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People's Liberation Navy - Personnel

Understanding the size of the PLA in the past, present, or future is not an easy task. The main reasons for this are because the PLA's organizational structure has changed significantly over the past five decades and statistics were not always available or accurate. Furthermore, the statistics provided have not always differentiated among the different components of the armed forces.

Although China has provided public information about the total size of the PLA over the past decade, it has not broken down the number of personnel by service or branch, nor has it provided specific figures for the number of officers, technical officers, civilian cadre, noncommissioned officers, and conscripts. Figures for the PLA Navy available in Western publications are not necessarily accurate, but they do provide a rough estimate.

China's Armed Forces

When looking at China's military, it is important to make a distinction among the three different components of the armed forces:

  • People's Liberation Army
  • People's Armed Police
  • Militia

People's Liberation Army

The PLA currently has 2.3 million personnel, comprised of both active and reserve components. The active components of the PLA are the country's standing forces, consisting of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Second Artillery. China's reserve units were created in 1983 as an important component of the PLA's organizational structure. Over the past 20 years, China has gone from having only groundforce reserve units to developing PLA Navy, Air Force, and Second Artillery reserve units. Today, China has more than 500,000 reserve personnel. During peacetime, the reservescome under the leadership of the provincial military district or garrisons. After they are mobilized during wartime, they come under the command of active-duty units or they can carry out independent combat missions. During wartime, the reserves transition to active-duty status.

People's Armed Police

The People's Armed Police or PAP was established in 1982. It belongs within the organizational structure of the State Council and is under the dual leadership of the State Council and the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee's Military Commission (CMC). The PAP has eight types of troops. Of these, PAP Headquarters manages five (internal security, gold mines, forests, hydroelectric, and transportation) with a combined total of more than 600,000 troops. The Ministry of Public Security manages the remaining three (border guards, fire fighters, and security guards) with a total of more than 200,000 people.


China describes the militia as the armed organization drawn from the masses involved in production work, which serves as a reserve force for the PLA. The General Staff Department administers the building of the militia under the leadership of the State Council and the CMC. Currently, the total number of primary militia stands at about 10 million, with about 100 million people registered as ordinary militia.

PLA Reductions

Since 1950, the PLA has 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 occurred in late 1950, but 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. The ninth downsizing occurred between 1997 and 2000 with a 500,000-man reduction to 2.5 million. 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.

The 10 force reductions in the PLA have 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

PLAN Personnel

Although the PLAN does not provide specific data about the size and breakdown of its personnel force, available information suggests that as of 2007, the PLAN has approximately 290,000 personnel, which equates to 12.6% of the PLA's 2.3 million. Given a 1:1:1 ratio for officers, NCOs, and conscripts for the PLA as a whole, and assuming that the ratio holds for the PLAN, means the PLAN has approximately 97,000 personnel in each category.

However, the ratio of officers to enlisted personnel in the PLA Navy and US Navy can vary depending on the type of unit. For example, a PLAN Luhai-class destroyer has 40 officers (16.0%) out of a crew of 250 personnel, while a USN Arleigh Burke-class destroyer has 23 officers (7.1%) out of a crew of 323 personnel.

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Page last modified: 31-12-2019 16:03:16 ZULU