Taiwan’s Military Has Flashy American Weapons but No Ammo
A young soldier’s suicide reveals the disastrous logistics of an undersupplied army.
Date: August 20, 2020
By: Paul Huang
A U.S.-made F-16V releases flares during the annual Han Kuang military drills in Taichung, Taiwan, on July 16. The five-day drills aimed to test how the armed forces would repel an invasion from China, which has vowed to bring Taiwan back into the fold—by force if necessary. SAM YEH/AFP via Getty Images
As China builds up military forces across the Taiwan strait and vows to take back the island through “any means” necessary, the United States and others hope for a Taiwan that can stand on its own feet against Chinese aggression. But in reality, not only is the Taiwanese military facing a serious shortage of soldiers and an entirely dysfunctional reserve system, as my previous reporting for Foreign Policy revealed, half of its tanks may not be able to run—and even fewer have functional weapons. These failures are costing lives even before China fires a single shot. As Taiwanese politicians showcase flashy U.S. weapons bought with taxpayers’ money, the logistics inside the military remain so abysmal that a young army officer killed himself after being pressured to buy repair parts out of his own pocket.
Huang Zhi-jie was a 30-year-old lieutenant in the Taiwanese army. Initially serving in the airborne troops as an enlisted soldier, Huang was so committed that he requested officer training—normally considered more work for little reward—and was later commissioned as a lieutenant in charge of a maintenance depot of the 269th Mechanized Infantry Brigade. Huang was supposed to be the model soldier of which Taiwan desperately wanted more: a young, college-educated volunteer who chose to serve the country out of his own volition, at a time when the military was still facing difficult transition from conscription to an all-volunteer military.
But on the night of April 16, Huang hung himself on a dark staircase by his base’s mess hall. Initially his death was not even reported in the Taiwanese media, until Huang’s mother took to Facebook in a long open letter appealing to President Tsai Ing-wen for an investigation.