China’s 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 army’s 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 T–54A) 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 China’s 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.
China’s 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. China’s research, training, and preparations for joint operations have evolved substantially since the promulgation of its first joint campaign doctrine in the late 1990s.
China’s 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.
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