Defense Ministry Eyes Improving Treatment of SDF Officials

Courtesy of the Defense Ministry
Self-Defense Forces cadets practice marching.

The Defense Ministry is looking to improve the treatment of Self-Defense Forces personnel, whose numbers continue to fall short of the prescribed number, in order to secure the people who will strengthen the nation’s defense capabilities.

To do so, the ministry will expand student loans for those who wish to join the SDF and improve their living environment after enlistment.

However, the difficulty in recruiting new personnel is expected to continue due to the declining birth rate, and an expert has called for measures based on the assumption that the number of such personnel will decrease in the future.

Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada has expressed his intention to accelerate the strengthening of measures to secure human resources for the SDF.

“The Defense Ministry has a sense of alarm that competition for securing manpower will become even fiercer. We’d like to carry out the measures swiftly, with a view to making our budgetary request for the next fiscal year,” Hamada said at a press conference on Aug. 8.

The current student loan program provides a loan of ¥54,000 per month to students in their third year of university or above majoring in science or engineering, and exempts them from repayment if they join the SDF upon graduation. The ministry is considering extending the program to liberal arts students as well as increasing the loan amount in the future.

It has become common for the SDF to fail to secure the legally prescribed number of personnel, with the figure in the last fiscal year totaling 227,843, or about 92% of the quota of 247,154. There is a particularly acute shortage of fixed-term personnel, with the number hired last fiscal year reaching only 43% of the targeted number of 9,245.

Fixed-term personnel are recruited from among high school graduates and other young people. The government has also provided subsidies for them: If they want to go on to university after leaving the SDF, they can receive support for living expenses on the condition that they register as a reservist and the like.

The ministry is also considering further increasing the benefit.

In June, a cadet who was a candidate to be fixed-term personnel was involved in a shooting incident. Hamada, concerned about an adverse impact on SDF recruitment, called on those who are considering joining the SDF to do so “by keeping high ideals.”

A report on securing human resources that a panel of experts at the ministry compiled in July was designed to appeal to young people.

The report refers to the need for a review of shared rooms in SDF barracks, saying, “For young people who have grown up in private rooms at their homes, living in an environment without privacy may have become a greater burden on their minds than deemed necessary.”

In addition to promoting the use of substitute days off for working on holidays and paid leave and considering increases in salary and allowances for SDF personnel, the report also called for changing or scrapping restrictions on hair style and color “to the extent that it does not undermine public trust in them.”

The expansion of loans and other programs, which the ministry is considering including in its budgetary request, is a response to the recommendations made by the report. The ministry will, step by step, reflect the recommendations in its budget requests and a review of recruitment methods for the next fiscal year and later.

“Given Japan’s demographic trends, it’s difficult to maintain the current quota of SDF personnel. The development of defense capabilities should be considered on the premise that the number of personnel will decrease,” said Kazumasa Oguro, a professor at Hosei University and an expert on demographic issues. Oguro praised the idea of improving the treatment of SDF personnel and said that the SDF should take comprehensive measures, including the use of drones.