What America Can Learn from China’s People’s Liberation Army

PLA repleshment tanker Hongzehu. Image: US Navy

Annie Kowalewski  April 18, 2017

President Trump recently called for a $54 billion increase in military spending to “send a message to the world… of American strength, security, and resolve.” The U.S. defense establishment is currently grappling with how these additional funds should be spent to achieve the stated objective. Merely investing in increasing the size of our forces is ineffective. Instead, the United States must prioritize modernizing its capabilities to meet new types of threats. As the United States advances down this path, it could look towards an unlikely source for inspiration: the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA). China watchers around the world continue to characterize the PLA as a “paper tiger”, but the United States could stand to learn a thing or two about force modernization from its Asian counterpart.

Do Not Underestimate the Paper Tiger

China’s last major conflict with a foreign adversary, its failed offensive in the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese war, led foreign commentators and military experts to deem the PLA a “ragtag” military that was disorganized and underfunded. Generally, the PLA lacked the technology and organizational wherewithal needed to fight even the smallest of adversaries. Today, the PLA has undergone massive military modernization efforts. They still note that the PLA is “not ready” to fight in a modern war due to technological gaps in China’s air defense, the nature of the bureaucratic and corrupt Chinese state, and its lack of combat experience.

The Chinese bureaucracy is cumbersome and beset with corruption. Yet its centralized nature has historically allowed China to rapidly adapt its fighting force to meet the shifting military-technological environment. Take, for instance, Deng Xiaoping and the first wave of PLA reform in the 1980s. The Chinese government recognized that mass alone could no longer assure its national security. Deng, therefore, shifted China’s military doctrine from a “people’s war” to a “people’s war with modern conditions.” In keeping with this doctrinal shift, the PLA rapidly deprioritized recruitment and manpower and instead focused efforts on acquiring a relatively modern arsenal. In just a few years’ time, Deng’s administration reduced the PLA’s military personnel by nearly one million and reformed China’s defense industry to focus on producing precision-guided weapons.

China shifted its military doctrine once more in 2015. This time Chinese strategists called for a return to an “active” defense, a notion reminiscent of an idea first surfaced by Mao Zedong in the early 1970s of using a large, mobilized army to protect China’s borders. Unlike Mao’s version, the modern notion of ‘active defense’ would have the PLA protect Chinese interests beyond the mainland’s borders by investing in new sea and air control technologies and reorganizing its services accordingly. The objective of these reforms is to create a force that is organizationally—and technologically—equipped to pursue joint, high-tech wars in the future multi-domain battlespace.

China’s Military-Technological and Organizational Investments

Pursuant to this doctrinal change, China is investing heavily in key areas of potential asymmetric technological advantage. China has, for instance, implemented a massive-scale ‘space dream’ project that aims to propel China to become a “global space power by 2030.” This effort is largely directed at interdicting U.S. space infrastructure since the U.S. battle network relies heavily on its military space constellation.

U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) reports also show that the PLA is investing heavily into “developing its counter-space, offensive cyber operations, and electronic warfare capabilities meant to deny adversaries the advantages of modern, information technology-driven warfare.” Corroborating DoD assertions, China’s most recent White Paper on defense revealed that the PLA aims to “win informationized local wars” and integrate emerging domains like cyber and space into its current training programs to create a joint and flexible fighting force.

The PLA has matched high technological investments with efforts to overhaul its organizational structure. Indeed, since December 2015, the PLA has completely transformed its command structure. The PLA’s old, Soviet-style centralized command structure has been replaced with seven geographically-aligned Theatre Commands (TCs). Each Chinese TC is tasked with managing threats within its geographic purview by capitalizing on recent Chinese military-technology advances and coordinating with other TCs. China’s Eastern and Southern TCs—which oversee Taiwan operations and territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas, respectively—specialize in sea control and amphibious assault operations. From the U.S. perspective, these operations represent components of China’s broader A2/AD strategy for deterring or, if necessary, defeating U.S. power projection in East Asia. From Beijing’s vantage point, they are required steps for defending the Chinese mainland. Critically, the Eastern and Southern TCs’ train to conduct these missions by leveraging high-level coordination and technological capabilities that China lacked just a few years ago.

Lessons from the Paper Tiger

The PLA has, and will no doubt continue, to encounter a learning curve as it sustains modernizations efforts. Yet China has already demonstrated its ability to rapidly pivot its military-technological base to exploit U.S. asymmetric vulnerabilities. This explains the shrinking U.S.-China weapons capabilities gap. At the same time, the PLA has shown its ability to adapt its organization to the realities of the emerging battlespace—a critical input if its military technological advances are to inform military victory. Together, these trends explain how China has come to challenge U.S. power in the Asian-Pacific region.

China’s progress on military modernization notwithstanding, some U.S. analysts maintain that China’s military will continue to be hamstrung—and, therefore, remain a “paper tiger”—by its lack of recent combat experience. In support of this argument, U.S. analysts often reference American forces’ combat experience in the Middle East over the past fifteen years as a source of great advantage in any potential conflict with China.

It is true that U.S. forces have gained extensive experience fighting in a fluid, unconventional military landscape, but the overall utility of that experience remains in question. U.S. forces are very experienced—and effective—at targeting non-state actors for kill or capture. They have less experience with highly-trained conventional opponents. U.S. air forces likewise have a great deal of experience performing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike missions in un- or limitedly-contested airspace. They have not flown large-scale operations in contested airspace in many decades. The U.S. military also has no experience fighting an adversary that aims, as the PLA does, to offset U.S. operational advantages by exploiting its vulnerabilities in the cyber, space, air, and sea domains.

U.S. forces’ experience conducting expansive counterterrorism and counterinsurgency campaigns could further hinder U.S. adaptiveness in other ways. The U.S. military bureaucracy is not famously agile. Its focus on these types of operations have already impeded efforts to adapt to the future of warfare. The training necessary to combat insurgent groups with limited weaponry greatly differs from the training necessary to operate and utilize high-end technologies against a modern adversary. The Department of Defense’s entrenched bureaucracy also makes it difficult to adapt to new types of threats that require a quicker response time. This problem is chronicled by those who discuss U.S. struggles with adapting to cyber, space, and informational warfare. It is also evident in the numbers. Reports reveal that U.S. modernization funding, which includes cyber and space capabilities, has decreased in the past five years.
Looking to the Future

The United States thus stands to gain the most from deeper inspection of the Chinese military’s ongoing modernization efforts. The PLA has shown remarkable flexibility in its efforts to evolve—technologically and organizationally—to conduct more complex, technology-intensive forms of warfare. The United States has recognized the need to do the same. To send a message of “strength, security and resolve,” and to compete with modern adversaries like the PLA, the United States must commit its additional defense funding to undertaking the organizational and technological innovations required to win an increasingly-complex threat environment.

Annie Kowalewski is a Research Intern for the Defense Strategies and Assessments Program at the Center for a New American Security and a Masters student at Georgetown University. She focuses on emerging technology, defense strategy, and U.S.-Chinese security relations.

Source: National Interest “What America Can Learn from China’s People’s Liberation Army”

Note: This is National Interest’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.

China’s 2017 defense budget rise to slow again

Soldiers of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) march during the military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two, in Beijing, China, September 3, 2015. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/File Photo

Soldiers of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) march during the military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two, in Beijing, China, September 3, 2015. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/File Photo

By Michael Martina and Philip Wen | BEIJING Sat Mar 4, 2017 | 1:30am EST

Defying pressure for a strong increase in defense spending, China said on Saturday its military budget this year would grow about 7 percent, its slowest pace since 2010.

Last year, with China’s economy slowing, the defense budget recorded its lowest increase in six years, 7.6 percent, the first single-digit rise since 2010, following a nearly unbroken two-decade run of double-digit increases.

With the administration of new U.S. President Donald Trump proposing a 10 percent jump in military spending in 2017, and worries about potential disputes with the United States over the South China Sea and the status of Taiwan, some in China had been pressing for a forceful message from this year’s defense budget.

This week influential state-run tabloid the Global Times called for a rise of at least 10 percent to deal with the uncertainty brought by Trump, and a retired senior general told Hong Kong and Taiwan media that 12 percent would be needed to match the U.S. rise.

“It’s not enough,” a source with ties to senior Chinese officers told Reuters. “A lot of people in the military won’t be happy with this.”

Parliament spokeswoman Fu Ying, who announced the increase, said defense spending would account for about 1.3 percent of GDP, the same level as the past few years.

The actual number for defense spending will be released on Sunday, when China’s largely rubber-stamp parliament begins its annual session.

China’s economic growth target for 2017 is expected to be lowered to around 6.5 percent from last year’s 6.5-7 percent when Premier Li Keqiang gives his work report to parliament.

Last year normally talkative military delegates to parliament largely declined to talk to foreign media about the slowing rate of military spending, saying they had been ordered not to speak to foreign reporters.


China’s military build-up has rattled nerves around the region, particularly because China has taken an increasingly assertive stance in its territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas and over Taiwan, which China claims as its own.

Taiwan’s defense ministry expects China to continue to strengthen its military, spokesman Chen Chung-chi told Reuters, while a senior official at Japan’s defense ministry said the spending rise was still large and lacked transparency.

Takashi Kawakami, professor of international politics at Japan’s Takushoku University, said the small rate of increase showed China was taking a cautious approach with the new U.S. government, especially as Presidents Trump and Xi could meet soon.

“There was a view that China would increase its defense budget in line with the rise of the defense budget in the United States. But the fact China kept it at this level means it’s in a wait-and-see mode regarding the Trump administration.”

Spokeswoman Fu dismissed concerns about China’s military.

“Look at the past decade or so; there have been so many conflicts, even wars, around the world resulting in serious, large numbers of casualties and loss of property, so many refugees destitute and homeless. Which one has China caused?” she said.

There are other concerns for China’s military, including how to deal with the 300,000 troops President Xi Jinping announced in 2015 would be cut, mainly by the end of 2017.

Last month Chinese military veterans demonstrated in central Beijing for two consecutive days, demanding unpaid retirement benefits in a new wave of protests highlighting the difficulty in managing demobilized troops.

“It’s not yet certain what is going to happen to these people, and the military is clearly hoping for more money to deal with them,” one senior Beijing-based Asia diplomat said before this year’s defense budget was announced.

The defense budget figure for last year, 954.35 billion yuan ($138.4 billion), likely understates its investment, according to diplomats, though the number is closely watched around the region and in Washington for clues to China’s intentions.

A 7 percent rise for this year based on last year’s budget would bring the figure to 1.02 trillion yuan, still only a quarter or so of the U.S. defense budget.

The White House has proposed a 10 percent increase in military spending to $603 billion, even though the United States has wound down major wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and is already the world’s pre-eminent military power.

(Additional reporting by J.R. Wu in Taipei and Nobuhiro Kubo in Tokyo; Writing and additional reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Will Waterman)

Source: Reuters “China’s 2017 defense budget rise to slow again”

Note: This is Reuters report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.

China’s New Ammunition Doubles the Range of Its Old Artillery

Life ammunition drill with the new ammunition

Life ammunition drill with the new ammunition

China has developed new ammunition for its existing artillery to double their range. In order to effectively use the increase range, a Chinese artillery regiment has replaced its wire communication system with optical fiber telecommunication system supported by relay to wireless and satellite communication networks.

Its reconnaissance capabilities have been enhanced by data sharing with drone units and the army’s air force. As a result, it is able to detect target further and quicker so as to have more time to adjust their cannons to accurately hit their remote targets.

Source: mil.huanqiu.com “PLA’s new ammunition doubles the range of its artillery with the help of drones and air force” (summary by Chan Kai Yee based on the report in Chinese)

Further Speculation about China’s Mysterious Missile Carried by J-16

j-16-carries-mysterious-missile-1j-16-carries-mysterious-missile-2 j-16-carries-mysterious-missile-3 j-16-carries-mysterious-missile-4

In my post yesterday titled “Further Information of China’s New PL-15 Long-Range Air-to-air Missile”, the new missile carried by J-16 appeared in Internet photos is regarded as China’s homegrown long-range air-to-air missile (LRAAM) according to Singapore’s zaobao.com and Chinese-military-aviation.blogspot.hk. Southfront.org that provides the above four photos of J-16 carrying the missile, however, says in its report “China’s J-16 Fighter Jet & Its New Mysterious Missile (Photos)” that “Combat Aircraft” military magazine has three main versions of speculation about the mysterious missile. Full text of southfront.org’s report is given below:

Photos, showing the Shenyang J-16 fighter jet of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), carrying a huge missile under its wing, at an unknown location were published online on Monday. According to initial analysis, the length of the missile is almost six meters.

According to the Combat Aircraft military magazine, the missile in the photos, apparently, is a new Chinese air-launched missile.

The magazine has three main versions about the mysterious missile.

Firstly, it could be “an ultra-long-range weapon intended to defeat high-value assets such as E-3 AWACS surveillance aircraft or RC-135 intelligence-gatherers.” However, Combat Aircraft also noted that if it is such a kind of missile, “it is somewhat surprising” to see that the J-16, which has “a primary air-to-ground role,” carrying it.

Secondly, the magazine presumed that the photos could show an “anti-satellite weapon, equivalent to the ASAT that was tested from the US Air Force F-15A Eagle in the early 1980s.” As the author of the article noted, anti-satellite weapons have been actively being tested by China for some years now, however, “these have not as yet been intended for launch by fighters.”

Another assumption is that the “new missile is not an AAM at all, but an anti-radar missile” – a fully indigenous follow-on to the YJ-91, a Chinese version of the Soviet Kh-31.

Source: southfront.org “China’s J-16 Fighter Jet & Its New Mysterious Missile (Photos)”

China eyes artificial intelligence for new cruise missiles

China is eyeing the use of a high level of artificial intelligence and automation for its next generation of cruise missiles, a senior designer was quoted as saying on Friday.

“We plan to adopt a ‘plug and play’ approach in the development of new cruise missiles, which will enable our military commanders to tailor-make missiles in accordance with combat conditions,” Wang Changqing of the China Aerospace and Industry Corp told the state-run China Daily newspaper.

“Moreover, our future cruise missiles will have a very high level of artificial intelligence and automation,” Wang added.

“They will allow commanders to control them in real time manner, or to use a fire-and-forget mode, or even to add more tasks to in-flight missiles.”

China is already a global leader in the field of using artificial intelligence in missiles, Wang added, without elaborating.

President Xi Jinping is overseeing an ambitious military modernization program, including developing stealth fighters and building aircraft carriers.

That has rattled China’s neighbors, several of whom are engaged in territorial disputes with it. The United States is also wary of China’s growing assertiveness.

China says it has no hostile intent and that it needs a modern military to protect its legitimate security needs as the world’s second-largest economy.

China has attached particular importance to missile development, including testing anti-missile missiles and anti-satellite missiles.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Source: Reuters “China eyes artificial intelligence for new cruise missiles”

Note: This is Reuters report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.

Photos of Chinese Troops Receiving Rocket Shoulder Firing Training

A trainee begins firing a 120 mm shoulder fired rocket

A trainee begins firing a 120 mm shoulder fired rocket

A rocket has just left rocket tube

A rocket has just left rocket tube

Glass fiber rocket tube turns red when firing a rocket

Glass fiber rocket tube turns red when firing a rocket

Volley of rocket firing

Volley of rocket firing

Loading of rocket

Loading of rocket

China’s official military forum mil.huanqiu.com posted in its report the above photos of Chinese troops receiving training in firing shoulder fired rockets.

Source: mil.huanqiu.com “PLA rocket tube turns red when firing a rocket” (summary by Chan Kai Yee based on the report in Chinese)

Beijing blasts Pentagon report on Chinese military as damaging trust

China condemned the U.S. Defense Department’s annual report on the Chinese military on Sunday, calling it deliberate distortion that has “severely damaged” mutual trust.

In its annual report to Congress on Chinese military activities, the U.S. Defense Department said on Friday that China is expected to add substantial military infrastructure, including communications and surveillance systems, to artificial islands in the South China Sea this year.

China’s Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun expressed “strong dissatisfaction” and “firm opposition” to the Pentagon report and said it has “severely damaged mutual trust”, state news agency Xinhua reported.

The report “hyped up” China’s military threat and lack of transparency, “deliberately distorted” Chinese defense policies and “unfairly” depicted Chinese activities in the East and South China seas, Yang was quoted as saying.

“China follows a national defense policy that is defensive in nature,” Yang said, adding that the country’s military build-up and reforms are aimed at maintaining sovereignty, security and territorial integrity and guaranteeing China’s peaceful development.

It is the United States that has always been suspicious and flexing its military muscle by frequently sending military aircraft and warships to the region, Yang said.

Despite its calls for freedom of navigation and restraint for peace, the U.S. has pushed forward militarization of the South China Sea with an “intention to exert hegemony”, Yang added.


The Pentagon report said the planned addition of military infrastructure would give China long-term “civil-military bases” in the contested waters.

It estimated that China’s reclamation work had added more than 3,200 acres (1,300 hectares) of land on seven features it occupied in the Spratly Islands in the space of two years.

The report said China had completed its major reclamation efforts in October, switching focus to infrastructure development, including three 9,800 foot-long (3,000 meter) airstrips that can accommodate advanced fighter jets.

Yang, the spokesman, defended the construction, saying it serves mostly civilian purposes and helps fulfill China’s international responsibilities and obligations by providing more public goods.

The Pentagon report comes at a time of heightened tension over maritime territories claimed by China and disputed by several Asian nations. Washington has accused Beijing of militarizing the South China Sea while Beijing, in turn, has criticized increased U.S. naval patrols and exercises in Asia.

The U.S report renewed accusations against China’s government and military for cyber attacks against U.S. government computer systems, a charge Beijing denies. The Pentagon said attacks in 2015 appeared focused on intelligence collection.

(Reporting by Benjamin Kang Lim; Editing by Richard Borsuk)

Source: Reuters “Beijing blasts Pentagon report on Chinese military as damaging trust”