Photo/IllutrationYoung people check out a light armored vehicle at the site of the Self-Defense Forces' joint job fair with Gifu prefectural police in Gifu in 2015. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Alarmed at a manpower shortage, the Defense Ministry is moving to bolster Self-Defense Forces numbers with incentives ranging from freer use of social texting to raising the retirement age and allowing older people to sign up.

The government plans to include the goal of bolstering human resources in National Defense Program Guidelines scheduled to be revised late this month.

Among the three arms of the SDF, the Maritime SDF is hardest hit by falling numbers.

The number of fixed-term Self-Defense Official Cadets plunged to 27,510 in fiscal 2017 from 31,361 in fiscal 2014, falling below the recruitment plans for the fourth straight year.

The ministry in October raised the age limit for cadet candidates from 26 to 32, the first such change in 28 years. It also plans to gradually raise the retirement age that varies from 53 to 60 according to ranks.

Under current conditions, MSDF members are forbidden to contact anyone by e-mail or social media during training at sea, which can be for months at a time. The ban may explain why that branch of the SDF is being shunned by young people.

To make serving one's country sound more attractive, the MSDF introduced a system in May that stores e-mails from private cellphones belonging to members in a server on vessels and sends them to the outside world on a regular basis.

The MSDF also plans to set up a specialized training unit for female officers in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, from next fiscal year to bolster recruitment.

The MSDF is also conferring with the Japan Coast Guard to allow retired MSDF officers to work as coast guard members.