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Japan hopes to build a brainier defense force with beefier pay

Move aimed at attracting tech-savvy recruits to confront high-tech threats

TOKYO -- Japan is looking to beef up its Self-Defense Forces with a smarter type of warrior to confront expected security challenges in the high-technology arena and is willing to pay for it.

Starting next fiscal year, the Ministry of Defense plans to raise the starting monthly salary of cadets more than 5% to above 140,000 yen ($1,187). However, new recruits will need at least a high school diploma or equivalent and have to pass tougher exams in Japanese, math, social studies and writing.

New threats are seen coming from both cyberspace and outer space, and the ministry wants more intellectually nimble personnel to defend the country.

The ministry submitted related bills to the extraordinary session of the Diet, which convened this month.

Men and women aged between 18 and 33 are eligible to join after meeting the requirements. Once enlisted, new cadets will undergo a three-month training regimen before being put on a fixed-term payroll as private, seaman apprentice or airman third class. They will form the lowest ranks of the defense forces.

In fiscal 2018, these low-ranking personnel made up the biggest segment of SDF recruits at 47%.

SDF special operations forces during training: The defense ministry wants future recruits to have both brains and brawn. (Courtesy of Ground Self-Defense Force)

In addition to academic records, the ministry will evaluate athletic achievements, such as records at national-level sports events. Language skills and other qualifications will also be assessed.

The higher admission standards should not have a negative impact on recruitment. In fiscal 2018, only 3.3% of the cadets who enlisted were junior high school graduates while 77.9% graduated from high school.

The country's Self-Defense Forces have been competing for recruits with private-sector companies and police in recent years as the economy improves, hence the better pay packages. The population of eligible young people is also shrinking.

As a result, the ministry has only been able to meet about 70% of its recruitment targets.

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