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Vietnamese People's Army (Ground Forces)

The Ground Forces is not organized into a separate command, but rather is under the direct guidance and command of the Ministry of National Defence, the General Staff, the General Political Department, and under the specific direction of general departments and other functional agencies. In the early days, the VPA was composed of the Ground Forces only, mainly infantry. Over time, the Ground Forces have gradually developed in organization and strength to meet the requirements, circumstances and fighting modes of the Vietnam peoples war.

Of all the military branches withing the PAVN, the army is the dominant service. Its status as the dominant branch is reflective of the historical and political role it played throughout Vietnam's successful efforts to gain independence from France, unite the country under communism and protect its national sovereignty against China.

The army headquarters is in Hanoi which oversees the regional commands, each of which is responsible for various divisions depending on threat levels. Overall, there were fourteen major army bases, mostly concentrated in the southern region of Vietnam, which are as follows: Bien Hoa, Binh Thuy, Cam Ranh Bay, Can Tho, Da Nang, Dien Bien Phu, Haiphong, Hue, Khe Sanh, Kontum, Lang Son, Pleiku, and Quang Tri.

Although the army had a relative lack of equipment and resources, the soldiers remained highly trained as a result of their senior commanders' experience as junior officers in the Vietnam War, the 1979 border dispute with China, and the Cambodian war which lasted for a decade ending in the late 1980s. This highly experienced leadership waned over the following years as a result of a lack of direct threats. In addition, a shortage of funds was detremental to the army's overall strength as they became increasingly dependent on military technology.

The basic tactical doctrine of the Vietnamese army is based on a Soviet structure, reflecting a shift from the pre-1970's guerilla style operations to a position of territorial defense. This shift was necessary to accomodate the changes in war, as was successfully demonstrated in the border dispute with China in 1979.

In modern tactics, it is unquestionably the combined-arms team of infantry with its maneuverability, artillery with its firepower, and armor with its shock action that has the best chance of prevailing on a conventional battlefield. In the case of Vietnam, such a combined-arms structure may best be represented in the mobile main force army corps. It is on these multi-division maneuver formations that the task of destroying the columns of a Chinese invader would ultimately fall.

The reliance on the main and local forces as the twin bulwarks of the VPA also hints at the strategy and tactics that will be adopted to safeguard the nation. As long as China is the enemy, it can be expected that Vietnam will pursue a policy of strategic defense. In other words, even if faced with the imminence of a renewed Chinese invasion, Vietnam probably will not attack across the border. Subsequent to an outbreak of hostilities, Hanoi probably would confine its cross-border ripostes to small, local, spoiling attacks.

Vietnam does not have the military personnel and resources to sustain a crossborder offensive against its giant neighbor, and if such an operation were attempted, it would quickly run out of momentum. In addition, Hanoi would also confront the uncertainty of any Kremlin endorsement for such an undertaking at precisely the time the VPA would be most dependent on Soviet armaments for the success of the operation.

Antitank units would give local and regional forces bearing the brunt of any enemy attack in the mountain areas an antiarmor capability beyond what is available organically to these forces. Such units, or individual weapons, might be deployed piecemeal among several defense sectors, or massed along likely avenues of approach, such as the route from Lang Son. Their mission would be to delay and decimate enemy tanks and self-propelled artillery before the adversary reached the fringes of the Red River Delta.

Artillery units would be useful in slowing an enemy advance in any terrain. However, in mountainous areas, free movement of the batteries might be impeded. VPA artillery assets assigned to the regions between the Red River Delta and the Sino-Vietnamese border probably would be of the lighter, mountain-artillery type (75 mm to 105 mm) that could displace more rapidly.

Alternatively, heavier pieces (105 mm and above) would be employed in more semipermanent positions, with the guns registered to deliver massed firepower on likely areas of enemy concentration. Such heavier artillery pieces probably would be emplaced no closer to the border than the maximum firing range, and perhaps considerably farther back to prevent their falling into enemy hands in a tactically fluid situation. No matter where the VPA emplaces its heavier artillery in the mountains, each battery would have plans for its own retrograde movement or withdrawal to alternate firing positions.

While the VPA may place heavy reliance on augmented regional and local forces to inflict maximum damage on an enemy by fighting, in accordance with a policy of static defense, the mission of irreversibly defeating an adversary will fall on the highly trained, well-armed, regular main force units. For these units to perform their mission, the military leadership in Hanoi, as part of its force development options, must decide where to place them to block a prospective enemy advance.



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