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PLA Reductions

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Reserve -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

Between 1950 and 2007, the PLA implemented 10 force reductions. When the PRC was established in 1949, the PLA had 5.5 million troops. At that time, the enlisted force consisted primarily of illiterate peasant volunteers and the officer-to-enlisted-member ratio was about 1:1. As of 2007, the PLA has a 1:1:1 ratio for officers to noncommissioned officers (NCOs) to conscripts, which equates to approximately 760,000 personnel in each category. This 33% ratio for PLA officers contrasts to about a 15% ratio for officers in the US Military.

The first downsizing began in 1950. In June 1950 the Chinese Central Military Commission postponed the attack on Taiwan itself until the summer of 1951. With the retaking of Taiwan on hold, Mao directed that the PLA become more self-sufficient and increase agricultural work. Furthermore, in order to help alleviate the economic burden of the 5.4 million man army, in May 1950, the CCP Central Committee decided to demobilize 1.4 million of the PLA force.

The demobilization of 1.4 million soldiers served three critical considerations for the CCP. First, the financial burden on the PLA was significant, thus with the defeat of the KMT on the mainland fewer troops would be necessary to keep order. Second, a large portion of PLA soldiers were either former KMT prisoners or members of defecting KMT units. CCP leadership wanted to thin out the possible disloyal elements of the PLA and improve the combat efficiency of the remaining force. Finally, the PLA needed to establish a navy and air force. By reducing large elements of the ground force, the capital saved could be used to develop and train forces that would be required to take Taiwan in 1951.267 According to the acting chief of the General Staff, Nie Rongzhen, the demobilization efforts began on June 20, 1950, five days before the Korean War broke out.

When the Korean War broke out, the force quickly grew to 6.3 million. The increase affected almost all infantry forces. The next six force reductions occurred in 1952, 1953, 1957, 1966, 1980, and 1982. The eighth downsizing occurred from 1985 to 1987, with a reduction from 4.238 million to 3.235 million. In May 1985, China declared that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) would reduce military personnel by one million. By 1987, the 4.238-million-strong PLA had been reduced to 3.235 million. Subsequently, still further reductions were made. By 1990, the PLA manpower was reduced to 3.199 million, overshooting the declared target of one million men. The 1.039 million demobilized soldiers represented 24.5 percent of the army's original strength.

In 1985, 1997 and 2003, China announced that it would cut the size of the PLA by one million, 500,000 and 200,000 persons, respectively. The ninth downsizing occurred between 1997 and 2000 with a 500,000-man reduction to 2.5 million. In September 2003 China announced more cuts to its military, at that time the largest standing armed force in the world. Former President Jiang Zemin, who remained head of China's Central Military Commission, announced the government plans to cut 200,000 troops from its force by the end the year 2005. These cuts would bring the size of the People's Liberation Army to 2.3 million. By the end of 2005, China had completed reducing the PLA by 200,000 troops. The 10th downsizing occurred between September 2003 and December 2004, with a 200,000-man reduction to the PLA force of 2.3 million in 2007.

Most of the cuts occured in the largest force, the People's Liberation Army (PLA), and its authorized number of personnel has been reduced by more than 130,000. Over 60,000 military personnel have been removed from the headquarters and directly affiliated units of military area commands and provincial military commands. Part of that, in terms of the force reduction that had been under way for several years, involves removing from the PLA's role or mission a number of activities that are not really the focus of a military force - things like border guard duties, or internal security activities. The Army has cut a number of combined corps, divisions and regiments, increased the number of combined corps whose order of battle is corps, brigade and battalion, and set up units with new and high-tech weaponry and equipment. The PLA reduced the number of its officers by 170,000. More than 150 officer posts at or above the corps level have been eliminated, nearly 70,000 posts formerly taken by officers are now filled with non-commissioned officers (NCOs), and over 20,000 posts formerly taken by NCOs are now filled with contract civilians.

The 10 force reductions in the PLA focused on the following areas:

  • Strengthening the PLAN, PLAAF, and Second Artillery
  • Reducing the officer-to-enlisted-member ratio
  • Increasing the NCO-to-conscript ratio
  • Replacing officer billets with NCO billets
  • Reducing the number of headquarters
  • Reducing the number of administrative organizations within each headquarters
  • Streamlining the operational, logistics, and administrative chains of command
  • Abolishing or merging operational units
  • Transferring certain units to non-PLA organizations, such as the railway troops in 1978
  • Strengthening the warfighting capability for grassroots units in an informationalized environment
  • Reforming the professional military education system

The size of the PLA ground forces suggests that continued modernization would remain slow, deliberate, and limited through 2010. By 2020, infantry, airborne, armor and army aviation units will comprise a much larger percentage of the force. The army is supported by a large reserve-militia force numbering more than 1.5 million personnel and a one million man armed police force.

China will complete the reduction of its military personnel by 300,000 by 2017, spokesman for the Chinese Defense Ministry Yang Yujun said on 03 September 2015. "China will reduce its military personnel by 300,000 by 2017," the Chinese central television quoted Yang Yujun as saying. The personnel cuts will primarily affect units armed with outdated weaponry and administrative staff. "The Chinese armed forces will be downsized, but will become more efficient," Yang Yujun said. Chinese President Xi Jinping announced further military personnel cuts at the opening of the parade held earlier to mark the 70th anniversary of the Victory in World War Two and the end of the war of resistance against Japanese invaders. The Chinese military personnel had been reduced three times since 1980.

The Chinese Peoples Liberation Army numbered about 2.3 million servicemen by one count. The PLA would cut its ranks by 300,000 to 2 million troops by 2017.

According to the chief of the National Defense Mobilization Department of China's Central Military Commission, the army reserves would be reduced for the benefit of other services as part of the army reshaping reforms, but the number of troops to be reduced was not specified.



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