By Taiwan News editor
On Monday, the nation’s military preparedness again stole local media attention when a disgruntled navy officer complained that the standard government-issued gear is outdated and lacks in quality.
According to a report by the Chinese-language Apple Daily, an officer surnamed Hsu ranted on his Facebook page that he has had to spend nearly NT$130,000 (US$4,330) of his own money to buy new protective vests and helmets as the standard gear failed to meet expectations.
Hsu is a Lieutenant Colonel with the Republic of China Marine Corps (ROCMC) and an executive officer (XO) of the Amphibious Reconnaissance and Patrol Unit.
The conundrum fueled a public debacle when the Minister of National Defense Kao Kuang-chi was quick to set aside allegations that it has not done enough to upgrade the nation’s military equipment, including personalized gear and tactical accessories for its specialized troops. To make matters even more speculative, Kao returned later in the day with another press conference (this time more assertive) saying military personnel are prohibited from buying non-standardized military equipment, and that Hsu’s actions were, in retrospect, against military regulations.
To the majority of male Taiwanese having already served in the island’s conscript army, rants about military equipment may seem a dime a dozen. We all know what it is like from the inside – there is absolutely nothing to brag about, gear-wise (let alone the wishy-washy training). But, Hsu is a career professional, a Special Forces officer. His pet peeve should instead carry more weight.
There are already several cases in which military procurement and standard of equipment for the nation’s Special Forces have sparked controversies and scandals.
Last month, procurement irregularities were found involving the Army Command Headquarters procurement program, with discrepancies found in the quantity of tactical gear purchased for soldiers and items not meeting the required specifications.
Based on the results of the investigation, the protective vests purchased did not have the anti-infrared functions that were stipulated in the procurement tender, features that enable nighttime stealth for soldiers to avoid detection by infrared cameras and thermal imaging devices.
According to media reports, the irregularities and questionable items were part of last year’s NT$1.27 billion (US$39.12 million) army procurement program, which bought tactical gear for soldiers, patrol boats and among other things.
Another controversy surrounding the military’s disproportionate, questionable gear is the Special Forces anti-ballistic face mask, dubbed the “Army of Two” face armor as described by netizens and critics.
The mask, unveiled for the first time during the Double Ten parade in 2013, is designed to protect the wearer from close range shots. Rated at Threat Level IIIA, it can take a hit from a .44 magnum. Although it may sound impressive, the downside is that the mask gives a soldier poor peripheral vision, a feature military observers often ponder what it will do for their combat effectiveness.
In other words, the soldiers’ vision is exchanged for the ability to avoid being wounded from bullets, shrapnel and other ballistic threats to the face. It is actually recommended that those who wear these masks shouldn’t expect to proficiently jump, climb or crawl while wearing the gear because it will impede their ability to do so.
“Chabuduoism,” a literal Chinese translation of “more or less” or “near enough” in English, has long been a word coined (and founded) by expatriates living in Taiwan to sarcastically describe the way things are done on the island – from a sociological perspective. The case with Lieutenant Colonel Hsu, the procurement scandal, and the questionable face mask are just some of the clear shots of chabuduoism played out by the government. These misgivings could have been avoided if it had shown more far sight and conscientiousness in their prep work.
Indeed, as with the United States Marine Corps (USMC), the entire ROCMC is considered elite. The principal maneuver groups are three brigades supported by an Amphibious Armor Group. Within this group are Amphibious Transport Squadrons and Amphibious Artillery Squadrons. There is also the Amphibious Reconnaissance Group, which is considered to be the elite unit within the Marines.
Should Taiwan ever go into conflict with China (or anyone else for that matter), the island would depend largely on smaller, well-trained Special Forces (or career troops) rather than the majority of its traditional, regular conscript Army. Moreover, importance would be placed upon Taiwan’s amphibious units, which can strike behind the lines of an invader or protect the island’s offshore islands.
Despite being a peacetime army, Taiwan should not let its guard down by taking the ever-growing economic relations with China for granted. For now, all we can do is hope that chabuduoism will not take a huge toll on the military in case conflicts erupt.