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Military begins smartphone trial runs

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- As part of a set of new incentives to boost voluntary service recruitment, Taiwan's military has launched a series of trial runs at selected military units to allow soldiers to use smartphones at military bases.

The trial run was first launched by the R.O.C. Army in October this year among 35 selected units nationwide. Military personnel in these selected units can enjoy special privileges, including the use of smartphones in designated areas at designated time periods.

The Army previously said the trial run is scheduled to conclude on Dec. 31. If proven successful, the Army will expand the scope of the project and ultimately allow all of its personnel to enjoy similar treatment.

Currently, the military has imposed a ban on soldiers carrying cellphones with video camera functions and Internet connectivity because such devices could pose serious threats to national security.

Aside from the Army, the Military Police Command also launched such a project in two selected units since Dec. 1., according to the Chinese-language United Evening News.

One of the units is the Military Police 211 Battalion, which is responsible for guarding the Presidential Office in downtown Taipei, the newspaper quoted sources as saying.

The battalion has allowed soldiers to bring their smartphones to the base. But these phones have to be kept at a safe box and guarded while these military personnel are on duty or undergoing training.

They can only use them at a recreational center inside the battalion at three time periods each day: 7:30 a.m. to 8:20 a.m.; 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.; and 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., the newspaper said.

The soldiers also have to turn off their phones' GPS functions that could expose their current locations to the outside world. They are also banned from using the video camera functions of their smartphones, the report said.

If the trial run in the battalion proves successful, the Military Police Command could expand the project to all Military Police units nationwide next year, the report said.

More and More Incentives

The latest project is part of the government's newly-launched incentives to boost voluntary service recruitment, which has been sluggish over recent years.

The Cabinet just approved the military's proposal of a NT$2,000 to NT$4,000 pay raise for volunteer soldiers on Thursday. It also approved a hike in subsidies given to military personnel and coastguardsmen who are stationed on outlying islands.

Taiwan's armed forces have only recruited 8,603 men and women in the first 11 months of 2013, fulfilling just 30.15 percent of the MND's target of 28,531.

The military originally expected to abolish the existing conscription system and replace it with a full voluntary system by Jan. 1, 2015.

Facing sluggish volunteer recruitment, the MND announced this September that it would postpone the abolishment of the conscription system by two years to 2017.

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