Tuesday, February 09, 2016

The PLA’s New Organizational Structure: What is Known, Unknown and Speculation (Part 1)

It should not be news to anyone by now that the PLA is undergoing a profound organizational restructuring, perhaps the most dramatic since 1949.  To help us to get a better handle on the effects of those changes, CDF is proudly present the latest by the “A” “B” and “C” of the PLA watching community (Allen, Blasko, and Corbett), the single best scholarly article published on this subject thus far.  Enjoy.

**  A great thanks goes to Jamestown for putting everything together on this important work **

The PLA’s New Organizational Structure: What is Known, Unknown and Speculation (Part 1)


Publication: China Brief Volume: 16 Issue: 3
February 4, 2016 05:56 PM Age: 5 days

PLA Theater Commands. For a full size image see below.

Note: This article is part of a two-part series examining changes to China’s Military organizational structure and personnel. Part 1 examines what is known and unknown. Part 2 contains speculation as to changes that may occur in the future. 
On December 31, 2015, the China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) began its eleventh major reorganization since 1952. Most previous reorganizations focused on reducing the size of the infantry and bloated higher-echelon headquarters, turning over entire organizations, such as the railway corps, to civilian control, and transferring units to the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) and the People’s Armed Police (PAP). [1] To date, most Western analysis of the current reorganization has addressed the reasons for and policy implications of the current reorganization. Instead, this article addresses what is known about changes to the PLA’s organizational structure—the essential factor needed to inform any credible analysis of the reasons for and the implications of the current reorganization. [2]
Although there are lots of media reports and blogs writing about the reorganization, much of what has been written has been incorrect or based on speculation. As a result, the “known” component of this article is based on official Chinese reporting in Chinese and English from the Ministry of National Defense’s (MND) website, China Daily, and Xinhua.

Although there are many media and blog articles about various parts of the reorganization, until the information is available in official PLA or Xinhua reporting, this article identifies them as “unknown” or “speculation.” Another issue arising from the variety of reporting on the reorganization is terminology. One example is the “official” English translation for the geographic groupings that are replacing China’s military regions (军区). For example, the PLA officially has translated the term “zhanqu” (战区) as “theater of war,” “theater,” and “battle zone”; however, various Western analysts have translated it as “war zone” and certain unofficial media reports have used “combat zone” (Bowen, January 9). [3] Due to the use of “Theater Command” in an article published by the Chinese MND announcing the official “standing up” ceremony on February 1, this article will use “Theater Command” (MOD, February 1).

What is “Known”
In November 2013, the Third Plenum of 18th Party Central Committee announced the decision to “optimize the size and structure of the army, adjust and improve the balance between the services and branches, and reduce non-combat institutions and personnel.” This rebalance is meant to correct the domination of the PLA Army, which with the Second Artillery, currently has 73 percent of the PLA’s total troops, followed by 10 percent for the Navy (PLAN) and 17 percent for the Air Force (PLAAF). The Central Committee also announced creation of a “joint operation command authority under the Central Military Commission (CMC), and theater joint operation command system” and to “accelerate the building of new combat powers, and deepen the reform of military colleges” (CNTV.com, November 16, 2015). This announcement pointed to upcoming changes in four main categories: 1) PLA personnel size and force structure, 2) command organization and structure from the CMC down to the unit level, 3) modern military capabilities as found in “new type combat forces,” and 4) the PLA professional military education system of universities, academies, colleges, and schools.

Nearly two years passed before CMC Chairman Xi Jinping announced the first details of these reforms. At the September 3, 2015 military parade in Beijing, Xi proclaimed a reduction of 300,000 PLA personnel, bringing the size of the active duty PLA down to two million. An MND spokesman further clarified the cuts would be completed by the end of 2017 and would mainly affect “troops equipped with outdated armaments, administrative staff, and non-combatant personnel, while optimizing the structure of Chinese forces” (Xinhuanet, September 3, 2015). The only specific unit reported so far to have been eliminated is the Nanjing Military Region Art Troupe, one of numerous performing arts troupes, which have traditionally provided entertainment for PLA units (Global Times, January 25).

In November 2015, Xi declared the “current regional military area commands [also known as Military Region headquarters] will be adjusted and regrouped into new battle zone commands supervised by the CMC.” A three-tier combat command system from the CMC to theater commands to units would be created. But this system will be separate from the administrative chain of command running from the CMC to the four service headquarters to units. As such, service headquarters are responsible for “construction” functions, such as organizing, manning, and equipping units (Xinhuanet, November 26, 2015). These changes will take place over the next five years through the year 2020. [4]

On the last day of 2015, Xi presided over the establishment ceremonies for the PLA Army’s leading organ (national-level headquarters) (PLAA), the PLA Rocket Force (PLARF), and the PLA Strategic Support Force (PLASSF) and named their respective commanders and political commissars (Chinamil.com, January 1). The Army headquarters was charged to transform from “the regional defensive type to the full-spectrum combat type” and the Rocket Force, identified as China’s “core strategic deterrence power,” was upgraded to a full service (军种) from its former status of “an independent branch treated as a service,” (兵种). Later the PLA Daily indicated Rocket Force units would be the same as the former Second Artillery Force (PLASAF) (www.81.cn, January 10). As a service, the Rocket Force eventually could be expected to have its own distinctive uniform.

Though buried in an article about the reforms, another important target of the reforms was mentioned: reducing the size of the militia (Chinamil.com, January 1). The militia is not part of the PLA, but one of three elements of the Chinese armed forces (the other elements being the active and reserve units of the PLA and the PAP). Militia units are commanded by the system of local PLA headquarters from provincial Military Districts down to Military Sub-districts/Garrisons to People’s Armed Forces Departments (PAFD) in counties and below. No details of the militia reduction have been announced, but this development opens the door for potential reductions also in local headquarters, particularly at the Military Sub-district/garrison and PAFDs at county and grassroots levels.

On January 11, 2016, a new CMC organization with 15 functional departments, commissions, and offices was announced (Chinamil.com, January 11). One significant detail included was that the new CMC National Defense Mobilization Department will be responsible for “leading and managing the provincial military commands [i.e., also known as Military Districts],” a task previously assigned to Military Region headquarters. A photograph accompanying the announcement showed a total of 69 uniformed officers, of which 58 were PLAA/PLARF, six were PLAN, and five were PLAAF, which is not an auspicious start for greater jointness at the most senior levels of the PLA command structure.

On February 1, at a ceremony attended by the entire CMC, five new “theater commands” were established and their commanders and political commissars (PC) announced. In what appears to be their protocol order, the new headquarters are the Eastern (东部), Southern (南部), Western (西部), Northern (北部), and Central (中部) Theater Commands. [5] The new headquarters have been tasked to respond to security threats from their strategic directions, maintain peace, deter wars and win battles, and assist in “safeguarding the overall situations concerning the national security strategy and the military strategy” (Chinamil.com, February 1). All theater commanders and PCs were senior Army officers. The theater commands will have Army, Navy, and Air Force components based, respectively, on the “relevant naval fleets” and air forces of the former Military Regions (MR)—Rocket Forces were not mentioned. On February 2, PLA Daily reported the formation of the Army headquarters under the Eastern Theater Command (东部战区陆军) in Fuzhou, Fujian Province, but the ceremony to establish the new headquarters had been held earlier on January 24. This first Army headquarters to be set up in one of the new theater commands is commanded by LTG Qin Weijiang (秦卫江), son of former Defense Minister GEN Qin Jiwei, with MG Liao Keduo (廖可铎) as PC (81.cn, February 2). [6] PLAAF Commander Ma Xiaotian presided over the creation of five PLAAF theater commands on February 5 (81.cn, February 5).

More general information about the reforms is expected to be announced officially over time, but many operational- and tactical-level details likely will only be learned by close analysis of the Chinese media. Since an objective of the reforms is to improve the “joint operation command authority” of the force, it will be necessary to restructure PLA officer corps billets to create new opportunities for non-Army personnel to serve in senior joint command and staff assignments. The new force and personnel structure may require changes to the PLA’s existing system of grades and ranks.

The Grade and Rank Foundation
The foundation for understanding the reorganization is the PLA’s 15-grade structure shown in Table 1, which was last modified in 1988. [7] Under the existing system, every PLA organization and officer is assigned a grade from platoon level to CMC to designate their position in the military hierarchy. Organizationally, units can only command other units of lower grade levels. For example, a corps leader grade unit is authorized to command divisions, but not vice versa. Officers are assigned grades along with military ranks. Each grade has two or more ranks assigned to that level. On average officers up to the rank of senior colonel are promoted in grade every three years, while they are promoted in rank approximately every four years. In the PLA, an officer’s grade is more important than his rank. [8]

Part 2 of this article will address the options for changes in the grade and rank systems that appear likely to accompany the extensive changes anticipated in the PLA organization and structure. Table 1 is included here to assist in understanding the organizational changes already underway and discussed in Part 1.

Table 1: PLA’s 15-grade Structure since 1988
Grade Primary Rank Secondary Rank
CMC Chairman (军委主席)
Vice Chairmen (军委副主席)
CMC Member (军委委员) General
MR Leader (正大军区职) GEN/ADM LTG/VADM
MR Deputy Leader (副大军区职)
Corps Leader (正军职) MG/RADM LTG/VADM
Corps Deputy Leader (副军职) MG/RADM SCOL/SCPT
Division Leader (正师职) SCOL/SCPT MG/RADM
Division Deputy Leader (副师职) (Brigade Leader) COL/CPT SCOL/SCPT
Regiment Leader (正团职) (Brigade Deputy Leader) COL/CPT LTC/CDR
Regiment Deputy Leader (副团职) LTC/CDR MAJ/LCDR
Battalion Leader (正营职) MAJ/LCDR LTC/LCDR
Battalion Deputy Leader (副营职) CPT/LT MAJ/LCDR
Company Leader (正连职) CPT/LT 1LT/LTJG
Company Deputy Leader (副连职) 1LT/LTJG CPT/LT
Platoon (排职) 2 LT/ENS 1LT/ENS

New CMC Organizations

As mentioned above, on January 11, 2016, CMC Chairman Xi Jinping met with all of the new leaders of the reorganized CMC’s directly subordinate elements. Table 2 provides information about the 15 functional sections comprised of seven departments (including the important General Office), three commissions, and five directly affiliated offices. The new CMC structure expanded its former subordinated elements though the incorporation of many functions previously found in the former four General Departments, namely the General Staff Headquarters (also known as the General Staff Department [GSD]), General Political Department (GPD), General Logistics Department (GLD), and General Armament Department (GAD).

As can be seen from the new CMC structure, the biggest loser organizationally is the former General Staff Department and its leader, the Chief of the General Staff. The new Joint Staff Department has lost the GSD’s oversight of military training and education, mobilization, strategic planning, and likely cyberwar and electronic warfare units, not to mention the personnel and functions transferred to the new Army headquarters. Moreover, the new Political Work Department is responsible for “human resources management,” which implies that it has taken over the GSD’s oversight of enlisted personnel in the former Military Affairs Department. If true, the new Political Work Department will be responsible for all personnel matters concerning both cadre and enlisted personnel.
Table 2 includes the current organization name, the name of the person who has been assigned as the leader, as well as that person’s previous position and grade. Based on each person’s previous grade, it is assumed that they are still filling a billet of the same grade. It is also assumed that the MR Leader Grade and Deputy Leader Grade will be renamed Theater Leader Grade (正大战区职) and Deputy Leader Grade (副大战区职), respectively.

While the new offices are identified as CMC “functional sections,” it is not yet clear how the command or leadership relationships will work between the CMC leadership and the subordinate organizations. Also, while the general departments have gone away in name, the functions of all four departments continue under the new CMC structure and the new organizations have retained their same CMC member as the Chief of Staff (formerly Chief of the General Staff) or Director (for the GPD, GLD, and GAD). Only one of the functional sections—the Agency for Offices Administration—appears to be a new entity, probably because it is not clear where its component offices came from (possibly a management office from each general department). The other functional sections can be traced back to their former general department or office and, in many cases, they have retained the same leadership. As discussed elsewhere in this paper, it is not yet clear what the organizational grade of the 15 sections will be. For example, the corps-grade organizations listed in Table 2 could reasonably be expected to be raised to a higher grade reflecting their apparent enhanced status as a CMC-subordinate organization; however, any such change will affect every billet in the organization.

Table 2: CMC Functional Sections
CMC Organization Organization Assessed Grade Leader Leader’s Previous Position Leader’s Previous Grade
General Office
Theater Deputy Leader LTG Qin Shengxiang Director CMC General Office MR Deputy Leader
Joint Staff Department
CMC Member Gen Fang Fenghui
Chief of the General Staff CMC Member
Political Work Department
CMC Member GEN Zhang Yang
Director, GPD CMC Member
Logistic Support Department
CMC Member GEN Zhao Keshi
Director, GLD CMC Member
Equipment Development Department
CMC Member GEN Zhang Youxia
Director, GAD CMC Member
Training and Administration Department
Theater Deputy Leader MG Zheng He
Deputy Commander, Chengdu MR MR Deputy Leader
National Defense Mobilization Department
Theater Deputy Leader MG Sheng Bin (盛斌) Deputy Commander, Shenyang MR MR Deputy Leader
Discipline Inspection Commission
Theater Leader Gen Du Jincai
Deputy Director, GPD & Secretary, CMC Discipline Inspection Commission MR Leader
Politics and Law Commission
Theater Deputy Leader LTG Li Xiaofeng (李晓峰) Chief Procurator, PLA Military Procuratorate MR Deputy Leader
Science and Technology Commission
Theater Deputy Leader LTG Liu Guozhi
Director, GAD S&T Commission MR Deputy Leader
Office for Strategic Planning (战略规划办公室) Corps Leader MG Wang Huiqing
Director, GSD Strategic Planning Department Corps Leader
Office for Reform and Organizational Structure (军委改革和编制办公室) Corps Leader MG Wang Chengzhi (王成志) Director, GPD Directly Subordinate Work Department Corps Leader
Office for International Military Cooperation (国际军事合作办公室) Corps Leader RADM Guan Youfei
Director, MND Foreign Affairs Office (Director, GSD Foreign Affairs Office; Director, CMC Foreign Affairs Office) Corps Leader
Audit Office
(审 计署)
Corps Leader RADM Guo Chunfu
Director, CMC Auditing and Finance Department Corps Leader?
Agency for Offices Administration
Corps Leader MG Liu Zhiming
Deputy Chief of Staff, Shenyang MR Corps Leader

The Four Services and Strategic Support Force
Table 3 provides a list of the four services—PLAA, PLAN, PLAAF, and PLARF—and the PLASSF (MOD, January 1). The table includes the current organization name, the name of the person who has been assigned as the leader, as well as that person’s previous position and grade. Based on each person’s previous grade, it is assumed that they are still filling a billet of the same grade.
The PLAA now has an official headquarters at the same level as the PLAN, PLAAF, and PLARF. Previously, the four General Departments served as the Army Headquarters and the Joint Headquarters for all the PLA. Second, the PLASAF, which was previously an independent [Army] branch treated as a service, is now a full service equal to the PLAA, PLAN, and PLAAF. Third, the PLASSF does not appear to be a “service.” It is a “force,” a status similar to that of the former PLASAF. The key is the Chinese terms: Second Artillery Force and the Strategic Support Force are “budui” (部队), which the PLA translates as “force,” while the PLAA, PLAN, PLAAF, and PLARF use the term “jun” (军) and “junzhong” (军种), which means “service.” The Chinese use of the term “leading organ” for the PLAA, PLAN, PLAAF, and PLARF is because the PLA does not have an official term for “headquarters.”

Table 3: PLA Services and Strategic Support Force
Organization Organization Assessed Grade Leader Leader’s Previous Position Leader’s Previous Grade
Army Leading Organ
(aka PLA Army)
Theater Leader GEN Li Zuocheng
Commander, Chengdu MR MR Leader
PLA Navy
Theater Leader ADM Wu Shengli (吴胜利) Commander, PLA Navy CMC Member
PLA Air Force
Theater Leader GEN Ma Xiaotian (马晓天) Commander, Air Force CMC Member
PLA Rocket Force (火箭军) Theater Leader GEN Wei Fenghe (魏凤和) Commander, PLA Second Artillery Force CMC Member
PLA Strategic Support Force
Theater Leader LTG Gao Jin
Commandant, Academy of Military Science MR Leader

Theater Commands
The new theater command organizational structure is one more step in the consolidation and evolution of Military Regions that began with 13 MRs in 1955 and then reduced them to 11 MRs (1970) and 7 MRs (1985). [9] After extensive speculation, on February 1, CMC Chairman Xi Jinping presided over the inauguration ceremony formally establishing the five new “theater commands” or “zhanqu” (战区), replacing the previous seven Military Regions. Table 4 shows the five new theater commands in protocol order along with the new commanders’ and political commissars’ names and rank, as well as their previous position and grade. Of note, four of the five commanders came from an MR that was not part of the new theater command, while four of the five PCs came from the same MR that formed the base for the new theater commands.

Table 4: PLA Theater Commands
Organization Organization Grade Commander Commander’s Previous Position/Grade Political Commissar PC’s Previous Position/ Grade
Theater Command
(东部战区 )
Theater Leader (正大军区级) GEN Liu
Commander, Lanzhou MR/ MR Leader GEN Zheng Weiping
PC, Nanjing MR/MR Leader
Southern Theater Command
Theater Leader (正大军区级) GEN Wang Jiaocheng
Commander, Shenyang MR/ MR Leader GEN Wei Liang
PC, Guangzhou MR/MR Leader
Western Theater
(西部战区) Command
Theater Leader (正大军区级) GEN Zhao Zongji
Commander, Jinan MR/ MR Leader LTG Zhu Fuxi
PC, Chengdu MR/MR Leader
Northern Theater
(北部战区) Command
Theater Leader (正大军区级) GEN Song Puxuan
Commander, Beijing MR/ MR Leader GEN Chu Yimin
PC, Shenyang MR/MR Leader
Theater Command
Theater Leader (正大军区级) LTG Han Weiguo
Deputy Commander, Beijing MR/ MR Deputy Leader GEN Yin Fanlong
Deputy Director, GPD/MR Leader

At a press conference following the official announcement of the theater commands, the MND spokesman used the term “theater leader” (正大军区级) to identify the grade level of the new theater commands, which is the same term used for grade of the former MR leaders (www.81.cn, February
1). This arrangement suggests that Han Weiguo, shown as a LTG in the photograph of the establishment ceremony, likely will be promoted in rank and grade, even though he only received his second star in July 2015 and has been one of the Beijing MR deputy commanders.
The various announcements have not yet included specific details on the organizational structure of the new theater commands. Also, to date, there has been no official announcement as to what provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities the theater commands will include, or where the headquarters are located. At least four different maps have been published in the unofficial Chinese and Western media showing different sets of boundaries for the new theaters (Tieba, January 15; nddtv.com, January 29; cjdby.net; Sina Blogs, January 27; Phoenix, February 1).

Prior to the establishment of the theater commands, activities taking place clearly indicated the change was imminent. For example, in mid-January, PLA Daily announced that all seven MR newspapers had ceased operations (China Daily, January 22). It is not clear whether the new theater commands will have their own newspapers or not. The websites for the former MRs were also shut down; however, they have been replaced by new theater websites (db.81.cn; nb.81.cn; xb.81.cn; b.81.cn, and zb.81.cn). Also, the Hong Kong-based Wenweipo published photographs of ceremonies transferring units from the Chengdu, Nanjing, and Lanzhou MRs, but did not specify where the units were now assigned (Weiwenpo, January 18). It is likely that similar ceremonies were held in the other military regions. Associated with the dissolution of the Military Regions, “transitional work offices” (善后办公室) were established to manage holdover personnel and property issues (Chinamil.com, February 2).

Unanswered Questions
Many unknowns concerning the reorganization remain. The following questions identify topics for further examination as the reforms unfold in the coming months and years.

The CMC:
Will the CMC departments/commissions/offices and theater headquarters become true “joint” organizations with a balanced mix among members from each of the four services plus the PLASSF?

The MND:
Has the role of MND been changed? Previously, the MND was not in the chain of command from the CMC to MRs to units. The latest official announcements do not insert the MND into the operational or administrative chain of command. In September 2015, a three-part series of articles laid out a very aggressive reorganization that basically took all non-combat and combat-support organizations and placed them under MND; however, it does not appear that this has occurred (gwy.yjbys.com, September 2, 2015; gwy.yjbys.com; gwy.yjbys.com). Will there be any significant changes to the role of the MND in the new structure?

Personnel Cuts:
Although one of the first announcements Xi made about the reorganization concerned a 300,000-man downsizing, to date, no specifics have officially been announced other than the abolition of the performing arts troupe in the Nanjing MR (MOD, January 22). How will the remaining 2 million personnel be balanced among the services? Even if all 300,000 cuts were made only to the Army, it would still amount to some 63 percent of the 2 million-man force. Therefore, the other services would need to receive additional billets to better balance the force. This has done in the past by reassigning entire units from one service to another.

How will the PLA’s 2 million personnel be divided among officers, uniformed civil cadre, noncommissioned officers (NCOs), and conscripts/volunteers? In 2003, the PLA implemented a 200,000-man downsizing, of which 85 percent were officers, including over 200 one-star generals and admirals. In addition, about 70 junior officer specialty billets were turned over to NCOs. To date, thousands of NCOs have now filled those billets; however, they are still called “acting” (代理) leaders.

Will the local headquarters system of provincial Military Districts, Military Sub-districts, and Peoples Armed Force Departments be altered?

Operational Units:
What operational units will be disbanded? A review of internet sources since January 1, 2016 indicates that all 18 group armies remain operational. Will there be any change to the organization and subordination of the PLAN’s three fleets? Currently, all three fleets are reported operational. [10] There has been no official reporting on any changes in PLAAF units (MOD, February 2).

The Strategic Support Force:
To what headquarters (or CMC) is the PLASSF subordinate? What units comprise the PLASSF? What are the specific missions of the PLASSF? How many personnel are in the PLASSF? The reporting that the PLASSF will include responsibility for space-related activities as well as cyber/electronic warfare-related activities raises the likelihood that former GAD launch and monitoring bases and GSD Third Department Technical Reconnaissance Bureaus will be re-subordinated to the PLASSF, but this remain to be confirmed. Additionally, will any other operational units that previously were directly subordinate to the various General Departments be reassigned to the CMC functional departments, such as other intelligence, electronic warfare, political warfare, and logistics units?

Militia and the Reserves:
In addition to reductions in the militia, will PLA reserve units undergo change? Some active duty units equipped with older weapons could be transferred to either the reserves or militia.

What is the status of the Academy of Military Science, National Defense University, and National University of Defense Technology? Will they continue to be directly under the oversight of the CMC? What changes will occur in the PLA system of educational academies and schools? Will the number of new students be reduced because of the 300,000-person reduction? Will new academies be formed or former academies transformed into new entities based on changes in personnel and force structure? For example, will more NCO schools or more command academies be established?
Will PLA-wide guidance be issued establishing education and experience requirements for officers to be considered qualified as joint officers?

The People’s Armed Police (PAP):
Will there be any changes to the CMC and State Council/Ministry of Public Security’s dual command of the People’s Armed Police? If so, this will require a change to the National Defense Law. Will the size and composition of the PAP remain the same?

As can be seen thus far, the PLA is in the early stages of an extensive and complex reorganization, the objective of which is to enhance CMC Chairman Xi Jinping’s goal for “…conducting military reform and building a strong military… on the road of building a strong military with Chinese characteristics” (MOD, January 12). The amount of available information is limited, as the reorganization is being implemented in a deliberate step-by-step manner and details revealed piecemeal; the “unknowns” far exceed the “knowns.” The changes are likely to continue through the 19th Party Congress in 2017 with full implementation possibly as far away as 2020—previously identified as the intermediate milestone year in the modernization process with the final goal of completion by the middle of the century. Part 2 of this report moves deeper in to the area of speculation and will discuss the options and ramifications of reforming the grade and rank system along with the prospects for reform of the CMC itself.

Kenneth W. Allen is a Senior China Analyst at Defense Group Inc. (DGI) and a concurrent Senior China Analyst with the USAF’s China Aerospace Studies Institute (CASI). He is a retired U.S. Air Force officer, whose extensive service abroad includes a tour in China as the Assistant Air Attaché. He has written numerous articles on Chinese military affairs. A Chinese linguist, he holds an M.A. in international relations from Boston University.

Dennis J. Blasko, Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army (Retired), served 23 years as a Military Intelligence Officer and Foreign Area Officer specializing in China. Mr. Blasko was an army attaché in Beijing from 1992–1995 and in Hong Kong from 1995–1996. He is the author of The Chinese Army Today: Tradition and Transformation for the 21st Century, second edition (Routledge, 2012).

John F. Corbett, Jr., an Analytic Director with CENTRA Technology, Inc. since 2001, specializes in China, Taiwan, and Asian military and security issues. He is a retired US Army Colonel and Military Intelligence/China Foreign Area Officer (FAO), and served as an army attaché in Beijing and Hong Kong. He has published articles in The China Quarterly and The China Strategic Review and has contributed chapters to the NBR/U.S. Army War College series of books on the Chinese military.
  1. See Kevin Pollpeter and Kenneth W. Allen, eds, The PLA as Organization v2.0, p. 34, found at http://www.pla-org.com/downloads/.
  2. See U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) hearings on January 21, 2016 found at www.uscc.gov/Hearings/hearing-developments-chinas-military-force-projection-and-expeditionary-capabilities.
  3. For the PLA’s official definition see: Military Terminology of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (中国人民解放军军语), Beijing: Academy of Military Science Press, September 2011, p. 77; The 2012 and 2015 Defense White Papers both referred to zhanqu simply as “theater”; an article in the official Chinese news agency Xinhua, by contrast, translated zhanqu as “battle zone” (Xinhua, November 26, 2015). Most recently, The PLA’s English website used the term “Theater Command” (Chinamil.com, February 2).
  4. This system of dual responsibilities is similar to, but not exactly the same, as the U.S. military’s division of responsibilities between combatant commands and the services.
  5. This order breaks from the previous precedence that reflected the sequence in which the various regions were brought under control from the Kuomintang.
  6. Qin’s previous grade was MR Deputy Leader; Liao’s was Corps Leader.
  7. Pollpeter and Allen, p. 19.
  8. Pollpeter and Allen, pp. 10-15.
  9. Pollpeter and Allen, p. 54.
  10. Evidence of the status of the respective fleets can be found below:
East Sea Fleet: http://navy.81.cn/content/2016-01/19/content_6862367.htm; North Sea Fleet: http://navy.81.cn/content/2016-01/26/content_6868961.htm; South Sea Fleet: http://navy.81.cn/content/2016-01/26/content_6868928.htm .

Spokesperson: PLA's theater commands adjustment & establishment accomplished

Source: China Military OnlineEditor: Zhang Tao
2016-02-02 17:59
BEIJING, Feb. 2 (ChinaMil) -- China's Ministry of National Defense (MND) held a special press conference in Beijing on February 1, 2016, at which the Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun answered journalists' questions about the adjustment and establishment of the theater commands.
Q: Why re-adjust and re-divide the theater commands?
Yang: The five new theater commands, namely the Eastern Theater Command, the Southern Theater Command, the Western Theater Command, the Northern Theater Command and the Central Theater Command are set up according to China's security environment and the military's missions and tasks.
This adjustment is made on the principle that the Central Military Commission (CMC) takes charge of the overall administration of the Chinese armed forces, the theater commands focus on combat readiness, and the various military services pursue their own construction and development.
This adjustment is conducive to improving the joint operational commanding institutions, forming the joint operational system, better safeguarding national sovereignty, security and development interests, and maintaining regional stability and world peace.
Q: How were the five new theater commands established?
Yang: The five new theater commands' organs are established on the basis of the functions and institutions of the former seven Military Area Commands (MAC). Under the leadership of the CMC, the five new theater commands are equivalent to the level of the former MACs, and the top commanding officers are also equivalent to the same level of the former MACs. As the adjustment and establishment is completed, the former seven MACs - Shenyang, Beijing, Lanzhou, Ji'nan, Nanjing, Guangzhou and Chengdu - will be canceled.
Q: What are the duties and missions of the theater commands?
Yang: As the only top joint operational commanding institutions in their respective strategic directions, the theater commands are responsible for performing joint operational commanding functions, dealing with security threats in their strategic directions, maintaining peace, deterring wars and winning battles.
Q: What's the goal of theater commands construction?
Yang: The goal is to resolutely implement the Communist Party of China's goal of building a strong military under new circumstances, resolutely carry out the military strategy and guideline under new circumstances, resolutely carry through the principle that the CMC takes charge of the overall administration of the Chinese armed forces, the theater commands focus on combat readiness, and the various military services pursue their own construction and development, and build the loyal, competent and efficient joint operational commanding institutions.
Q: Will there be services' organs in the five theater commands?
Yang: To adapt to the establishment of theater commands, services' subordinate organs are formed within the five theater commands during this round of reform.
The Army's subordinate organs within the five theater commands are built on the basis of certain functions and institutions of the former MACs, the Navy's subordinate organs within the five theater commands are built on the basis of relevant naval fleets, and the Air Force's subordinate organs within five theater commands are built on the basis of the air force of former MACs. To date, the adjustment and establishment of the services' organs within five theater commands has been completed.
Q: Since the theater commands don't directly lead and manage the troops, will that affect their commands over the troops?
Yang: As the only top joint operational commanding institutions in their respective strategic directions, the theater commands can carry out unified command and control over all troops undertaking combat missions according to the commanding rights and liabilities endorsed by the CMC.
We will adapt to the operational requirements of the new commanding system, improve relevant rules and laws, and make sure the commanding rights and liabilities of the theater commands be earnestly put in place.
Q: After the theater commands adjustment and establishment, will China's national defense policy and military strategy be changed?
Yang: China always upholds a national defense policy that is defensive in nature and insists on the military strategy of proactive defense. Such policy and strategy are determined by China's political system, development strategy, foreign policy and historical and cultural traditions and will remain unchanged.
The Chinese armed forces will adhere to the security outlook of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable, actively expand the space for military security cooperation, and create a security environment conducive to the nation's peaceful development, and make greater contributions to world peace.
Q: How to deal with the follow-up work and left-over problems after the former MACs are canceled?
Yang: According to the actual situations of the reform, President Xi Jinping and China's CMC have decided to form transitional work offices to specifically deal with the follow-up work.
This arrangement is good for well serving the retired officers and properly arranging the officers and the wounded, sick and disabled, and is conducive to strengthening the management of funds, materials, equipment and facilities, so as to ensure the smooth transition from the old system to the new one and also the security and stability of the troops.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Friday, January 29, 2016

Boring logistics picture of the day: The new 3000 Ton Troopship is ready for commission for South China Sea Missions

The PLAN is ready to replace its old QiongShan class Troopship NanYun830 with a modern ocean-going design.   The first "NanYun830" or "South Troopship 830" weighting-in 2159 tons with a top speed of 16 knots. It can carry 400 troops or 350 tons of cargo

The new South Troopship 830 is capable of 20 knots and an estimated range of 5000 nm

The decommissioned NanYun830

China's Marine Corps, a view within China

Expert: Marine Corps' overall combat capability needs to be enhanced
Source: China Military OnlineEditor: Zhang Tao
2016-01-26 17:260

BEIJING, January 26 (ChinaMil) -- Adm. Wu Shengli and Adm. Miao Hua, respectively commander and political commissar of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy, observed the realistic confrontation exercises of the Marine Corps in the Gobi desert of Xinjiang on January 23.

This is the first time for the PLA Navy's top leaders to observe and instruct military exercises on the spot in 2016 according to public report, and the third time that Wu Shengli observed the cross-region exercises of the Marine Corps.

Zhang Junshe, associate researcher from the Military Academic Research Institute of the PLA Navy, said on January 25 that China's Marine Corps has large room for progress and will enhance its overall combat capability in the future.

It is reported that on January 22 and 23, the Marine Corps carried out live fire verification exercise, the confrontation exercise and the counter-terrorism drill involving special operations regiment in the Gobi desert for the first time. This is the fourth cross-region exercise of the Marine Corps since March 2014 and Wu Shengli has observed and instructed three of them, indicating the great importance he attaches to the Marine Corps.

"With a vast territory, China is faced with complicated surrounding situations, diversified threats and challenges, and volatile conditions. As we have expanded our national security interests and overseas interests, realistic war threats not only exist in the surrounding waters, but may also appear in more directions, remoter areas and vaster space", according to Zhang Junshe.

Therefore, Zhang stressed, "the Chinese Marine Corps has to be well trained in amphibious attack and carry out realistic trainings in high-elevation and cold areas, mountains, forests and Gobi desert, so as to adapt to different tasks and requirements under all kinds of circumstances."

The U.S. has the world's largest and strongest Marine Corps with nearly 200,000 troops, with three Marine Divisions as the ground combat force and close to 400 planes in the aviation force, including helicopters and F/A-18 and F-35 warplanes.

The U.S. has also deployed amphibious combat troops in all major theaters around the world, and has formed three ground expeditionary forces based on the three Marine Divisions, two deployed in the Pacific Ocean and one in the Atlantic Ocean.

Unlike the American Marine Corps that's focused on strike, Chinese Marine Corps' main mission is defensive combat. Although it is quite strong in the world, it still lags behind the American counterpart.

According to Zhang Junshe, "China's Marine Corps is much smaller than the U.S. counterpart in size. It lacks fixed-wing warplanes and the aviation force is too small. Moreover, China is weak in amphibious and long-distance power projection, and the PLA Navy lags far behind the American Navy that has about 30 large amphibious warfare ships."

Speaking of the Marine Corps development, Zhang Junshe believed the priority is to enhance its capability of amphibious landing operations and full-spectrum combat. Second, it should hone the ocean-going operation capability, with Chinese Marine Corps' participation in the Gulf of Aden escort missions and overseas Chinese evacuation operations being excellent practices.

In terms of equipment, the main battle equipment of the Marine Corps has to be further improved, including upgrading the tank performance and reinforcing aviation strike and transportation forces.

Moreover, large amphibious warfare ships with greater cruising ability, larger tonnage and higher speed shall be developed that can deliver Marines for combat operations quickly and improve their capability in amphibious landing operations, full-spectrum combat, and implementing diversified tasks.

The author is Guo Yuandan, reporter from the Global times. The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and don't represent views of the China Military Online website.

PLAN commission of the day: Gaoyaohu Type 903 Replenishment Tanker

The PLAN commissioned its fourth Type 903A  Replenishment Tanker.   Gaoyaohu weighting in at 23,00 tons marks the sixth overall Type 903 class currently available for overseas missions.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Chiense Marine in Gobi Desert

Would you please put some armor on?!  It is cold outside.

While the Chinese Marine's amphibious IFVs might be sporting proper desert camo this time, they definitely can use better armor protection. No matter which "Desert Region"  they eventually ventured into, it will be floored with RPGs, recoilless rifles.... and more recently, US supplied TOW missiles.  Come to think of it, the new ZTQ 105mm light tank might just do the trick.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Professional China-Watcher Article Of The Day: Barriers, Springboards and Benchmarks: China Conceptualizes the Pacific ‘Island Chains’

China-Defense.com proudly presents Andrew S. Erickson and Joel Wuthnow's latest China Quarterly article "Barriers, Springboards and Benchmarks: China Conceptualizes the Pacific ‘Island Chains'".  I trust that you will find it as intellectually stimulating as I did.

The entire article, in PDF format, can be downloaded here 

Barriers, Springboards and Benchmarks: China Conceptualizes the Pacific “Island Chains”
Andrew S. Erickson, US Naval War College, Newport, RI
Joel Wuthnow, US National Defense University, Washington, DC
US government reports describe Chinese-conceived “island chains” in the Western Pacific as narrow demarcations for Chinese “counter-intervention” operations to defeat US and allied forces in altercations over contested territorial claims. The sparse scholarship available does little to contest this excessively myopic assertion. Yet, further examination reveals meaningful differences that can greatly enhance an understanding of Chinese views of the “island chains” concept, and with it important aspects of China’s efforts to develop as a maritime power. Long before China had a navy or naval strategists worthy of the name, the concept had originated and been developed for decades by previous great powers vying for Asia-Pacific influence. Today, China’s own authoritative interpretations are flexible, nuanced and multifaceted – befitting the multiple and sometimes contradictory factors with which Beijing must contend in managing its meteoric maritime rise. These include the growing importance of sea lane security at increasing distances and levels of operational intensity.
美 国政府报告把中国设想的西太平洋 “岛链” 概念描述为中国军队为在有关领土争端的 “反干涉”作战中试图打败美国和盟国部队而设立的狭窄的界线。寥寥无几的相关研究对这个过于短视的看法也没有提出不同意见。然而, 进一步的分析却发现此概念有迥然不同的含义。这些含义能大大增强我们对中国为发展成为一个海洋大国所做出的努力的理解。这个概念是在中国有一个现代的海军 或海军战略家之前由其他有影响力的大国为争夺亚太地区的影响力而发展起来的。如今, 中国对此概念的权威解释显示出其灵活性, 微妙性和多面性。这些解释特征恰恰能与北京在管理其海上崛起过程中许多有时是相互矛盾的因素相适应。这些因素包括由于不断增大距离和活动强度所导致的海上 通道安全日益增长的重要性。
China; island chain; strategy; military; maritime; navy

Monday, August 24, 2015

Photos of the day: Fuel stop at Yong Xing Island, South China Sea

With three external fuel tanks, it seems that the JH-7 fighter-bomber has the range to reach out to Yong Xing Island.

Just in case you're wondering, they are from the 32nd Regiment, 11th PLAAF Air Division, Shenyang Military Region.   Shanyang Military is bordered by North Korea.  Perhaps they are vacation, wanting some sun and sand!

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Photos of the day: Yong Xing Island, South China Sea, Vacation spot.

Wifi included.