Strive to secure talented human resources

The duties of the Self-Defense Forces are increasing more than ever due to frequent natural disasters and outbreaks of infectious diseases. It is important to secure talented personnel by improving the working conditions and environment of SDF members.

The government is considering measures to strengthen the foundations of the SDF’s human resources in the revisions of the National Security Strategy and the National Defense Program Guidelines scheduled for the end of the year.

An issue emerged in last year’s Diet session when it was revealed that some Self-Defense Force officers purchased toilet paper and other daily necessities out of their own pocket due to budget constraints. Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said he was “surprised” and promised to eliminate such practices.

For many years, the starting salary of personnel who joined the SDF after graduating from high school had been below that of the level of police officers. In fiscal 2020, the government finally raised it to a level comparable to that of police officers.

In addition to its original mission of conducting defense operations and disaster relief, the SDF has been performing many other duties in recent years, such as providing medical assistance in combating the novel coronavirus and culling livestock that have contracted infectious diseases.

Given the special nature of the job, it is essential to improve the treatment of the personnel. The level of pay should be raised by revamping the special service allowances to boost the morale of personnel.

With the declining birth rate, the recruitment environment for the SDF is difficult. The SDF currently has approximately 230,000 personnel — 93% of capacity. In particular, there is a shortage of crew members for naval vessels and submarines, and personnel in the cyber field.

The SDF has about 890 cyber personnel, including members from the cyber defense command established in March and related units of the Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defense Forces. Although it is difficult to make a simple comparison, China’s cyber warfare forces are estimated to number more than 170,000.

The Defense Ministry needs to steadily secure specialists by establishing a personnel affairs system that generously compensates individuals with expertise in digital and artificial intelligence fields. The ministry should also consider establishing a new cyber-related department at the National Defense Academy to enhance its educational system.

It has long been pointed out that the facilities of the Self-Defense Forces are aging.

Of the more than 23,000 Self-Defense Forces facilities nationwide, about 30% are past their intended life span. The dormitory at the Ground Self-Defense Force’s Camp Zentsuji in Kagawa Prefecture is 55 years old, and the administrative building at the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Kanoya Air Base in Kagoshima Prefecture is 86 years old. There are concerns that the personnel in those places will be at risk in the event of a natural disaster.

The situation might be partly due to the fact that the ministry has prioritized the procurement of front-line equipment such as fighter jets and destroyers, and has put off the maintenance of facilities.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party is advocating a large increase in defense spending, including funds for facility maintenance. Even though the severe working conditions of the SDF cannot be left unchecked, Japan’s fiscal conditions are in crisis. When rebuilding and seismic retrofitting facilities, the government must decide what should be prioritized and proceed with it in a planned manner.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 2, 2022)