Sunday, October 16, 2011

Chinese Ground Forces

Over the past two decades, the PLA ground forces saw some significant reductions and restructure of its personnel and equipment, resulting in a smaller, but more capable army with improved mobility and firepower. All of the Class-B divisions were either disbanded or transferred to the People’s Armed Police (PAP) force and reserve force, while some of the remaining divisions were downsized to brigades. At least 40% of divisions and brigades are now armoured or mechanised units . At the same time, reconnaissance, surface-to-air missile, special forces, helicopter, and electronic warfare elements have all been expanded.
In addition to infantry troops, the ground forces have seven “technical service arms”: armour, artillery, air defence, army aviation, engineering, chemical defence, and signal. On paper, the ground forces total some 1.6 million men, or about 70% of the PLA’s total strength. However, this figure includes those personnel serving with the administration, political, education, and logistics elements in military regions, military districts, and sub-districts. Therefore the size of the actual combat forces could be much smaller. In time of crisis, however, the regular ground forces can be quickly reinforced by the 800,000-man reserve force, 660,000-man PAP, as well as ten million militia.
The ground forces can be divided into two general categories: group armies and provincial military districts. The majority of the regular ground forces are organised into 18 group armies, which are which are corps-sized combined arms units with gross manpower ranging from 45,000 to 60,000 personnel. Each of the PLA’s seven military regions is assigned with 2 or 3 group armies. The rest of the regular ground forces and all of the army reserve units are under the control  of one of the 30 provincial military districts, which are tasked with border defence and internal security roles.
Despite the PLA's best effort to introduce new-generation weapon systems into the service, the bulk of its holding are still obsolete in terms of technology and design. Out of its 7,500 main battle tanks, only about a third are the relatively modern Type 96 and Type 99, with the remaining being the Type 59 and Type 69 developed from the Soviet T-54. Infantry fighting vehicles, self-propelled artillery gun systems, helicopters, anti-tank guided missiles, and surface-to-air missile systems are being gradually introduced, but only in very modest numbers. While some elite units are give priority in receiving newer weapon systems, the rest of the ground forces are asked to explore ways of using their existing weapons to fight in modern warfare.
The PLA has been able to make some evident improvements in its battlefield C3I capabilities, thank to China’s booming information technology and telecommunication industry. With the introduction of satellite communication, wireless networks, and digital radios, army commanders are now able to maintain constant communications with their front-line units while on the move. The ground forces have been regularly asked to operate under severe electronic countermeasures conditions in exercises. Furthermore, the PLA is developing a network-centric warfare capability by connecting different combat, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance elements to form an integrated network.

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