Chinese People’s Liberation Army Modernisation Trends

China will speed up modernization of its armed forces over the next five years as it has correspondingly reduced overall force levels. This was the central message delivered by Chairman Hu Jintao at the 17th CPC. “We must implement the military strategy for the new period, accelerate the revolution in military affairs with Chinese characteristics, ensure military preparedness, and enhance the military’s capability to respond to various security threats and accomplish diverse military tasks”, said Hu.

A linkage between growth, development and defence was also underlined with the words, “Bearing in mind the overall strategic interests of national security and development, we must take both economic development and national defence into consideration and make our country prosperous and our armed forces powerful while building a moderately prosperous society in all respects.”

That the PLA will continue to be a people’s army was also highlighted with the words, “fundamental purpose of the armed forces serving the people.” The overall control of the Party over the military is axiomatic. A report by Xinhua highlighted the commitment of the six high-ranking generals of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), all members of the Central Military Commission who pledged to support the absolute leadership of the Communist Party of China for national defence construction and PLA modernization.

The focus of modernization will be to develop information focused mechanized force, capable of undertaking war in an information dominated environment. Personnel would also be highly trained and equipped with weapons through “our capacity for independent innovation in R&D of weapons and equipment with better quality and cost-effectiveness,” he said. Training of military personnel and logistics would be the other arm of the modernisation process developed through thrift and diligence.

The focus is also likely to be on extensive training, in information and electronic rich, what the Chinese call as the, “electromagnetic” environments. Troops are to be trained in difficult and risky missions to be capable of winning the wars.

@ @The remarks of Kang Fei, delegate from the Navy on training appear particularly relevant, he says, “being resolute to rectify the unhealthy and fancy-seeking tendencies in training, and truly carrying out the training in accordance with the needs of real war by way of stressing on actual effects,” should be our aim. Chen Bingde, member of the Central Military Commission and chief of general staff, emphasized that the Party committees at various levels should fully implement the spirit of the 17th CPC National Congress, focus on the fulfillment of the historical mission of the army in the new century and the new period, make dynamic efforts to boost the reform of military work, work in a down-to-earth manner in the preparedness for military struggles, and promote a better and faster development of the work and construction of the General Staff Headquarters of the PLA.

In the sphere of logistics, Liao Xilong, member of the Central Military Commission and director of the General Logistics Department of the PLA, stressed on the logistics challenges as, “how to resolve the important and practical problems of the PLA’s logistics construction and reform, fully strengthen and improve the construction of the CPC in the units under the General Logistics Department of the PLA, and fulfill the missions of all-round development of modern logistics at high standards and sound quality”.

The focus on human resources development was also evident with the ability to bring out creative initiative of the officers and the men by motivating them to excel. This was highlighted by indicating an approach, which put people first in the army to protect their legitimate interests. As Cheng Wanchong, delegate to the 17th CPC National Congress and deputy commander of an aviation regiment of the PLA Air Force, highlighted, “In the grassroots units, the more the officers and men are developed all-roundly, the better will it favour the process of the military reform with Chinese characteristics, the maintenance and enhancement of the advanced nature of the army as a “big school”, and the army’s forefront role in the effort to promote the national civilization quality.”

While modernisation is in focus, the key issues identified are no different from other armies of the world be it emphasis on technology absorption or human resource development. Similarly electronic and information warfare have also received much attention. These precepts were also practiced during Queshan 2007, an exercise carried out by the PLA in September 2007. An essential factor, which has not received much focus, appears to be integration and joint ness. A detailed review of PLA doctrines is essential before any further comment can be made, however in such important deliberations, integration and joint ness could have possibly received greater attention. In the final analysis, the PLA is accountable to the Party and will follow its mandate.

Rahul K. Bhonsle is a Strategic Risk and Knowledge Management Consultant and writer with specific focus on defence and security, especially in South Asia.