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People's Liberation Navy - Doctrine

Doctrine, Theory, and Practice

The PLA does not have one specific word for doctrine, and it does not use a word substitute for “doctrine” in referring to its own operational theory or operational concepts. What the PLA does write about is operational “theory” and operational “practice.” Therefore, understanding the linkage between operational theory and operational practice in the PLA is an important tool for identifying operational concepts.

In the PLA, the field of “military science,” which is the link between theory and practice, has two broad components: “basic military theory” and “applied military theory.” “Basic military theory” articulates the fundamental “laws” that govern modern military operations for the PLA. The PLA presents these fundamental “laws” in its professional institutions, textbooks, “doctrinal literature,” and training as strategic “guidelines,” operational “concepts,” and tactical “guiding principles.” “Applied military theory” is the practical application of those fundamental “laws,” “guidelines,“ “concepts“ and “principles.“ Whereas “basic military theory“ articulates what will guide the PLA in the application of military force at each level of warfare in broad conceptual terms, “applied military theory“ addresses the specifics of how to do it.

The PLA’s Three Levels of Conflict

The PLA writes that warfare consists of three levels of armed conflict and combat: war, campaigns, and battles. Wars can be either “local” or “total.” Wars are fought to achieve a nation’s overall political objectives. Campaigns serve as the operational link between the conduct of battles, which are tactical engagements, and the achievement of the nation’s overall objectives in a war. Each of the three levels of con- flict is “informed” by a different level of “basic military theory” as shown below.

PLA Navy Marine Corps Organizational Structure

“Active Defense” Strategic Guidelines

As a component of the “greater PLA,” much of the strategic and operational jargon of the PLAN, its constructs for the analysis of warfare and operations, and the basics of Chinese naval military science reflect the universally applicable “PLA approach.” In other words, it is couched in “Army” terminology. It is arguable that the PLAN’s theory does not start resembling a distinctly naval organization until one goes down to the tactical level of warfare.

Therefore, all of the PLA’s major strategic and operational concepts apply equally to the PLA Navy. The near equivalent in China of the US’s “National Military Strategy” is called “The National Military Strategic Guidelines for the New Period.” These guidelines have two major components.

The first is a reform and modernization component, referred to as “Army Building.” It provides direction to the totality of the PLA’s modernization efforts: equipment development and procurement, and institutional and organizational reforms. The current guidance for “Army Building” for the entire PLA is the “Two Transformations” program, which calls for the PLA to transform itself:

  • “From an army preparing to fight local wars under ordinary conditions to an army preparing to fight and win local wars under modern, high-tech conditions”
  • “From an army based on quantity to an army based on quality.”
  • A corollary that usually accompanies these two imperatives in PLA literature is that the PLA must also transform itself from an army that is personnel intensive to one that is science and technology intensive

Since the early 2000s, the PLA has also begun focusing on building a military based on informationalization and mechanization.

The second component is operational, which provides a broad and overarching set of fundamental approaches to the conduct of war. These national-level operational guidelines are general. They are not intended to provide specific direction for campaign- or tactical-level operations or even specific contingencies. They are always keyed to an assessment of the most likely type of conflict China will face in the near term (total war or local war, nuclear war or conventional war).

The current operational component of the “National Military Strategic Guidelines for the New Period” is known as “Active Defense” as adjusted for the conduct of “Local Wars Under Modern High-Tech Conditions.” “Active Defense,” therefore, is the highest level of strategic guidance for all PLA military operations during war and preparation for war during peacetime. It applies to all PLA services and branches, including the PLAN.

Offshore Defense

In 1985, the CMC approved a PLAN component of the “Active Defense” strategic guidelines known as “Offshore Defense”. The PLAN also refers to this concept as the “Offshore Defense Strategy.”

For an in depth report on the PLAN Offshore Defense Doctrine click here

PLAN Campaigns

The PLA has identified 22 types of campaigns it could conduct during a conflict. Of these, the PLAN has six key types of campaigns that it may be called upon to engage in, either as part of a larger joint campaign or as a singleservice affair. They include:

  • Sea Blockade Campaign: A campaign aimed at blocking or reducing the sea links between the enemy and the rest of the world.
  • Anti-Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) Campaign: A campaign to damage and paralyze enemy sea lines of communication.
  • Sea-to-Land Attack Campaign: A campaign aimed at “attacking enemy naval bases, ports, and other important landbased targets.” These campaigns can involve either the use of conventional weapons or sea-based nuclear weapons.
  • Antiship Campaign: A campaign to destroy or damage large surface warships. It is “the most typical of all naval campaigns.”
  • Sea Transportation Protection Campaign: A Navy campaign to defend the safety of sea transportation and sea lines of communication.
  • Naval Base Defense Campaign: A campaign to resist large-scale enemy attack, blockade, or occupation of friendly naval bases. This includes defense against a variety of attacks, including attacks with submarines, surface warships, water mines, air and land attacks, and attacks with nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons.

Three Attacks and Three Defenses

Within its 22 campaigns, the PLA conducts training on specific types of combat methods for what it calls the “Three Attacks and Three Defenses.” Originally, the “Three Attacks” referred to attacks against tanks, aircraft, and airborne forces, and the “Three Defenses” referred to defense against chemical, biological, and nuclear attack. In 1999, the PLA initiated the concept of “New Three Attacks,” which refers to attacks against stealth aircraft, cruise missiles, and armed helicopters, and the “New Three Defenses,” which refers to defense against precision strikes, electronic jamming, and electronic reconnaissance and surveillance. The PLAN is actively involved in developing and training with its own combat methods for the new “Three Attacks and Three Defenses.”

Key Guidance Documents

The PLAN disseminates its operational and training guidance via official documents, slogans, and books. The highest-level campaign guidance documents are known as gangyao.6 Other layers in the process include the Outline of Military Training and Evaluation, military training guidance concepts, regulations, and teaching materials. What is significant is that the PLAN has published an entirely new set of revised guidance documents since the end of the 9th Five-Year Plan (1996-2000).

The Gangyao

Campaign gangyao are an authoritative and official set of guidelines, often classified, which have a relatively long shelf life (5 to 10 years) and from which other more granular guidance, derived. Comparable US Navy documents would be a classified Naval Doctrine Publication. In 1999, the PLAN reissued its Campaign Gangyao at the same time the PLA reissued revised campaign gangyao for the Army, Air Force, and Second Artillery. At that time, the PLA also issued its first ever Joint Campaign Gangyao and Joint Logistics Campaign Gangyao


Outline of Military Training and Evaluation

In June 2001, the General Staff Department issued a completely revised Outline of Military Training and Evaluation or OMTE for the ground forces, which, as a set of classified documents, is simply identified in PLA writings as dagang. After three years of research and writing, the PLAN published its own completely revised set of OMTE in January 2002. In April 2002, the PLAAF reissued all of its OMTE. Of note, the word “evaluation” was not included until the revised OMTE were issued.

According to PLAN writings, the OMTE consists of the standardized documents used by each branch and type of vessel unit to organize and conduct military training. The OMTE are divided according to branch, vessel type, specialized function, and specialized technology. Their content includes the guiding thought, training subjects, content, timing, and objectives of training.

The OMTE stipulate the procedures for implementing training, the drafting of plans, the topics and programs, the training organization, and the examination and assessment of training. Some examples of PLAN OMTE are as follows:

  • Units Equipped with Each Class of Naval Submarine and Surface Vessel
  • Units Equipped with Each Type of Naval Aviation Aircraft, AAA, and SAM
  • Naval Coastal Defense Artillery and Missile Units
  • Marine Corps
  • Logistics Units
  • Chemical Defense Units

Military Training Guidance Concepts

Based on specific “military training guidance concepts” established by the four general departments, the PLA Navy has identified similar, if not the same, concepts as the basic principles for its military training. They are merely a set of 16 characters organized into four sets of four characters. A review of the PLAN writings identified the following PLAN military training guidance concepts:

  • Closely adhere to actual combat situations
  • Stress training against opposition forces
  • Implement strict discipline during training
  • Apply science and technology during training

PLAN Regulations

The PLAN has a wide range of documents with different names that can all be translated in English as rules and regulations. Different headquarters can issue different types of rules and regulations. Only the four general departments and service headquarters can issue certain types of regulations. Units as low as a regiment can issue various types of regulations.

Teaching Materials

The PLAN uses teaching materials based on the documents and training guidance concepts, which are written by organizations such as the PLAN Command Academy and the PLA’s Academy of Military Science (AMS).