Apache case exposes decades of military malpractice
The ongoing Apache scandal has become the top news in Taiwanese media over the past week, after first being exposed to the public late last month.
It all started with four photos posted by local TV personality Janet Lee ( ) on her Facebook page on March 29, including one of her in the cockpit of an AH64E Apache, one of Taiwan’s most advanced attack helicopters, which is supposed to be off limits to the general public.
It was later revealed that the photographs were taken during a tour arranged by Lt. Col. Lao Nai-cheng ( ), the deputy head of a helicopter squadron in Taoyuan under the Army Aviation Special Forces Command, where the Apache helicopters are based.
Lao was found to have taken a group of people, including Lee, her relatives and friends, and even some foreign nationals, to see the Apaches at their base in Longtan on March 29 without undergoing due procedures or approval from his superiors.
In a typical response to such a crisis, the R.O.C. Army originally attempted to limit the impact of the scandal by punishing only a few officers for their negligence.
But with more media attention, it later turned out that this incident might not have been the first time Lao arranged such a trip to a restricted military base for select civilians.
It was also later found that Lao had not returned a NT$2 million Apache flight helmet after a training mission last October but rather had worn it as part of a Halloween costume at a party at his home.
Lao has been suspended and is under investigation for his alleged role in the case. But the incident has since snowballed into an even wider scandal that has ultimately led to the military launching a full-scale reform on tightening military discipline.
Several senior military officials, including Chief of the General Staff Gen. Yen De-fa ( ) and Army Commander Gen. Chiu Kuo-cheng ( ) were also punished over the incidents.
The scandal has been drawing widespread media criticism and public scrutiny over the loose security within Taiwan’s military that could jeopardize national security.
However, The China Post believes that the incident has also exposed decades of malpractice in the nation’s military; namely, that some rules are not applied to some “privileged personnel,” as was apparently the case with Lao.
Widely considered to be a rising star in the Army Aviation Special Forces Command, Lao, 40, fluent in English, is one of the few seed instructors the Taiwan military sent to the U.S. to undergo training in flying the Apache helicopters in 2012.
Born into a military family, Lao’s father was a former Army deputy chief of staff.
His specialty in training and family background meant he was seen as a future star in the Army and a popular figure who may have been entitled to certain privileges in the Army Aviation Special Forces Command.
This could also explain why he was able to take civilians onto the military base to take a closer look at the supposedly off-limits choppers without undergoing due procedures or first gaining approval from his superiors.
This is all part of the so-called unwritten military rules whereby some regulations may not apply to certain privileged individuals.
That is also why during a review meeting held by the Defense Ministry on military discipline on Wednesday, Defense Minister Kao Kuang-chi said he would call on the military to reinforce discipline, saying: “the culture of giving preferential treatment” to a certain few must be eradicated.
The latest scandal, though seriously damaging the image of the R.O.C. Armed Forces, does have its merits in calling public attention to such unwritten rules in the military that need to be amended, and the sooner the better.
The China Post sincerely hopes that the scandal can ultimately become a turning point for Taiwan’s military so that it can continue to move in the right direction for the benefit of the nation.