Sufficient Human Resources Vital to Enhance Defense Capabilities

It is doubtful that defense capabilities can be strengthened unless there is an improvement in the current situation, in which the number of Self-Defense Forces personnel being lower than the recruitment quota has become the norm. The Defense Ministry needs to steadily implement measures to secure human resources for the SDF.

An expert study panel of the ministry has released a report on strengthening the personnel base of the SDF. The report expresses a sense of urgency that with the declining birth rate, “competition for personnel will become even fiercer” and proposes strengthening recruitment activities and improving working conditions for SDF personnel.

As of the end of March, there were about 228,000 SDF personnel, about 19,000 fewer than the recruitment quota. Particularly serious are the numbers in the lower ranks of “shi” in Japanese — equivalent to a private, seaman or airman — who operate on the front lines, with more than 13,000 fewer than the quota.

Without enough frontline personnel, it will be difficult to respond to various missions, such as warning and surveillance activities and disaster relief operations. There are also concerns that morale will deteriorate due to increased individual workloads and that proficiency will be lacking due to inadequate training.

As the security environment around Japan rapidly deteriorates, the SDF intend to expand their missions, including the possession of “counterattack capabilities” to attack enemy missile launching sites and other locations for the purpose of self-defense.

There is an urgent need not only to secure the necessary SDF personnel but also to rectify the distorted rank structure, which has resulted in a shortage of frontline personnel.

From this perspective, the report focuses on increasing salaries and allowances.

The report urges the government to examine the pay systems of other countries’ armed forces and revise the pay system for SDF personnel so that it is commensurate with their duties. Considering the difficult tasks and work on remote islands, improving their treatment is worthy of consideration. The hope is that the issue will be carefully discussed to gain the public’s understanding.

Another key element of the report is securing high-quality human resources.

The expert study panel proposes the introduction of a system to recruit civilians with advanced skills and knowledge in fields such as cyberspace and space as SDF officers for a limited period of time. The system is intended to bring cutting-edge technology for military and civilian purposes, known as “dual-use” technology, into the SDF.

If specialized personnel are able to actively move back and forth between the public and private sectors, it should be possible to expect an improvement in the technological level of the nation as a whole. When handling classified information, it is hoped that the SDF will take all possible measures to protect information, such as thorough aptitude evaluations for personnel, including background checks.

In addition to securing SDF personnel, it is important to utilize the human resources available. The SDF must introduce in a planned manner naval vessels and drones that can be operated with fewer personnel.

The SDF have experienced a series of incidents involving sexual harassment and harassment by supervisors. It goes without saying that the constitution of the SDF needs to be improved in order to secure human resources.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 3, 2023)