Taiwan's All-Volunteer Force Program Marks Year One

  • Date:2019/04/01

“From 2020, young people who want to join the military may need to queue for a spot or demonstrate specialized skills to have an opportunity. The trend in the volunteer force has, for the most part, held steady…despite the twists and turns on the issue.”

--(Ret.) Capt. Hsin-biao Jiang, ROCN, policy analyst Division of National Defense Strategies and Policies (國防戰略與政策研究所)

Taiwan’s All-Volunteer Force Program Marks Year One

On 1 January 2018, Taiwan’s All-Volunteer Force (“AVF”) program came into effect, ushering out 67 years of conscription. It came into effect after three presidential administrations and nearly two decades of debate – both inside and outside of Taiwan – about the pros and cons of a small island nation relying on volunteer military men and women who are vastly outnumbered by a much larger adversary across the Taiwan Strait.

The goal of the AVF is a professionalized and specialized force – in line with the needs of informationized warfare (資訊化戰爭), which is raising the bar on the technological and professional requirements for combat troops, writes (Ret.) Capt. Hsin-biao Jiang (江炘杓), ROCN, policy analyst with the Division of National Defense Strategies and Policies (國防戰略與政策研究所), in the April 2019 edition of Defense Situation Monthly (國防情勢月報).

In the era of asymmetric and informationized warfare, winning the battle will be about soldier quality, advanced weaponry and troop motivation. The key is not quantity. Improved retention rates, recruitment stability and a focus on qualitative skills and training add to morale. A look at results of the trial run for voluntary military service since 2003 (see below table) show an underlying stability in the absolute numbers of men and women signing up, and a correlation in higher recruitment figures with years when military service conditions and benefits improved, according to data analysis by Jiang.

Last year, Taiwan’s military achieved 82.86% of its targeted end strength
[2] for its volunteer force (志願役人力 編現比[3]). This is estimated to reach 85% in 2019. The aim is for Taiwan’s military to meet 90% of its targeted end strength for its volunteer force in 2020.

Interestingly, Jiang finds that, in Taiwan, those who favor conscription tend to provide their views online and through the media to give themselves a louder voice, while proponents for an all-volunteer force discuss the issue in scientific discourse through literary journals.

At this moment, it is not helpful to argue which system – conscription or all-volunteer – is superior or inferior. The current focus should be on figuring out how to get the new military service system steady and stable, rather than negating it because of its shortcomings.

The following table shows the number of recruits from the trial run for voluntary military service
[4] since 2003, compiled by Jiang from open source materials.

                                                                                                                          (estimated figures)

Year Targeted recruits Actual recruits Target rate
2003 647 328 50.70%
2004 10,550 15,024 142.31%
2005 14,000 18,550 132.50%
2006 15,000 16,763 111.75%
2007 15,260 17,224 112.87%
2008 14,000 9,267 66.19%
2009 14,370 10,303 71.70%
2010 25,000 15,000 60.00%
2011 11,490 6,500 56.57%
2012 15,310 11,069 72.30%
2013 28,530 8,603 30.15%
2014 10,560 15,024 142.27%
2015 14,000 18,550 132.50%
2016 15,000 16,880 112.53%
2017 15,000 16,084 107.20%

Citing a survey
[5] on the retention rate in Taiwan’s Air Force published in August 2016, Jiang notes that what mattered most for personnel voluntarily choosing to serve in the military were their expectations of the institution, followed by the influence of their peers and, thirdly, economic prospects for their family. 
[1] Defense Situation Monthly (國防情勢月報) is our Chinese-language newsletter authored by INDSR experts that addresses overall defense and international security issues.
[2] End strength is defined as the total number of military personnel authorized in a budget for a fiscal year.
[3] 編現比是編制員額和實際員額的比列假設全軍編制人數100實際人數80編現比就是80%
[4] 志願役士兵需求與召募成果
[5] 張毓騰、吳杰修,〈應用層級分析法探討空軍志願役人員留任的因素之研究〉,《管理資訊計算》,第5卷第2期(20168月),頁83-84