People's Liberation Army - Special Forces Formations
In order to build a modernized fighting force in the 21st century, China is conducting a comprehensive revolution in the military field, and China's special forces are naturally no exception. The major changes in China's elite special forces began in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The PLA has been focusing on selecting high-quality soldiers from the army, equipping them with the most advanced equipment and providing them with military training in many subjects. In the selection process, the PLA placed particular emphasis on the physical and psychological qualities of the candidate soldiers. The training will be extremely difficult, and soldiers who are considered to be unable to adapt to this training will be eliminated. It is said that the elimination rate at the beginning of training reached 50% to 90%.
Many military forces within the People's Republic of China can be classified as "special forces." These include the airborne brigade, amphibious landing operations, and the rapid reaction force in the navy. These forces undoubtedly apply to the definition of special forces, but the main focus of this article is some smaller, more sophisticated special forces with non-traditional or asymmetric war missions. Each infantry divison had a recon unit with a SOF platoon embedded within it.
The PLA's military-level special forces are all based on "special brigades." The size of each brigade is basically the same as the regiment, with about 1,000 troops divided into three battalions. According to the different main tasks in wartime, each special battalion is composed of different numbers of personnel. When performing special reconnaissance missions, a team consisting of two or more people is usually used. When direct combat missions need to be performed, a company-sized combat unit is divided from the special brigade. At present, in addition to the special forces attached to various military regions, the PLA also has special operations units capable of performing limited special reconnaissance in the group army, field division, and regiment.
The Chinese Army had a total of seven special operations battalions, each of which belonged to the seven military regions and was directly under the command of military region leaders. The 18 Group Army of the PLA also has its own special reconnaissance force, with the same number and combat capability as a battalion. Each combat division also had a special reconnaissance company of about 120 people. Each brigade or regiment had a special reconnaissance platoon of 30 to 40 people. All of these units were considered to be part of the Chinese Army's special operations forces, and their training levels and equipment are comparable to those of special battalions attached to various military regions.
By around 2015 the PLA had one major special forces unit in each Military Region. The 2015 reforms consolidated seven military regions into five "battle zones" - the consequent re-shuffling of special operiations units remained unknown as of 2019. As of 2016, extant units included the following:
Beijing military region reconnaissance and assault troops. Its main mission is to attack enemy airports, destroy enemy command and control centers, attack enemy communication centers, radar systems, and arsenals. Its equipment includes attack helicopters, power unit parachutes, mortars, flamethrowers, etc. The soldiers of this unit are all swimmers, and they are well versed in underwater damage and the ability to navigate ships alone.
"Flying Dragon" special forces in Nanjing Military Region. "Flying Dragon" was established in 1992. The army mainly conducts training in response to non-traditional security and performs "high-intensity" tasks under threat conditions. In 1997, the Feilong Special Forces conducted an exercise to simulate an attack on a concealed airfield. The exercise was conducted in the Purple Mountain in Nanjing. During the exercise, the special forces used unmanned aerial vehicles to transmit theater information to the command center and used airborne troops and gunships to conduct focused attacks.
"South China Sword" Special Forces in Guangzhou Military Region. The force has a total of 4,000 soldiers. It was founded in 1988. It is said to be the earliest special force formed after the modernization of the Chinese army, and has sea, land and air amphibious combat capabilities. The unit's soldiers receive training in 60 naval and air force cross subjects. The unit has conducted joint exercises with other units in mobile operations and island operations. The unit is said to have more than 400 soldiers capable of flying airplanes, performing "stunt operations" and piloting ships.
Jinan Military Region "Black Belle" and "Eagle" special forces. The Eagle Special Forces mainly conducts training in special reconnaissance and amphibious operations. Special forces soldiers perform upper body strength training every day to increase the endurance of the heart's blood vessels. Soldiers who passed 3,300 meters in 12 minutes were considered "passing"; if they completed 3,400 meters in 12 minutes, they were "good"; and after 3500 meters in 12 minutes, they were "excellent". The soldiers also practice traditional Chinese martial arts qigong and unarmed combat.
"Northeast Tigers" Special Forces of the Shenyang Military Region. This unit is a maritime special force. Its main training focuses on air projects and the tasks of attacking airports, command centers, and radar early warning stations such as "seals". The tools used include powered parachutes and diving respirators. Soldiers of the unit often conduct high-intensity survival training in jungle, desert, grassland, mountain, and city conditions.
"Southwest Eagle" special forces of the Chengdu Military Region. Founded in 1992, the unit uses high-tech equipment for special combat reconnaissance missions. The unit has received countless honorary medals and has been documented as a teaching material in air attack and reconnaissance skills. The force has maintained stunning records in four subjects: reconnaissance, air-based infiltration, surprise attacks and emergency evacuation.
"Cheetah" special forces in the Chengdu Military Region. The unit conducted its first counter-terrorism exercise in Xilingshan in 2002. Lanzhou Military Region "Dark Tiger" special forces. Information about the unit is relatively vague, and reports only mention roughly that the unit does exist within the Lanzhou Military Region and participate in numerous military operations.
"Sword" special forces (unknown military area). The unit was an amphibious system and was established in 2001. It was described by the outside world as a "trump card" to deal with the "independence" of Taiwan. In 2004, the unit conducted a mock offensive against the island. During the exercise, the unit captured an island with "electronic jamming systems", gunships, and air forces. The unit destroyed the island's airfield, oil depot, command center and arsenal during simulated exercises. After the island was controlled by special forces, follow-up forces entered and gradually cleared enemy biological and chemical weapons.
The People's Armed Police called the Snow Leopard Commando unit.
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