People's Army of Vietnam
People's Army of Vietnam [PAVN] is a singular military establishment (the full name is occasionally translated Vietnam People's Army, or VPA). Its singularity of purpose as well as form is a function of its Vietnamese cultural heritage, a centuries-old martial spirit, a history of messianic military leadership possessing extraordinary insight, and four decades of combat experience.
Since Vietnam fought against the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia in 1978–89, it demobilized about 500,000 troops and cut military spending. Still, Vietnam had one of the region’s largest and most powerful militaries. Furthermore, the People’s Army of Vietnam remained politically influential, and many senior officers obtained leadership positions in the Central Committee and Politburo of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP). The military’s prestige stemmed from its formidable track record against such major world military powers as France, the United States, and China and its deep roots in society.
PAVN (People's Army of Vietnam) is the formal name given to all elements of the Vietnamese armed forces; hence the designation PAVN (or People's) Navy and PAVN (or People's) Air Force. This usage is traceable to the 1954 Geneva Agreements under which the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) was permitted to keep such armed forces as it already possessed. To adhere to the letter of the agreements, DRV leaders immediately created a navy and air force, but listed these new services as part of PAVN. Separate naval and air forces with distinct military identities evolved over the years, however, and traditional interservice rivalries quickly began to assert themselves.
From their earliest days, the Vietnamese communists organized their armed forces into three basic categories described informally as "types of troops." Within the first category, the PAVN Regular Force ("main force troops"), are the army, the navy, and the air force. In 1987 the army consisted of about 1.2 million officers and enlisted personnel; the navy, about 15,000; and the air force, about 20,000. The second grouping, the Regional Force (or "territorial troops"), was organized geographically and consisted chiefly of infantry units with limited mobility. In 1987 it totaled about 500,000. The third category, the PAVN Militia Self-Defense Force (or "local troops"), is a semi-mobilized element organized by community (village, urban precinct) or economic enterprise (commune, factory, worksite). In 1987 it numbered about 1.2 million.
By the early 21st Century, this taxonomy had seemingly evolved into two types of troops. Within the first category, the PAVN Regular Force ("main force troops"), were the ground forces, the navy, the air force, the border guards and coast guard, numbering about 500,000 in all. The remaining forces were termed "Reserves" by Vietnam, and seemingly included Reserve Forces, Local Forces and the People's Self-Defense and Militia.
Military service is compulsory, usually for two years. In late 2001, Vietnam reinstated the requirement that women register for military service. However, barring an emergency mobilization, they are unlikely to be called up. Mandatory military service for women had been abandoned in 1975 at the end of the nation’s civil war. Although nearly a million citizens become eligible for military service each year, many of the young people do not enter the military due to tertiary education and going into business to support the economy.
The army's status as the dominant force is embodied within the revolutionary mandate of the Communist Party of Vietnam to govern and therefore will not be challenged by the air and naval services. However, as Vietnam's strategic environment becomes increasingly complicated due to China's push to become the dominant country within Asia, along with the constant build-up of military capabilities among regional powers, there will most likely be greater emphasis on the country's ability to define and protect its often distant offshore claims.
In order to protect these claims, there will be neccessary improvements in their air and naval forces. To meet this air and naval-based requirement, Vietnam has been making some moves towards modernization and improvement, however, due to financial constraints and other priorities these moves were at times little more than symbolic. Additionally, the army leadership was unlikely to stand idly by if it perceives these moves as detrimental to its own material and financial needs. Because of this, the present army priority of maintaining disproportionately large regular and militia forces will most likely remain and the air force and navy's capabilities will continue to be of limited strength.
When the country embarked upon the period of peace and construction, the VPA adjusted its organizational structure and equipment, and downsized its strength by nearly two thirds. Generations of VPA officers and soldiers continue to display the tradition and nature of “Uncle Ho’s Soldiers" and fulfil their functions as an army ready for fight, for work and for produce, worthy of late President Ho Chi Minh’s praise of “Our army, loyal to the Party, pious to the people and ready to fight and sacrifice their lives for independence and freedom of the Homeland, and socialism, will fulfil any tasks, overcome any difficulties and defeat any enemies."
Functioning as an army ready for work, the VPA has always maintained its close ties with the people. Being one of the core forces participating in mass mobilization, the VPA units have actively conducted that work. Many of them have taken the lead in socio-economic development in remote and secluded areas, taking part in search and rescue operations, natural disaster relief, and flood and storm prevention. The VPA has also joined in the work of hunger elimination and poverty alleviation, contributing to the improvement of the people’s material and spiritual life.
As an army ready for production, VPA units have made the most of such potential as labour, land, techniques, etc., to promote production activities and generate on-spot supplemental products that contribute to stabilizing and considerably improving the servicemen’s quality of life. VPA factories and enterprises have manufactured various types of weapons and equipment necessary for modern operations that meet the army’s requirements of combat readiness and combat. Many VPA units engaging in production and business have effectively conducted their operations to become the country’s major economic organizations, pioneering the combination of economy with defence, thus making contribution s to the nation’s socio-economic development and defence-security consolidation. VPA businesses have joined a number of the nation’s major projects and ventures.
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