighted the fact that the gear for his team is inferior to that of his U.S. counterparts.

Based on this, are the elite Air Force pilots properly equipped or protected?

The AT-3 jet trainer that went missing on Tuesday was developed locally in the 1980s. A total of 62 AT-3s have been built, but since then the aircraft model was involved in 12 incidents with a fatality tally of seven before Tuesday.

The AT-3 underwent mid-life upgrades in the mid-2000s to extend its service life beyond 2016.

But it seems neither the original design nor the upgrade addressed one major issue: there are no tracing devices on board in case of a crash.

And that is the reason why the rescuers have been unable to locate the plane so far.

We can't pass judgment on whether the trainer jet was reliable, as the cause of the incident has yet to be determined. It could have been a case of human error.

But 13 incidents — including the one on Tuesday — since the plane's introduction amount to quite a lot for a fleet of 62. 

The Air Force has a fleet of U.S-made F-16 jet fighters and another of French-made Mirage 2000s. It is also seeking to buy upgraded versions of the F-16s.

Pilots flying these advanced jets may be well-protected, but before they have the opportunity to fly them, they have to work with a trainer jet that has a poor track record. 

One of the missing pilots from the Tuesday incident is a 23-year-old trainee, who is now unlikely to have a chance to fly an F-16 or Mirage 2000. 

The troops at military drills may look smartly dressed and equipped, but a lot of commentators have noted that the troops generally have to live with old and broken gear in their daily lives at their barracks. 

They may have newer gear, but that is not meant for daily use and has to be saved for special occasions, such as military drills or equipment inspections. 

So the military authorities would tell you that their inspections have shown that all the troops are properly equipped; but many conscripts who have served in the military would tell you how they were given old uniforms and equipment when they reported to their units.

That Marine officer may be one of the few lucky ones in the military despite his complaints about not being properly equipped. But he probably doesn't have to wear a ragged uniform. 

A lot of commentators have sarcastically called the R.O.C. military the "beggar troops." 

Those who make sacrifices to defend the country deserve much better. 

The China Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 newspapers seeking to promote coverage of Asian affairs