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People's Liberation Army Navy - Marine Corps

China plans to expand its Marine Corps from the initial 20,000 to 100,000 troops in order to better protect the country's marine lifeline and rising overseas interests, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported on 13 March 2017. Some Marine Corps troops will be assigned overseas, including Djibouti and Gwadar Port of Pakistan, said the report.

The PLA Navy Marine Corps is an important force of conducting amphibious operations against islands, and enhancing the combat capability of PLA Navy Marine Corps and modernization of its equipment and weapons will help it play a bigger role when it comes to dealing with the Taiwan question in the future. Improving the capability of the Marine Corps to win the battle is also an important task, if it needs to use military means to solve the Taiwan question. One of the missions of the Marine Corps is conducting amphibious operations in solving Taiwan question by non-peaceful mean when necessary, but with the fast development of China and the expanding overseas interests, the Marine Corps also eyes on multiple missions in the new era, including protecting China’s overseas interests, conducting UN anti-piracy mission or other humanitarian assistance missions around the world.

The 2019 US DOD "Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China" stated : "The PLAN has continued expanding the PLAN Marine Corps (PLANMC) force structure. The PLANMC previously consisted of two brigades and approximately 10,000 personnel, and it was limited in geography and mission to amphibious assault and defense of South China Sea outposts. By 2020, the PLANMC will consist of seven brigades, may have more than 30,000 personnel, and it will expand its mission to include expeditionary operations beyond China’s borders. A newly established PLANMC headquarters is now responsible for manning, training, and equipping PLANMC forces. For the first time, the PLANMC also has its own commander, although it remains subordinate to the PLAN. The PLANMC may also establish an aviation brigade, which could provide an organic helicopter transport and attack capability, increasing its amphibious and expeditionary warfare capabilities....

"Ultimately, the PLANMC will be capable of operating from land, sea, and air as the PLA’s global military force, but this goal will likely not be realized by China’s stated goal to complete PLA reforms by 2020. Four new brigades have been established, bringing the total number of combat brigades to six, but only the original two brigades are fully mission-capable. There is no evidence to indicate the new brigades are manned, trained, and equipped to perform expeditionary missions yet. Additionally, the PLANMC may establish an aviation brigade, but there is no evidence this unit exists yet.

The strength of the Marine Corps, or PLANMC, has nearly tripled over the past three years to 35,000 troops, according to a report prepared by Jane’s for the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. The corps has also become a more visible presence in the South China Sea.

"The PLANMC is employing new equipment to perform an expeditionary mission, but the equipment is not arriving in sufficient numbers to meet the 2020 goal. Fifteen wheeled armored combat vehicles, more effective for land-based operations than amphibious operations, have been deployed with the PLANMC unit currently in Djibouti; they are the first-observed wheeled armored vehicles in the PLANMC. China lacks a sufficient inventory of wheeled armored vehicles to support multiple PLANMC expeditionary deployments adequately. Fully operational brigades are equipped exclusively with amphibious armored vehicles. The PLANMC has not received the helicopters required for an air assault capability, and it will likely need a minimum of 120 attack and medium-lift helicopters to be fully mission capable.

"Achieving this level of capability would include basing helicopters overseas to support PLANMC units and operating from amphibious ships. In 2018, PLANMC out-of-garrison exercises increased in frequency and size. In one exercise, likely the largest PLANMC exercise on record, more than 10,000 marines participated in a series of very simplistic training. This surge in training likely served to indoctrinate new PLAN marines into the service, but it lacked the complexity needed to allow these units to become proficient in expeditionary warfare."

The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy is boosting the aerial assault capabilities of its Marine Corps by systematically expanding it with combat-proven former Army units, a timely move to ready personnel in advance to maximize the power of the two recently launched Type 075 amphibious assault ships. The Valiant Assault Exemplary Company and the Nianzhuangwei Assault Exemplary Company are now parts of a Marine Corps aerial assault brigade, according to a story published by PLA Daily on 13 April 2020. Both companies won glory during the War of Liberation (1946-49), and they used to be under the command of the Army, but now they have joined the Navy's Marine Corps. The PLA Daily report did not say when the shift took place.

Two special operations brigades had already been incorporated into the PLA Navy's Marine Corps, taking the number of soldiers to 20,000 with more to come. China has at least two brigades of special combat soldiers have been deployed to the marines. China will add a third brigade that will undergo a transformation such as special training and learning how to conduct amphibious operations. The PLA Navy Marine Corps would expand to 100,000 troops, including six brigades, to fulfill new national missions. One source said that overall troop numbers of the PLA Navy would increase by 15 percent from the current 235,000. But if China's Marine Corps were to have an expansion to 100,000 troops, that would account for 42.6 percent of the current 235,000 troops of the Navy, much more than 15 percent.

There is both more and less here than meets the eye. A force of 100,000 Chinese marines, would give China an amphibious assault force second only to the 240,000 marines of the United States Marine Corps, and vastly larger than third place Vietnam, with 27,000 marines. But the apparent growth would largely be achieved by moving four existing Amphibious Mechanized Divisions from the PLA to the PLAN. These existing formations have some amphibious capabilities, but lack meaningful amphibious assault lift support, and are oriented towards a "one time" operational "lunge" against Taiwan, rather than ongoing amphibious operations.

An end strength of 100,000 Chinese marines is roughly half the active duty end strength of the US Marine Corps, which is used to size the US Navy amphibious assault fleet. The US Navy has nine Amphibious Squadrons, and the future 36-ship amphibious force is being shaped to allow the formation of 12 amphibious ready groups (ARGs). Doing the math, it might be expected that PLAN force goals would include six large amphigious assault ships [LHA/LHD] of a class not yet in evidence, as well as a dozen LPDs of the Type 071 Yuzhao class. Such a shipbuilding program could by completed by 2025, if not bit sooner.

The South China Morning Post commented that the PLA's decision to expand the Marine Corps reflected its strategic transition from relying on large quantities of troops to win land battles to relying on highly specialized troops to deal with diverse security challenges. The Hong Kong-based newspaper's report also mentioned that China is building a naval base in Djibouti but hasn't revealed how many troops the base will accommodate.

This is part of the policy of restraining the US; otherwise a five-fold increase in the number of Marines is simply not necessary. China wants to be a state comparable in military potential to the US in the Asia-Pacific Region [APR]. That's why it needs 100,000 marines.

According to an expert on geopolitics and former analyst of the defense committee and the State Duma international affairs committee, Konstantin Sokolov, said that it is necessary to assess the number of marines primarily with respect to the territory that can be controlled. "In East and South-East Asia, there are a lot of island territories that are part of the economic interests and security interests of China. I presume that if a likely enemy appears in these zones and there is a need of control, a large number of military police or the Marine Corps will be needed. Therefore, from my point of view, China, probably, can justifiably go on increasing the number of its marines," Sokolov said 13 March 2017.

President Xi Jinping inspected the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy Marine Corps in Chaozhou on 13 October 2020 amid his ongoing trip to South China’s Guangdong Province. Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), said the PLA Navy Marine Corps is an elite force for amphibious operations, and it shoulders the important duties of safeguarding the country's sovereignty security, territorial integrity, maritime interests, and overseas interests. He urged the PLA Navy Marine Corps to speed up the upgrading of their combat capabilities to forge a powerful troop, with battlewise soldiers, which is integrated and versatile in operation, swift in response, and capable of fighting under multi-dimensional conditions.

The inspection to the corps sent a signal that China will speed up its preparation for any potential military conflict in the water areas and islands in regions like the Taiwan Straits, South and East China Seas, as well as the regions of significant overseas interests, as the strategic pressure from foreign hostile forces against China is increasing.

Xi said the Marine Corps should focus on war preparedness and combat capabilities, and maintain a high level of readiness, adding that the force should stick to combat-oriented training and strengthen mission-oriented training tailored to the specific needs and force-on-force training. He also stressed the need for the PLA Navy Marine Corps to work more closely with other units of the PLA, and to be deeply integrated into the joint operations systems.

Xi stressed the need to strengthen strategic design for the construction of the Marine Corps. The strategic design should fit with the country's strategies of national development, security and military, strategic arrangements of modernized national defense and military, as well as the construction of the joint operations systems and transformation of the navy, Xi said.

Xi’s inspection suggests that the Marine Corps is no longer an ordinary branch of the armed forces, but has always been an irreplaceable elite combat force to safeguard China's maritime interests. As various military services hasten their joint powers, China will become more powerful in safeguarding the islands, reefs and maritime rights and interests.

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