PLA Modernization: How Is It? CSC 1984 SUBJECT AREA C4 PLA MODERNIZATION 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 PLA MODERNIZATION HOW IS IT? OUTLINE 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 policy 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 programs 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 Nationalist.2 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 service. 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 Iraq."36 CONCLUSION 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. FOOTNOTES 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. 15Ibid,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. BIBLIOGRAPHY "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, 1983,p.35. Weisskopf, Michael, "China Secretly Selling Arms To Iran," Washington Post, April 3, 1984, Section A,p.1.
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