China Military Revamp

China’s Military Modernisation And Ramifications For India

Lt Gen. SL Narasimhan (retd) New Delhi, India 15 October 2018

It is a well-known fact that China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is undergoing sweeping reforms. The reforms that were announced in November 2015 cover six major areas. One of them involving reduction of 300,000 personnel from China’s armed forces was announced in September 2015, prior to the other reforms. The completion of the reduction of 300,000 personnel has been confirmed by Chinese premier Li Keqiang. This reduction should not be taken at its face value. China has also announced the increase of her Marine Corps from the existing 20,000 to 100,000 personnel. This and other adjustments cater for majority of the reduced personnel to be sidestepped elsewhere.

Of the other five reforms, the first one was to dissolve the four general departments (General Staff Department, General Political Department, General Logistics Department and General Armored Department). The functions of these four departments have been subsumed in six departments, six offices and three commissions that function under the Central Military Commission (CMC) directly. The second reform was to create a PLA Ground Force Headquarters. The role that is envisaged for this newly created headquarters is restricted to manpower planning, training and equipment. No operational role seems to have been assigned to it as yet. There were reports that the Tibet Military District may be placed under it during peace time. The third reform was to convert the seven military regions that existed earlier into five joint theater commands. These five commands have been named as Eastern, Southern, Western, Northern and Central Joint Theatre Commands. The priority that has been assigned to these commands also conform to the order as mentioned above. Western Theatre Command is of importance to India. The Chengdu and Lanzhou Military Regions have been combined to form the Western Theater Command. Thus, the Western Theater Command covers almost 60 per cent of China’s geographical area. However, the forces that were on the Order of Battle of this theatre command have been reduced by two group armies which are equivalent of two Corps.

The fourth reform is to upgrade the hither-to-fore Second Arty Corps into PLA Rocket Force. Though the nomenclature has changed, no other characteristic of this force seems to have changed. There have been discussions among analysts as to whether Theater Commands have been delegated the powers to launch the conventional missiles which have been placed under them. However, it is understood that the command and control of the Rocket Force will rest with the CMC.

The last but not the least of the reforms is the creation of PLA Strategic Support Force (PLASSF). This organisation has been created by drawing manpower from the operations, intelligence, technical reconnaissance, Electronic Counter Measures & Radar and Informationisation department of the PLA. PLASSF centralises the control of China’s space assets and information warfare capability. This is an intelligence organisation which will enable the Central Military Commission to make decisions faster based on the inputs given by it.

What does all this mean for India? Firstly, a single theater commander will look after the India-China border as against two military regions in the past. This will enable the Western Theater Commander to concentrate the force for application in a better manner. However, he is also handicapped by having a large territorial area and various types of terrain to contend with. It will be difficult for any commander to launch operations along the 3488-km-long Line of Actual Control. The theaterisation will improve the joint operations capability of the PLA. However, it will take some more time for the PLA to train its commanders and staff personnel for carrying out planning and execution of joint operations. This is the window of opportunity that is available for India and her armed forces. Thirdly, the centralisation of the space and information warfare capability will give China a better information management and consequently reduce the Observe Orient Decide and Act (OODA) decision-making loop. The reorganisation has also reduced one layer in the command and control. From CMC–General Departments–Military Regions it has reduced to CMC–Theatre Commands. Fourthly, the theatre commanders are likely to concentrate only on the operational role, thereby improving the operational capability of the PLA. Creation of Ground Force Headquarters will enable the PLA to get equipped and train better.

Some movement towards reorganisation of the Indian Army has been appearing in the media. Creation of theatre commands, restructuring of the armed forces, reduction in the number of ranks and working towards jointness etc have been doing the rounds. These may not be a reaction to the reforms being carried out by the Chinese PLA. However, it is a welcome step for betterment of the operational capability of India’s armed forces.

(The author is member, National Security Advisory Board. Views are personal)

Image Courtesy: Chinese Military


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  • Chinese planning and strategic thinking is deep and forward looking . They are becoming a new type of communist. They don’t fall under typical lenisnist of moaist type which one used to think . Their consolidation of forces in the western sector should be of concern tonindian strategic thinkers . With less or other major issues in their other borders except may be Taiwan ( Taipei region) , they are able to focus and consolidate on the western sector . I presume there is some strong counter strategy from our side . Lrage countries have large international borders and theilitray strength and no’s are based on that to protect the borders all over . If it can only ensured they are deployed all around their birders and not just Indian front , the balance of power will be in our favour .

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