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PLA Training

Chinas leaders have stated their intentions and allocated resources to pursue broad-based military transformation that encompasses forcewide professionalization; improved training; more robust, realistic joint exercises; and accelerated acquisition and development of modern conventional and nuclear weapons.

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)."

Reforms in training and education constituted an important part of the military modernization program in the 1980s. Senior officials recognized that improving the military skills and raising the education levels of both officers and troops were necessary prerequisites for the utilization of more advanced weaponry and the conduct of combined-arms operations. The PLA leadership focused education reforms on the military academy system and altered training to emphasize the officer corps, mechanized warfare, and combined arms operations.

Beginning in 1978, the PLA began to revive the military academy system, which the Cultural Revolution had devastated. By 1984 the system had over 100 institutions and consisted of 2 kinds of schools: command schools and specialized technical training centers. The PLA increased funding for military education, incorporated the study of foreign military experiences into the curriculum, and expanded contacts with foreign military academies. The rejuvenation of the military academies highlighted the emphasis placed on officer training. The PLA stipulated that most new officers should be military academy graduates, set minimum education levels for all officers, and established special classes to help officers meet those standards. Education and militaryacademy training thus became criteria for promotion, in addition to seniority, performance, and experience.

In 1986 the PLA introduced three measures that further strengthened the military academy system. First, at the top level the PLA's Military Academy, Political Academy, and Logistics Academy merged to form the National Defense University, China's senior military training and research institution. Second, a new, three-level training system for command officers was announced, whereby command officers would receive regular training at junior, middle, and higher military command academies. Third, noncommissioned officer (NCO) training entered the military academy system with the establishment of a naval academy for petty officers and an air force NCO academy and the creation of NCO classes in over forty ground force academies.

Before the military modernization program began, PLA training was highly politicized and emphasized single-unit infantry troop training. Training reforms started with the depoliticization of training, whereby troops spent 80 percent of their time on military activities and 20 percent on political training. The scope of training then changed to concentrate on training officers capable of directing combined-arms warfare. Improved military education in the rejuvenated military academies provided some of this officer training. In addition, large-scale combined-arms exercises, which served to raise officer capabilities in commanding and coordinating combined-arms operations under combat conditions, occurred on a regular basis. These exercises stressed defense against attacking tanks, paratroopers, and aircraft and on occasion involved the simulated use of tactical nuclear weapons.

The PLA also began using simulation equipment in training and in 1985 held its first completely simulated combat exercise. In 1986 the PLA training system underwent further reforms that complemented changes in military organization. A combined-arms tactical training center was created for training the newly formed group armies (former field armies) on a rotational basis. The training center coordinated group army exercises and utilized laser devices and simulation equipment in its training. The PLA also established a systematic training program for new recruits, replacing the old system in which inductees received basic training in their units. Under the new system, before new recruits were assigned to PLA units, they completed four months of training by a training regiment attached to a group army. The training regiments also trained squad leaders.

Defense modernization brought changes to military personnel policies and practices. Personnel reforms emphasized upgrading the quality of recruits, improving conditions of service, altering promotion practices to stress professional competence over seniority or political loyalty, and providing new uniforms and insignia. The 1984 Military Service Law codified some of the changes in personnel policies and set the stage for further changes, such as the restoration of ranks.

In 2009, the PLA continued to emphasize training in line with recent doctrinal developments that emphasize non-war missions, as well as training for war under realistic, high-tech conditions. These PLA efforts to achieve more informatized joint training were highlighted in Chinas 2008 Defense White Paper and marked a continuation of efforts to implement the revised Outline of Military Training and Evaluation (OMTE), which was published in mid-2008 and became standard across the PLA on January 1, 2009. The new OMTE emphasizes realistic training conditions, training in complex electromagnetic and joint environments, and integrating new and high technologies into the force structure.

Chinas military has been working for several years to develop the capability to conduct integrated joint operations (IJO), a concept the PRC believes essential to modern warfare. IJO are characterized by the integration of multiple service elements under a joint command headquarters, making full use of advanced information technology and a networked command platform. Chinas research, training, and preparations for joint operations have evolved substantially since the promulgation of its first joint campaign doctrine in the late 1990s.

Chinas military leaders recognize and acknowledge that one of the primary obstacles to IJO is that many PLA commanders have little or no training for, or experience operating in, a joint environment. Key challenges include a shortage of commanders and staff qualified for such operations; a lack of understanding of the capabilities, equipment, and tactics of the other services; and a lack of advanced technology to enable communication and information sharing among the services.

The Chinese Minister of National Defense Gen. Liang Guanglie said in an interview with Xinhua on 29 December 2010 that the PLA had pushed forward military reforms in the past five years to build a more powerful military with upgraded weapon systems and high-quality personnel. At that time, 80 percent of the PLA's officers have four years of higher education compared with 25.8 percent in 1998, Gen. Liang said. To improve the quality of military personnel, the Chinese government has encouraged university graduates to join the armed forces since 2009. More than 100,000 college graduates gained their uniforms in 2010.

Military Personnel

The Military Service Law provided the legal basis for conscription, and it combined compulsory and voluntary service. All citizens between eighteen and twenty-two, regardless of sex, nationality, profession, family background, religion, or level of education, were obliged to perform military service. Men 18-24 years of age are subject to selective compulsory military service, with a 2 year service obligation. There is no minimum age for voluntary service (all officers are volunteers). Women 18-19 years of age who are high school graduates and who meet requirements for specific military jobs are subject to conscription, and a recent military decision allows women in combat roles. A very small number of women were inducted annually.

Annual quota numbers for both the PLA and PAP were estimated by the US DOD to be 500,000. Conscription in China with over 10,000,000 men reaching militarily significant age annually, of whom perhaps 8,000,000 are fit for service would produce an army of at least 16,000,000 men. In fact, conscripts in the PLA Ground Force appear to number about 800,000, only about five percent of the total potential number.

The system of conscription used by the PLA differs from Western practices. Instead of a general requirement of service for citizens of a certain age, the PLAs conscription system functions more as a levy, in which the PLA establishes the number of conscripts needed, which produces quotas that are imposed on local governments which are charged with providing a set number of soldiers or sailors. If the number of volunteers fails to meet quota despite efforts to cajole or convince candidates, local government officials may compel unwilling individuals to enter service. China does not release data on what share of recruits are compelled rather than volunteers.

The vast majority of NCOs come from conscripts who then elect to continue service in the PLA. Revisions in the NCO corps structure are intended to compensate for the decision to decrease the length of conscription service to two years for all services, and replaced the earlier system which had allowed conscripts to voluntarily extend their service obligation. Enlisted personnel can now potentially serve for up to 30 years, which would establish a continuously available core of soldiers from which the PLA could draw expertise and experience.

In the 1980s the PLA attempted to upgrade the quality of its inductees by changing recruiting practices. The PLA previously drew its recruits from rural youth of politically acceptable families. But the Military Service Law, the introduction of rural reforms offering greater economic opportunities for rural youth, and the PLA's requirements for higher educational levels caused recruitment to draw more recruits from better educated urban youth. Officers were drawn from military academy graduates; enlisted men and women who completed officer training in officially designated institutions and passed officer fitness tests; graduates of universities and special technical secondary schools; and civilian cadres and technical personnel recruited by nonmilitary units in the PLA. As a result of the new conscription and officer recruitment practices, the level of education in the PLA was much higher than that of the general population.

In 1987 approximately 100,000 women served in the PLA and represented one-tenth of the officer corps and one-quarter of the specialized technicians. Women served primarily in scientific research, communications, medical, and cultural units. Members of China's ethnic minorities also served in the PLA, but their percentage within the military was probably considerably lower than their proportion in the general population, partly because of their lower level of education and partly because government and party suspicion of their loyalties.

The Military Service Law stipulated changes in conditions of service. Compulsory terms of service were three years for the ground forces and four for the Air Force and Navy. Soldiers could elect another term of one or two years in the ground forces and one year in the Navy and Air Force. After completing five years of compulsory service, a soldier could switch to voluntary service and could serve an eight- to twelve-year term until the age of thirtyfive . The conscription law also made provisions for limited preferential treatment of service personnel and their families. However, military service was regarded by some as a hardship because of low pay, poor food, lowered marriage prospects, and difficulties in finding jobs after demobilization. To alleviate the unattractive aspects of military service and to help local economic development, the PLA instituted a program of dual-use training, whereby soldiers learned skills useful in civilian life in addition to military training.

In the late 1970s, the PLA began altering its promotion practices to reflect the new emphasis on professional competence. Previously, there had been no retirement system in effect, and junior and field-grade officers had remained at their posts for many years with little opportunity for advancement. When promotion occurred, it was based on seniority, political rectitude, or a patron-client relationship. Officers advanced up a single chain of command, remaining in the same branch or service for life. In 1978 the PLA reinstituted the retirement system established by the 1955 Military Service Law and promulgated officer service regulations, which set retirement ages for military officers. Thus the PLA began a two-pronged effort to retire older officers and to promote younger, better educated, professionally competent officers. Older officers, including many over seventy years of age, were offered generous retirement packages as inducements to retire. The PLA also formulated new promotion standards that set minimum education levels for officers and emphasized education in military academies as a criterion for promotion.

Officers below the age of forty had to acquire a secondary-school education by 1990 or face demotion. Furthermore, past promotion practices were to be discarded in favor of greater emphasis on formal training, higher education levels, and selection of more officers from technical and noncombat units. With the reduction in force begun in 1985, professional competence, education, and age became criteria for demobilization as well as promotion. By 1987 the PLA's promotion practices were based more on merit than they had been a decade earlier; nevertheless, political rectitude and guanxi (personal connections) continued to play an important role in promotion, and no centralized personnel system had been established.

China is attempting to transform its military from a force dependent upon mass to a streamlined information-based military with highly-qualified officers and soldiers. To meet these new requirements, the PLA has implemented programs to rejuvenate its officer corps, enhance professional military education, reform its NCO program, establish new guidelines for training and exercises and improve the quality of life for its officers and soldiers. While the CMC began discussing the implementation of human capital programs in the late 1990s, improvements in the PLA personnel system only become evident a decade later.

Guidance identified in recent Defense White Papers reflects the PLA's focus since the late 1990s on increased integration of domestic and foreign training as well as of military and civilian education to support defense needs. The PLA also began focusing more attention on morale and welfare within its officer and NCO corps, and implemented a series of measures to strengthen and modernize its personnel system, to include reforms to streamline the force, improve quality of life, strengthen political work, increase the education levels of members, and address corruption.

In 2005, the CMC approved the Opinions on Strengthening the Noncommissioned Officer Corps, which stipulated that as of 2005 candidates for the NCO corps must at least have a high school education, specialized skills, and must take continuing education and training courses. Some of the NCOs will also take over technical and administrative positions customarily held by officers, within the PLA.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2013 19:01:09 ZULU