Military & Aerospace

PLA: Thrust on Integrated Joint War-Fighting
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Issue Vol. 26.4 Oct-Dec 2011 | Date : 26 Dec , 2011

Landmarks of China’s Military Modernisation at the National Level

Editor’s Pick

Having embarked upon the process of first three ‘modernisations’ and gaining a lead of nearly two decades for the economic and technological developments to be firmly set on course, China utilised this period to chart a road map to revamp her military establishment in tune with her current political aspirations. Thus the Chinese strategists have set the stage for a well considered process of military modernisation over the past decade and a half. Notable landmarks of this process at the national level have been identified by China experts as follows:-

  • Upgrade of military-industry based on indigenous technological research and development. This effort is bolstered up with import of dual-use technologies, mainly from US, Europe, Israel, and duly underscored by transfer of military technology from Russia.
  • Thrust on scientific education among the Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers to transform an essentially peasant soldiery into techno-savvy war-fighters. This effort is catalysed by introduction of strong incentives towards enlistment of technically competent candidates into the technical arms of the PLA.
  • Wide ranging restructuring and expansion of military as well as quasi-military industrial base to include the entire range of technologies – nuclear, aviation, missile, space, ship-building, communication, engineering, down to small arms and other wherewithal of war.
  • Sustained increase in defence budget with an average growth of 11.8 percent, going up to 19.47 percent in 2007 and sustained at 12-15 percent thereafter. It is estimated that the actual expenditure on defence may be approximately twice over the declared figure of $ 91.5 billon.
  • Notably, substantial reforms in military logistics, aimed at institutionalising an ‘Integrated Logistic System’ to support intra-service as well as inter-service joint operations, has been instituted.
  • Initiation of high-technology space and counter-space programmes which have latent military usability under the potential for ‘dual-use’ activation. This effort is characterised by thrust on development of reconnaissance, navigation and communication satellites, satellite interception technology, and finally, the lunar orbit mission.
  • Accelerated pace of development of short, intermediate and long range nuclear tipped ballistic as well as cruise missiles, each with ground, air and sea variants of higher accuracy.
  • Introduction of a veiled programme of ‘cyber warfare’, aimed at inducing collapse in the adversary’s civil as well as military data network.
  • Constitution of the current CMC, with its collegiums extended to commanders of the General Armament Department (GAD), PLA Air Force (PLAF) and PLA Navy (PLAN) is another important pointer towards the Chinese thinking on IJW; so far the CMC was dominated by army generals.

The Concept of IJW at the Military Level

Far reaching steps towards modernisation is also discernible within the PLA, the term being synonymous with all the three services. These may be summarised as follows :-

“¦PLA will have the capability of undertaking conjoined and all-service operations in demonstrative, posturing and remote or stand-off modes”¦

  • Restructure of higher command and control hierarchy, wherein the ‘Military Regions’ (MR) have been regrouped into just seven and are staffed by combined services officers and some techno-experts. The MRs are directly controlled by the CMC – an apex political body – and in turn, exercise substantial authority over the military industry and development establishments as well as the civil administration in their respective regions. This is a pointer towards strategic synergy in coupling military and civilian assets that promotes the concept of IJW.
  • Thrust on across-the board modernisation and within its ambit, pronounced expansion of the PLAF and PLAN to infuse strategic capabilities into these two so far subservient services. Longer ranges of operation, precision strike capability and multi-dimensional architecture are the hallmarks of this development. Thus while the PLAF is slated for upgrade with newer versions of fighter–bombers, strategic bomber fleet, air defence and precision missiles, PLAN is on its way towards acquisition of modern submarines, surface combatants with over-the-horizon missiles, a dedicated carrier based air-arm and fast patrol crafts. Significantly, grouping of air-borne and marine corps of three division equivalent each with the PLAF and the PLAN respectively, as well as the inter-service character of the ‘Special Operation Forces’ (SOF), is another aspect of strategic orbatting. These developments are indicative of complimentary deployment of inter-services resources to prosecute IJW, with each service assigned to specific roles in the overall scheme of war-effort.

As regards the PLA Ground Forces, China has appreciated that it was well neigh impossible to upgrade the entire orbat of 90 odd divisions in the near future. Accordingly, under a pragmatically conceived plan, the following steps have been taken :-

Chinas military strategy stands to be reinforced with various quasi-military efforts, wherein interference with the adversarys data-information network, fact-manipulating propaganda and even recourse to imposition of her unilateral interpretation of international laws”¦

  • Right-sizing to 38 odd divisions and 40 odd brigades (1.25 million men) of varying, role-specific structure. In addition, restructure of artillery aims at grouping into 23 artillery brigade equivalents.
  • Conversion of most of the balance units and the dated equipment profile of these into ‘People’s Armed Border/Police Forces’ (PAP), for deployment in border management and internal security roles. This is followed up with demobilisation and redesignation of the rest; in any case, these were mostly engaged in non-military roles.
  • Selective earmarking of a dozen odd divisions for comprehensive modernisation that includes designation of ‘Rapid Reaction Forces’ (RRF) and the SOF, thus creating what is termed as ‘Packets of Excellence’ (POE).
  • Alignment of training in tune with the American concept of ‘Land Warrior Project’, as enunciated in their “Outline for Military Training and Evaluation”, that was issued by the GSD in 2007. Participation in UN Missions and joint exercises with US, Russian and Indian Armies are parts of this scheme.

In the overall context of military strategy, the aforesaid restructuring of the PLA Ground Forces indicates an effort towards judicious management of redundancy and conformation to the concept of IJW. In the coming days, therefore, PLA will have the capability of undertaking conjoined and all-service operations in demonstrative, posturing and remote or stand-off modes for which, in the past, it had to depend upon limited- capability, manpower-heavy and time consuming deployment of Ground Forces alone. Obviously, there would be marked improvements in the quality, depth and range of support accorded to the Ground Forces, when deployed, coming from the PLAF and the PLAN.

Finally, application of inter-services IJW at the strategic level is manifested by the following far-reaching initiatives :-

  • Integration of military logistics, including ground, air and sea transportation of forces (lift of one division equivalent each), and adoption of an ‘Unified Supply System’.
  • Centralised control over Information Warfare resources – reconnaissance, navigation, unmanned aerial vehicles, etc. – and regular upgrade of the ‘Second Artillery Corps’ that operates nuclear and missile forces.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Gautam Banerjee

former Commandant Officers Training Academy, Chennai.

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