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People's Liberation Army - Ground Forces / PLA Army

The Army is responsible primarily for military operations on land. Traditionally, China's ground forces have been highly cohesive, patriotic, physically fit, and well trained in basic skills. In addition, they are generally strong in operational and communications security, as well as in the use of camouflage, concealment, and deception. Major weaknesses are lack of transport and logistic support. Ground force leadership, training in combined operations, and morale are poor. Most soldiers who enter the army are peasants with a poor education, and perhaps a quarter of China's ground force personnel leave active duty each year - draftees who have completed their two year term of service. Consequently, the PLA lacks a large body of experienced professional soldiers who are trained to operate sophisticated equipment.

Chinas ground forces remain challenged by a lack of combat experience and self-identi!ed limitations in the leadership abilities of its command staff, particularly at operational levels. These problems have long been exacerbated by a lack of realism in training. However, the PLA began executing plans in 2011 designed to help overcome these issues by 2020, including increased force-on-force training against dedicated opposing force units, adopting simulator use for training, developing automated command tools to aid command decisions, and increasing the education levels and science and technology training of PLA commanders and staff officers.

The PLA is still a party army with nepotism and political/family connections continuing to predominate in officer appointment and advancement. The soldiers, for the most part, are semi-literate rural peasants; there is no professional NCO corps, per se. Military service, with its low remuneration and family disruption, is increasingly seen as a poor alternative to work in the private sector. China's leadership is aware of these weaknesses and is trying to address them in its overall modernization program. Thus, increasingly in the future, officers might be promoted on merit as opposed to connections [a difficult challenge in such a connection oriented society], and the ratio of higher educated volunteer servicemen to conscripts likely will increase [an easier task].

To create a professional and technically proficient officer corps, the PLA is reforming its officer accession and promotion standards, areas historically prone to corruption. Bribery and nepotism not only breed discontent, but can lead to the promotion of unqualified officers. Chinas 2006 Defense White Paper highlights PLA efforts to reform the evaluation, selection, and appointment process for commanding officers. These reforms are likely intended to increase professionalism, establish standard practices, and decrease corruption-based promotion.

China has expressed concerns that low education levels in the PLA negatively affect its operating capability and professionalism. Chinas rapid military build-up has necessitated a parallel effort to improve the education and training of its officers and soldiers responsible for operating its sophisticated equipment. Continued education through NCO schools and academies as well as unit training and distance learning have also been implemented, and night schools in barracks have grown rapidly. NCO education will take time to develop as many of the NCOs were previously conscripts with at most an 8th grade education.

Martin Andrew notes that "The PLA, like the former Soviet army, keeps the majority of its most modern equipment in storage for use in a potential war; earlier versions and only small amounts of the more recent equipment are used in training. Although this ensures that new equipment is available during times of mobilization, it also leads to problems. Personnel are unfamiliar with the modernized equipment, and breakdowns occur from poor maintenance. Furthermore, the mass mobilization of modernized military equipment alerts an opponent to the armys intentions.

"The PLA was aware of these problems, and in the last 3 months of 2005, the State National Defense Mobilization Committee issued a series of proposals to improve rapid manpower mobilization systems. Although the PLA has deployed its two major armored corps forward and practiced rapid deployment with the Stride-2009 exercise, the units only deployed sufficient equipment to practice the live-fire portion of the exercise. Various photographs of recent exercises show the old type 59 tank (rebuilt copies of the Russian T54A) acting as a maneuver element for the red forces (the good guys)."

At present, the Army has no independent leading organ, and the functions of the leading organ are exercised by the four general headquarters/departments. The seven military area commands, namely, those of Shenyang, Beijing, Lanzhou, Jinan, Nanjing, Guangzhou and Chengdu, exercise direct leadership over the Army units under their command.

The Army includes units of mobile operational, garrison, border and coastal defense, and reserve troops. The organizational order of these units is combined corps, division (brigade), regiment, battalion, company, platoon and squad. Directly under a military area command, a combined corps consists of divisions or brigades, and acts as a basic formation at the operational level. Directly under a combined corps, a division consists of regiments and acts as a basic formation at the tactical level. Directly under a combined corps, a brigade consists of battalions, and acts as a formation at the tactical level. Normally under a division, a regiment consists of battalions, and acts as a basic tactical unit. Normally under a regiment or brigade, a battalion consists of companies, and acts as a tactical element at a higher level. A company consists of platoons, and acts as a basic tactical element. The Army mobile operational units include 18 combined corps and some independent combined operational divisions (brigades).

The Army has as arms infantry, armor, artillery, air defense, Army aviation, engineering, chemical defense and communications, as well as other specialized units such as those of electronic counter-measure (ECM), reconnaissance and mapping. The infantry, maneuvering and operating on foot or on armored personnel carriers or infantry fighting vehicles, is composed of mountain infantry, motorized infantry and mechanized infantry (armored infantry). The armored corps (tank corps), equipped basically with tanks and other armored vehicles and support vehicles, carries out ground assaults.

The artillery corps, equipped basically with artillery for suppression and anti-tank purposes, and missiles for antitank and other operational-tactical purposes, carries out ground fire strikes. The air defense corps, equipped basically with anti-aircraft artillery and ground-to-air missile systems, carries out ground-to-air operations. The Army aviation corps, equipped with attack, transport, and other specialized helicopters and light fixed-wing aircraft, carries out air maneuvers and provides support for ground operations.

The engineering corps, responsible for engineering support, is composed of engineering and other specialized units of pontoons, construction, camouflage, field water supply, and engineering maintenance. The chemical defense corps, responsible for chemical defense operations, is composed of chemical defense, flame-throwing and smoke-generating units. >The communications corps, responsible for military communications, is composed of specialized units engaged in communications, communications engineering, communications technical support, aviation navigation and military postal service.

The Army, in accordance with its different duties and responsibilities, is also divided into field mobile, sea border defense, frontier defense, and garrison troops. The organizational order of the field mobile troops is normally combined corps, division (brigade), regiment, battalion, company, platoon and squad. The organizational systems of the sea border defense, frontier defense and garrison troops are decided in accordance with their operational tasks and geographical conditions.

Chinese military strategy underwent a fundamental reformulation in 1985, based on the assessment that the improving relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union had greatly reduced the probability of a new world war, and consequently increased the salience of regional conflicts. This new strategy, initially articulated in "Strategic Changes to the Guiding Thoughts on National Defense Construction and Army Building," is termed "active" defense (also known as "strategic," "frontier" or "peripheral" defense). The new "limited war under high tech conditions" strategy focused on a major conflict or limited war along China's borders. In contrast to the previous People's War of trading space for time, the new concept called for a forward strategy that would take the fight to the enemy's territory. A new "fist force" for rapid response to regional conflict was intended to include a few units of well-equipped, high-tech ground, naval and air forces. This new force projection emphasis was reinforced by the lessons of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

Particularly since the 1991 Persian Gulf conflict, the PLA has devoted considerable resources to the development of special operation forces (SOF). These units likely have been assigned specific missions and tasks in a variety of Taiwan contingencies, to include locating or destroying C4I assets, transportation nodes, and logistics depots; capturing or destroying airfields; destroying air defense assets; and, conducting reconnaissance operations.

The PLA had [as of 2013] three Airborne divisions, two Amphibious Divisions and three Marine Crops brigades [under the PLAN]. However, the army's ability to project force much beyond China's land borders remains limited due to a shortage of amphibious ships, heavy cargo carrying aircraft, long-range transports, and other logistical shortcomings. Although the PLA had improved its amphibious attack capabilities in recent years, there are no signs that Beijing is serious about increasing its heavy lift capacity or conducting sustained ground operations.

By the latter half of the current decade, China will likely be able to project and sustain a modest-sized force, perhaps several battalions of ground forces or a naval flotilla of up to a dozen ships, in low-intensity operations far from China. This evolution will lay the foundation for a force able to accomplish a broader set of regional and global objectives. However, it is unlikely that China will be able to project and sustain large forces in high-intensity combat operations far from China prior to 2020.

Force reductions and selective new equipment acquisitions are creating a more mobile, combat-ready core within the larger ground force. Since the mid-1990s, the army has shrunk from about 100 divisions to approximately 50, with many of the units downsizing to brigades. In mid-2011, the PLA began to transform its ground forces into a modular combined arms brigade-focused force structure. PLA active ground forces are organized into Group Armies. Infantry, armor, and artillery units are organized into a combination of divisions and brigades deployed throughout the PLAs seven MRs.

Downsizing or retiring a number of old divisions in favor of modernized, task-organized brigades possibly improves the PLAs capability to respond to potential crises along the full length of Chinas northern border. It also produces units that can more effectively conduct amphibious operations against Taiwan or Taiwan-controlled islands in the Strait.

In recent years, in line with the strategic requirements of mobile operations and three-dimensional offense and defense, the Army has been moving from regional defense to trans-regional mobility. It is gradually making its units small, modular and multi-functional in organization through appropriate downsizing and structural reform. It is accelerating the development of aviation, light mechanized and information countermeasure forces, and gives priority to the development of operational and tactical missile, ground-to-air missile and special operations forces, so as to increase its capabilities for air-ground integrated operations, long-distance maneuvers, rapid assaults and special operations.

Identified as a deadly corrosive to the military's fighting capacity, and the biggest challenge in preparing to win future wars, peace disease has invaded the Chinese army and weakened its capacity and willingness to fight. An army's success in operations is based on excellence in training and preparation, yet the PLA at large hasn't experienced real combat for decades, which affects war-games' training standards and the work style of commanding officers. In the minds of many officers and soldiers, there is no serious threat to the country in peacetime, only peaceful development. Quite the contrary, a senior officer said: "A serious threat of war does exist." Some high-ranking officers have pointed out that some soldiers are in uniform but they don't know the strategy or tactics of war. They are more intent on trading their positions of privilege for material gain than in preparing to fight for the country. The Military Training Program, which was released early in 2018, places demands on the military to intensify resistance drills and train the troops in an environment similar to real combat.

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