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PLA's next station: to be more specialized and professional

( Source: China Military Online  )         2014-February-28 17:12

  BEIJING, February 28 (ChinaMil) -- The reform of the Chinese military has never ceased in recent decade, but it has followed a way of “progressive, fully verified, doing more and talking less”.

  Servicemen responsible for art work need reform, China’s military area commands need reform, and divisions change into brigades…Despite the repeated clarification made by China's Ministry of National Defense, interpretation by the general public at home and abroad on Chinese military reform never peters out.

  In 2013, various versions of reform “schemes” on Chinese military establishment and system have emerged in an inexhaustible variety. In particular, some messages were released after the closure of the third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), which agitated the public comments and speculations about Chinese military reform.

  “Reform is the inexorable trend, and is inextricably linked with reforms on establishment and system, task division, and equipment development,” said Gen. Li Qianyuan, former commander of the Lanzhou Military Area Command (MAC) of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA). He held that “The state is carrying out deepened reforms in an all-round way, which has aroused diversified speculations from various circles with many issues still brewing. Some think tanks in China put forward their designs and suggestions, which are not completely groundless.”

  In fact, China's national defense and military have never ceased their reform pace in the past decade, but they are following a way of “progressive, fully verified, doing more and talking less”. Rather than claiming the exposition about national defense and military reforms at the third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the CPC as the “manifesto” of Chinese military reform, it would be better if we name it the “milestone” manifesting the new phase of Chinese military reform from a quantitative change to a qualitative change, and from low-profile exploration to the high-profile show.

  “Addition” and “subtraction”

  Although the proposition of military reform is a rather complex one, it can be inducted into three parts, namely, “subtraction”, “addition” and “function reorganization”.

  “Subtraction” refers to transforming the military from a large-number and large-scale one to one that emphasizes quality and effectiveness. At the third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the CPC, it explicitly stated to “optimize army scale and structure, adjust and improve proportions of services and arms, officers and men, troops and military organs and dwindle non-combat organizations and personnel”. It indicated a possible new round of disarmament in the next few years. Some observers who are close to the general headquarters/departments of the PLA expressed that the possible disarmament will be embodied in a few aspects:

  First, downsize commanding organs, i.e. streamline and merge some organs sharing similar or overlapping functions and responsibilities. Earlier, experts analyzed that the traditional seven military area commands of the PLA might see mergers to be restructured into five theaters as required by the new security strategies. Although not authoritative, such analysis allows people to re-evaluate whether the division of the seven military area commands is overstaffed against current security backdrop.

  Second, reduce commanding levels, i.e. adopt flatter commanding layers through cutting down commanding links. With regard to this, the Chinese military has conducted many sweeping moves. Since 1990s, the PLA Air Force has basically dissolved the corps-level units and achieved a three-level commanding system consisting of the PLA Air Force Headquarters, the aviation division, and the aviation regiment. While the PLA Army saw the springing up of a division-change-into-brigade surge after entering the new century, with the brigades directly leading synthetic battalions capable for independent combat operations. In this way, the commanding layers at the division and regiment levels were reduced, leading to more terse and forceful commanding structure.

  Third, decrease non-combat units and personnel dominated by units for service and support purposes with no direct connections with combat operations. In August 2013, the General Political Department (GPD) of the PLA issued Regulations on Standardizing Large-scale Art Performances and Enhancing Artistic Team Education and Management, targeting the military art performance units which have received negative comments from the society, which was interpreted by the outside as a signal and prelude for the downsizing of military art and sports units.

  The future of the provincial military commands was also pushed to the cusp of discussions. In the early stage after the founding of new China, against the heavy pressures from the overall external security environment, war mobilization was often in an extremely urgent state. The provincial military commands were mainly responsible for reserve force building, manpower recruiting in peacetime and troop mobilization during wartime and played a significant role. While at the time being, the sharp changes in security environment are greatly weakening the functions of provincial military commands. Except for some troop units subordinate to the provincial military commands bearing border and coastal defense tasks, most provincial military commands only have three-level establishments (provincial, city/prefecture, and county/district levels) with no actual troop units. The sizeable provincial military command system is thus deemed as a “tough nut” in urgent needs of reform.

  The so-called “addition” refers to establishing and enhancing relevant combat strength according to the requirements of military development. This mainly includes two aspects of key arms and new-type combat forces. In terms of key arms, an example could be found in May 2013, when the PLA Navy officially established its first aircraft-carrier-borne aviation troop unit. Though such troops are not new, it is indeed a pioneering work for the Chinese military and its establishment acts as an important link in the system of aircraft carrier combat force. In recent two years, the special operation groups of regiment level under the combined corps of various military area commands were successfully upgraded to the special operation brigades, which indicates that the special operation forces will become a focus of construction in the future. New-type combat forces mainly include the combat strength in new security spaces such as information operations and military aviation, etc. Some analyses showed that the Chinese military is likely to set up a “cyber force” and “special force”.

  “Function reorganization”

  A core objective of the current function reorganization is to adapt to the requirements posed by modern wars featuring full-time and multi-dimensional operations. It will complete the systems and mechanisms conducive to joint operations, promote fusion and integration of combat elements to realize “joint operations” which are regarded as the most difficult and innovation-demanding field to reform. In current major joint training and exercises, the Chinese military pays close attention to the role of joint commanding centers and deliberately mobilizes various services and arms.

  The Chinese military stresses on the fusion and integration of various services and arms, which is reflected in multiple aspects. Some military personnel disclosed that army officers were prioritized when commanding organs absorbed cadres in the past, and cadres of other services would suit up in army uniforms after they were admitted into the commanding organs. However, the senior staff officers in the commanding organs now have basically struck a balance between different services and arms, dressed in their original military uniforms in various colors. Such changes in external forms also miniature the PLA leadership’s emphasis on fusion and integration of various services and arms.

  Key contradiction between “being active” and “being prudent”

  The reform in national defense and military systems is not like those in other fields, as it relates to the national security and a slight move in one part may affect the situation as a whole. So it is extremely crucial to well balance the relations between being active and being prudent.

  Military reform will undoubtedly confront various difficulties and obstructions which can be categorized into technical ones and social ones. Technical obstructions mainly refer to the capabilities of innovation and reshaping. If the reform fails to steer the innovation and reshaping and lacks scientific approaches, it may turn into a waste of manpower and money and easily leads to “malpractice” or even a reverse in history.

  Social obstructions mainly refer to that the in-depth reform will challenge the interests of quite a few groups and individuals. With the “subtraction” calculated, the positions, resources and favorable treatments of many people will crumble to dust. Rash moves and unsound follow-up supports may trigger resistance from the targets of reform, or instability in the military.

  China devotes particular care to the right moment and right strength in its military reform cause. For a long time, the Chinese military reform has been making evolutionary progresses and a rush for quick results is resolutely objected. Thus the “unceasing little steps” have become a distinctive feature of the Chinese military reform.

  If we can say through long-term unremitting pursuits and efforts, the opportunity from quantitative changes to qualitative changes is finally emerging, let’s wait and see what the strength to push forward the transformation will be.

  “Unceasing little steps”

  China proposed a new round of adjustment and reform of the system and establishment in 2013.

  Since the founding of the new China, its military has undergone 13 large reforms in a row, with the most famous one being the “Million Disarmament” in 1985. To be objective, the first 10 reforms were mostly out of ending the wartime systems, domestic political movements and serving national economy building. The reforms targeting to address the difficulties and to elevate the combat effectiveness with hard efforts are the three ones after 1990s, in 1992, 1998 and 2003 respectively.

  These three large reforms feature strong continuity starting from the “Gulf War” which shocked the Chinese military leadership. After the Gulf War, hundreds of meetings were convened by Chinese military leading organs and scientific research institutes with a unanimous conclusion reached: the wave of new military reform has come and the Chinese military needs urgent reform to survive.

  Ever since then, it has been an unremitting mission of the Chinese military, from high-ranking military officers to theorists, to pay attention to and follow global new military reforms, and research, test and promote reforms in practice for over 20 years. Observers who have observed the Chinese military for long would discover that Chinese military reform is constantly following a progressive mode with “preparation and promotion in parallel” during its 10 years of development and practice traced back from 2013, only that some most sensitive issues haven’t been touched on and it seems that a killing blow is all that is needed to achieve a reform success.

  Over the decade, Chinese military has been making efforts in enhancing the construction of navy, air force and the Second Artillery Force and has gained pragmatic results. Nowadays, in the leaders of the General Staff Headquarters (GSH) of the PLA, a deputy chief post is set respectively for the PLA Navy, the Air Force and the Second Artillery Force. Such a top-level design is a vital symbol revealing the PLA’s stress on and efforts in the construction of Navy, Air Force and the Second Artillery Force.

  According to some personnel who is on a long-time service in the military, the PLA Navy, the Air Force and the Second Artillery Force have gone far ahead than the PLA Army recently no matter it is in fund investment, R&D and commissioning of high-end and new equipment, or the promotion and appointment of officers, or even the benefits and treatment for officers and men. In particular, the PLA Navy has become an envy of army officers and men because of its fast promotion for well-performing officers.

  It is learned that the adjustment of proportions of services and arms mentioned at the third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the CPC referred to development of the PLA Navy and the Air Force and comparative compression on the PLA Army from the whole picture. In any case, the navy will indefinitely be expanded. The U.S. Navy takes up 57% of its national military strength.

  In many military academies which allocate jobs in a unified way, the navy is a favored platform that most young cadres look forward to at their graduation.

  By Yao Yijiang and Lv Zhengtao

Editor :  Zhang Tao