The Largest Security-Cleared Career Network for Defense and Intelligence Jobs - JOIN NOW


PLA Modernization: How Is It?
CSC 1984
             HOW IS IT?
           Submitted to
    Mr. Rudolph V. Wiggins, Ph.D
 In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements
       for Written Communications
The Marine Corps Command and Staff College
            Quantico, Virginia
         Major J. L. Booker Sr.
       United States Marine Corps
              April 6, 1984
                   HOW IS IT?
Thesis Statement:  Because China wishes to avoid dependence
                   on foreign arms suppliers in the course
                   of PLA modernization, it will be a long
                   time before their defense will be form-
                   idable enough to defend against what the
                   Chinese perceives as their main threat.
I.   Introduction
     A.  1949 Chinese Army a peasant-infantry force
     B.  Army gets experience in Korea
     C.  Decision to modernize PLA made
II.  Potential Soviet Threat.
     A.  Two conditions
         1.  Soviets desire to change China's opposing foreign
         2.  Soviets possess military power to invade
     B.  Three types of threats
         1.  General invasion
         2.  Limited war
         3.  Nuclear war
III.China's Military problem immense
     A.  China admits PLA not a modern army
     B.  PLA modernization tied to China's other modernization
     C.  China's plans to increase economic capability
IV.  Modernizing PLA's huge force
     A.  PLA's ground forces
     B.  PLA's naval forces
     C.  PLA's air forces
V.   Actions taken by Chinese leadership
     A.  Stabilize economy
     B.  Sino-Japanese relations
     C.  Sino-American relations
     D.  Sino-British relations
     E.  Sino-Southwest Asian relations
VI.  Conclusion
     A.  China must make a definite decision about the
         "self-reliance" policy
     B.  China must seek help from foreign countries
                     PLA MODERNIZATION
                         HOW IS IT?
     The Chinese Communist Army of 1949 was basically a
peasant-infantry force organized and trained mainly for guer-
rilla-type operations.  Its fire power, mobility, communica-
tions, and logistics were limited and for the most part
archaic.1  A conflict in Tibet and the entry of the "People's
Liberation Volunteers," as the People's Liberation Army (PLA)
was known the first six months in Korea, made the Chinese
Communist Party realize the need to modernize it's military
establishment.  This modernization process was initiated
with the signing of the 1950 Treaty of Friendship, Alliance,
and Mutual Assistance between China and the Soviet Union.
     Additional impetus to the PLA's modernization process
was provided by further experiences in the Korean War.  In
Korea, initial successes aside, the Chinese quickly learned
that in the offensive, unsupported massed infantry attacks
against superior fire power was not only unavailing but lead
to disastrously high losses in personnel and equipment.  Further-
more to avoid the possibility of United Nations forces enter-
ing China proper, the Chinese found themselves in a situation
in which they were unable to employ the "People's War" doctrine
of strategic retreat.  They were no longer able to trade space
for time as they had done during the war with the Chinese
     Taking advantage of the provisions of the 1950 Assistance
Treaty with the Soviet Union and Soviet assistance and advice
furnished during the Korean War, the Chinese leadership decid-
ed to modernize the military along the lines of the Soviet
military.3  Since modernization along these lines required
training, technical expertise and maintenance support, the
Soviets provided advisors and technicians to China.  China
then became highly dependent upon the Soviet Union, however,
in 1960 internal and external turmoil caused the Sino-Soviet
relationship to end.  The Soviet Union began to withdraw
its protective mantle from around China, leaving the country
exposed to possible American, or as the Chinese feared, an
American-Nationalist Chinese attack.  Once the advisors, tech-
nicians and maintenance support were gone, the Chinese leader-
ship had to chart their own course for military self-reliance
and modernization.  The course they have chosen was stated
by Defense Minister General Zhang Aiping in 1983, "China
can not afford to import equipment but will have to rely
on developing its own.    Because China wishes to avoid
a dependence on foreign arms suppliers in the course of their
modernization, it will be a long time before their defense
is formidable enough to defend against what the Chinese per-
ceive as their main threat.
     What threat is perceived by the Chinese leadership?  Un-
til the United States became involved in the war in Vietnam,
China perceived a threat from the Americans.  Also, they
possibly perceived a threat from the Nationalist Chinese, since
the Nationalist and the Americans had close ties.  However, the
Nixon Doctrine, the Nixon visit to China, the signing of the
1972 Shanghai Communique', and recent involvements have improv-
ed Sino-American relations.  However, Sino-Soviet relations dur-
ing the same period has been far from smooth.  The Ussuri River
incident of March 1968, the border clash in 1969 and in 1978,
the still intense border conflict apparently initiated the
chain of events that has produced a situation in which China
now faces a modern Soviet force along its Northern border, said
to number perhaps one million, and armed with the most advanced
conventional and nuclear weapons.5
     It is hard to imagine anyone would want to invade China.
The idea of controlling one billion people and occupying the
fourth largest country in the world should make any military
planner balk.  However, the threat of being invaded is not
ruled out in Peking.  The Chinese perceived that the potential
Soviet threat rest on two conditions:
     (1) China sees itself as actively opposing
         Soviet foreign policy and as a result
         expects that the Soviet Union would like
         to change China's policies.
     (2) The Soviet having enough military power
         to invade China.
     It has already been mentioned that China estimates that
the forces they are opposing along the border numbers approx-
imately one million.  It is estimated that the figures include
46 divisions which are not at full strength, but the infra-
structure is in place to support an impressive array of military
force.6 Therefore, it appears that the Soviets can atleast
fulfill the second condition.
     There are also three types of threats that China perceives
from the Soviet Union:  (1)  general invasion, (2)  limited war,
and (3)  nuclear war.  China has indicated some ideas about how
to address these threats.  First, according to the theory of
People's War, which essentially means the war has popular support
defending China from general invasion has three phases.  The
protracted war begins with defensive operations, then shifts to
a stalemate and finally moves into a more conventional offensive
stage.  China seems to have the basic confidence that it can
defend against a Soviet threat of general invasion by engaging
in People's War under modern conditions.7  Secondly, Chinese
strategist can devise a myriad of limited Soviet threats.  The
following is a list of the three major types of limited Soviet
threats according to their location:
     (1) A potential for the Soviet Union to sever
         sparsely populated frontier territories of
         western China where minority populations provide
         the Soviet Union with some hope of linking up
         with separatist movements inside China.
    (2)   The Soviet Union might seek to attack the more
          important Manchurian territory as it did in 1945
          in the Lightning Campaign against Japanese forces.
    (3)   Use of Soviet Naval power either to "punish"
          Chinese coastal positions or to seize territory,
          perhaps including islands that sit in vulnerable
          positions off the Chinese coast.
    Chinese doctrine for defeating limited threats from the
Soviet Union is far from clear.  There can be no certainty
that China will defend at the borders, or will allow the in-
vaders some scope for invasion.  However, two conclusions can
be made with some degree of confidence.  First, China's res-
ponse to limited threats is eminently flexible and pragmatic.
Secondly, whatever the decision of precisely where to meet the
threat, at some point positional war will be adopted.8  Finally,
it is difficult to ascertain the nuclear threat since the Soviet
targeting plan for its nuclear weapons in the pacific theatre is
unknown, however, it is known that China is developing an arsenal
of her own.  In January 1982 "Xinhua" a Chinese newspaper stated
cryptically that "China had made progress in the deployment of
its strategical and tactical guided missiles."9 One could gleem
from the fact that both countries now possess a nuclear capability
that the utility of nuclear weapons in any Soviet threat to China
is decreasing.
     Because China perceives a threat from the Soviet Union
they have allocated their forces as dipicted in figure 1.  But
without modern weapons, the PLA can not hope to match the military
Click here to view image
machine that Moscow has in place along China's northern border.10
	Dimensions of China's military problems are immense.  Accord-
to one westerner: "The Chinese are worse off today than they
were in the 1950's.  What do they need?  They need everything."11
According to other western military experts, "The 4.2 million
strong army, the world's largest, keeps no comprehensive records,
technically lags behind its potential enemies by more than
20 years, and lacks a clear internal hierarchy."12
     Chinese officials now openly acknowledge that the PLA
is not a "modern army."  Although "military modernization"
is one of the "four modernizations" recommended in Zhou Enlai's
proposal to the Communist Party during the early 1970's,
Chinese leaders have made it clear that military modernization
has last priority of the four.  There is one exception
to this low priority; strategic nuclear weapons hold the same
high national priority they have held since 1960.13  Consequent-
ly, modernization of China's military is closely tied to the
modernization of China's other industries.
     Under an ambitious 10 year plan (1975-1985) that the Chinese
leadership introduced during 1974, as many as 120 costly pro-
jects were launched, with the highest priority going to heavy
industry.  Early in 1979, however, it became apparent that the
goals of modernization were to ambitious, and suffering from
a lagging economy, China lacked the necessary capital, tech-
nology, and management expertise to carry out the projects.
A new three year plan was introduced by Premier and Party
Chairman Hua Guofeng in late June 1979, in an effort to re-
adjust, restructure, consolidate and improve national economy.14
Consequently, any progress that was being made in the modern-
ization of the military was curtailed.
     Because of China's weak industrial foundation and relative
low level of technological advancement, the modernization
of its military relies heavily on the importation of either
weapons themselves or the technology capable of generating
modern weapons production domestically.  Deng Xiaoping, con-
sidered the driving force behind China's program of defense
modernization in the 1970's, has long advocated the import-
ation of foreign technology as essential to the success of this
program.  In January 1979, he reinterated that, "in the course
of our drive for the four modernizations, we are prepared to
cooperate with countries that are developed in science, tech-
nology, industry and agriculture.15  However, a major constraint
on weapons development exist because the Chinese leadership
can not make up its mind whether it wants to import weapons
are whether they will manufacture their own.  Moreover,
equippng China's huge forces with foreign made arms would 
be astronomically expensive.  Almost all PLA equipment em-
bodies the technology of the 1950's and needs replacement.
Because of space limitations, only a few of China's urgent
military needs will be addressed.  I will address them by 
	Total uniformed PLA strength is roughly 4.5 million
(Table I).16  Nearly half of the main force troops are posi-
tioned to defend vital industrial, political and population
centers of te northeast.  The gross numbers are staggering.
The PLA constitiutes the world's largest land army, the second
largest Navy, and the third largest Air Force.  Yet, there is
Click here to view image
considerable doubt as to how effectively this huge force can
defend China.17
	Until recently, the PLA's ground forces, best antitank (AT)
weapons were conventional and recoiless guns with ranges of
less than 1500 meters.  The standard type-59 medium tank, a
modified copy of the Soviet T-54(Circa 1954), is the tank
they employ and the designs of virtually all artillery pieces
and most chemical warfare equipment are 30 years old.18
     Reportedly, a "new tank," designated Type-69 is now
in production and to improve antitank defenses, in 1979,
the Chinese went into production with a copy of the 20 year
old Soviet Sagger AT missile, a system the Soviets are now
replacing.19  Additionally, on a high note, there is a prospect
that the United States will soon began selling the Chinese
antitank and anti-aircraft missiles.20  The Chinese artillery
is still antiquated.
     The PLA Navy has always been primarily a coastal defense
force.  The world's largest fleet of small, high speed patrol
craft is remarkable; these boats are mostly Chinese built
and designed and are very fine boats.  PLA Navy warships are
listed in Table II.21
Click here to view image
     The PLA Navy warship's shortcoming is their lack of modern
weapons.  The Stynx missiles used on the warship, which was
formidable in the 1960's is highly vulnerable to electronic
countermeasures.    In October 1982, the PLA Navy tested the
submarine launched ballistic missile and the test appeared to
be successful.22  I would like to reinterate that the nuclear
program remains a high priority unlike the other defense systems.
The Chinese nuclear forces are listed in Table III.
Click here to view image
The information listed in Table II and Table III was confirmed
by the latest addition of Janes Fighting Ships and the following
additional information was obtained.23
     (1) Submarine construction continues at a
         rate of about nine to ten per year.
         Existance of SSBN's confirmed.
     (2) "Luda" class destroyer programme and
         building of "Jainghu" frigates continues.
     (3) The total light craft increases by about
         20 per year, taking into account deletions.
         Construction of new classes of landing
         ships and crafts continues.
Therefore, the Navy oppears to be making some progress in
their modernization efforts.
     Nearly all the 4,600 or so fighter interceptors of the
PLA Air Force and PLA Naval Air Force are effective only in
daylight and fair weather.  The types of aircraft are listed
in Table IV.
Click here to view image
Only a few have even limited night/foul-weather intercept cap-
ability.  Since they are controlled tightly by ground radar
controllers, Chinese fighters are further limited by poor
radar coverage and the vulnerability of radars and communica-
tions to electronic countermeasures.  Also to conduct combined-
arms operations, the PLA needs tactical air support.  At
present this can be provided by such flying antiques as the
B5 Beagle and F2 Fagot and the Chinese designed A5 Fantan.
As you can see in Table IV all the mentioned aircraft are
obsolete except the A5 Fantan.24
     During the middle and late 1970's, PLA officials serious-
ly considered a variety of western European systems that
could improve China's air defenses, mainly British.  But
there have been few important Sino-British arms deals since
the much publicized sale of 50 "Spey" engines in 1975.25
The first Chinese produced "Speys" were produced in Xian
in late 1979, but a series production never began because
no suitable air frame was available to mate with the engine,
therefore, the project was put in abeyance.26  The British
also attempted to sell the Chinese the advanced Harrier
jump-jet, but the deal never materialized.27  Britain has
sold 24 Trident aircraft transports, but no Lynx helicopters
for Army or Navy use.  Also, sales have been approved for
American CH-47 helicopters.28  China has made some progress
with Air Force modernization but is still far behind their
potential adversaries.
     It has been estimated that it would cost between $300
billion and $400 billion to bring China's defense equipment
up to date.29  Deng Xiaoping has insisted that military mod-
ernization take a back seat to economic development.  There-
fore, it is apparent that Chinese leadership feels that mod-
ernization of the PLA must come at a slow rate.  Additionally,
China's defense budget was reduced by 2.94 billion yuan in
1980 (approximately U.S. $1.94 billion) and further cutbacks
of about 6.4 billion yuan(U.S. $4.5 billion) were introduced
in the 1981 budget.  If these estimates are correct, the 1981
defense budget is lower than the defense budget of 1978, in
real terms.30  However, it has been reported that the 1983
budget was the same as 1982 and it is hoped that the defense
budget is now stabilized.31
     Since the economic base must be stabilized, China hopes
to acquire advanced technology and employ foreign skills to
accomplish the task, thereby, being able to also aid in the
modernization of the military establishment.  Although, I
do not feel that China has totally abandoned their "self-
reliance" policy, along with the buys they have made from
foreign countries that I have already mentioned, China has
also attempted other areas.
     First, China has ask the Japanese for loans totalling
$5.54 billion, to finance construction of eight railway, port
and power projects, viewed by Peking as fundamental to its
industrial program.  But the Japanese did not leap at the
proposition.  The two leaders of China and Japan signed
an agreement on cultural exchanges and agreed to undertake
negotiations.32  Secondly, as the Washington Post reported
in January, 1984:
       "Trade between China and the United States is
       now running at upwards of $4 billion annually,
       a tenfold increase in the last five years.
       The Chinese sell large amounts of textiles
       and shoes in this country and American exports
       to China include agricultural products and
       machinery for making-electric equipment."33
United States oil companies are also helping the Chinese develop
energy resources. The antitank and antiaircraft sells have
already been mentioned.  Additionally, active negotiations are
continuing on a nuclear cooperation pact that would permit
U. S. companies to participate in China's emerging nuclear
power program and emphasis has been given also to economic
ties.34  Thirdly, China has signed an exploration contract
with British Petroleum Co. Ltd., which is only one of 18
offshore exploration contracts with 27 oil companies from
nine nations.35  Finally, China apparently is attempting
to increase the actual cash on hand. The Washington Post re-
ported on April 3, 1984:
       "China has covertly supplied Iran with combat
       aircraft and other military equipment in sells
       funneled through North Korea.  At the same time
       China reportedly has been selling lesser amounts
       of arms to Iraq.  The deal with Iran netted China
       $1.3 billion for J6 Fighter aircraft (the F6),
       T-59 tanks, 130mm Artillery and light arms to be
       delivered over a three-year period.  Iran also
       has agreed to give China access to the
       latest Soviet weapons it captures from
	It is apparent from the recent actions of China that
they have reconsidered their policy of "self-reliance" and
are seeking ways to modernize their economy and to increase
their cash on hand.  Should this action stabilize the Chinese
economy, modernization of the PLA can then take place.
	China still perceives a threat from the Soviet Union
and the Soviets have not tried to dispell any of the Chinese
thoughts.  Consequently, for the PLA to provide a formidable
defense, it needs to be equipped with the antitank weapons,
artillery weapons, communciations systems, aircraft, naval
ships weapons, and many other types of equipment, that utilizes
the latest technology.  The only way that I can see that the
Chinese leadership can obtain this modern equipmant is to
make every effort possible to purchase foreign arms, solicit
aid from foreign countries in exchange for the resources that
she possesses and continually train technicians and manufact-
urers in the latest technology.  Where do they get the latest
technology?  They turn to the Japanese and the United States.
	The Chinese investments in foreign technology, agricul-
ture, science and industry is a must for the Chinese govern-
ment.  Otherwise, I perceive that PLA modernization, to the
level necessary for them to be a formidable defender of China
will not materialize during this century.
     1Defense Intelligence Agency, Handbook of the Chinese
Ground Forces, 1976.
     2Ibid, p.4.
     3Ibid, p.5.
     4Mary-Louise O'callaghan, "China's People's Liberation
Army," Christian Science Monitor, July 25, 1983, p.13.
     5Harold C. Hinton, ed., The People's Republic of China
A Handbook(Colorado: Westview Press, 1979), p. 336.
     6Gerald Segal, "The Soviet "Threat" At China's Gates,"
Conflict Studies, No.143(January 1983) ,p.3.
     7Ibid, p.6.
     8Ibid, p.15.
     9Ibid, p.19.
     10Walter A. Taylor, "China's Problem Army: Will U. S. help
shape it up?" U.S. News and World Report, April 25, 1983,p.35.
     11Ibid,p. 36
     12Mary-Louise O'callaghan, p.13.
     13Harlan W. Jencks, "Defending China in 1982," Current
History, (September 1982) ,p.246.
     14Leo Yuen-Yuv Liu, "The Modernization of the Chinese
Military," Current History, (September 1980),p.10.
     16Jencks, P.250.
     17Ibid,p. 250
     18Ibid, p.249.
     19Ibid, p.249.
     20Joseph Kraft, "Seeing China Plain," Washington Post,
January 10,1984.
     21Jencks,p. 250.
     22Lieutenant Commander David G. Muller, Jr., U.S. Navy,
"China's SSBN in Perspective," U. S. Navy Proceedings, (March
1983) ,p.125.
     23Janes Fighting Ships, 1982-1983, p.131.
     24Jencks, p.248.
     25Douglas T. Stuart and Willian T. Tow, "Chinese Military
Modernization: The Western Arms Connection," The Chinese
Quarterly no.90 (June 1982),p.257.
     26Ibid, p.257.
     27O'callaghan, p.13.
     28Jim Bussert, "Modernization of China's Military
Electronics Promises to be Slow," Defense Electronics, October
1981, P.75
     29O'Callaghan, p.13.
     30Stuart and Tow,p.261.
     31O'callaghan,p. 13
     32O. Edmund Clubb, "China and the Industrialized Democracy,"
Current History, (September 1980) ,p.7.
     33Kraft, Washington Post,January, 10 1984.
     34Don Oberdorfer, "Reagan Pledges to Develop China Ties,"
Washington Post, January 11, 1984, Section A, p.1.  
     35"BP Strikes Oil Off China,"Washington Post, January 11,
1984, Section A. p.12.
     36Michael Weisskophf, "China Secretly Selling Arms To
Iran," Washington Post,April 3, 1984, Section A,p.1.
"BP Strikes Oil Off China," Washington Post, January 11,
     1984, Section A,p.12.
Bussert, Jim, "Modernization Of China's Military Electronics
     Promises to be Slow," Defense Electronics, October, 1981.
Clubb, Edmund O, "China and the Industrialized Democracies,"
     Current History, (September  1980) ,p.7.
Defense Intelligence Agency, Handbook on the Chinese Ground
     Forces, 1976.pp.4-5
Hinton, Harold C. ed. The People's Republic of China: A
     Handbook, Colorado: Western Press, 1979.
Janes Fighting Ships, 1982-1983.
Jencks, Harlan W, "Defending China in 1982," Current History,
     (September 1982) ,pp.246-250
Kraft, Joseph, "Seeing China Plain," Washington Post,January
     10, 1984.
Liu, Leo Yueh-Yuv, "The Modernization of the China Military,"
     Current History, (September 1980),p.10.
Muller, David G. Jr., "China's SSBN in Perspective," U.S. Navy
     Proceedings, (March 1983),p.125
O'Callaghan, Mary-Louise, "China's People's Liberation Army,"
     Christian Science Monitor, July, 25, 1983,p.13
Oberdorfer, Don,"Reagan Pledges To Develop China Ties,"
     Washington Post, January 11, 1984, Section A, p.1.
Segal, George, "The Soviet "Threat" at China's Gates,"
     Conflict Studies, no.143(January 1983),pp.3-19.
Stuart, Douglas T. and William T. Tow, "Chinese Military
     Modernization: The Western Arm Connection," The Chinese
     Quarterly, no. 90(June 1982),p.257.
Taylor, Walter A., "China's Problem Army: Will U.S. help
     shape it up?" U.S. News and World Report, April 25,
Weisskopf, Michael, "China Secretly Selling Arms To Iran,"
     Washington Post, April 3, 1984, Section A,p.1.

Join the mailing list

One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias