Modernisation Of Chinese Armed Forces Commerce Essay

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The Central Military Commisions size has declined from over 80 members in the late 1970s to eleven today, making it less cumbersome. The Army dominated the CMC till 2004, when the PLAN, PLAAF and the second artillery commanders were added. This was the first time that PLAN and second artillery commanders had held these positions, and only the second time for a PLAAF commander. Their inclusion indicated more emphasis on what the Defence White Paper calls "strengthening the capabilities for winning both command of the sea and command of the air, and conducting strategic counter strikes". 1

2. War Zones. In the mid 1990s, the PLA began creating war zones that would control operations during wartime joint campaigns, such as Nanjing War Zone for any campaign against Taiwan. These These war zones will incorporate all the necessary forces to prosecute a campaign, including ground forces from more than one MR, plus PLAN, PLAAF and the second artillery units. Today, almost all personnel assigned to an MR headquarters are Army personnel. However, when a war zone Headquarters is created, personnel from the PLAN, PLAAF and second artillery will augment them. 2

3. Ground Forces. Until the early 1980s, the ground forces were primarily an infantry force consisting of 35 infantry corps, each with about 45000 troops.. The PLA also had some independent tank divisions. By 1988, the Soviet threat was receding and the 35 infantry corps had been consolidated to under 24 group armies. Their number was again cut to 21 by the end of the 1990s. Today, the PLA has 15 group armies each with 30,000 to 50,000 troops. The group army structure also has been refined. Many, if not all have lost one or more infantry divisions through deactivation, resubordination or downsizing. Others may gain units or equipment from deactivated headquarters. At the same time, new equipment is replacing older material, which would have an impact on the force structure. In July 2005, the PLA announced that it would further restructure its group armies by reducing the number of divisions and increasing the number of brigades. 3

Modernisation of the Army

4. The Chinese Army is into reorganisation by way of downsizing and reducing the teeth to tail ratio. In addition, new equipment is being inducted into PLA to transform into a modern force. It is assessed that the PLA is inducting the following equipment towards its modernisation.

(a) Anti Armour Weapons. This has been a weak point in the PLA armoury. However, of late there has been an induction of disposable rocket launchers also. Some of the note worthy developments in the field are given below 4 : -

(i) Type 69 Rocket Propelled Grenade launcher.

(ii) Type 70-1 62 mm Portable Anti Tank Rocket Launcher.

(iii) Type PF 89 Individual Anti Tank Rocket Launcher.

(iv) Red Arrow 8 Guided Weapon System.

(b) Armour. Type 85-III, Type 90-II MBT. 5 Chinese Army is in the process of acquiring these tanks which have improved armour protection, mobility and fire power. Other facilities such as collective NBC system, infra red reflecting paint TI sights, fire detection and suppression systems and explosive reactive armour will also be incorporated on these tanks.

(c) Armoured Personnel Carrier. In 1991 North China Industries Corporation (NORINCO) announced that it had developed the Type 90 APC family which consists of 10 variants. The variants are : Infantry Combat Vehicle, Anti tank Missile Launcher, Tracked Armoured Command Vehicle, 82 mm Self propelled Mortar, 120 mm Self propelled Mortar, 122 mm Self Propelled Howitzer, 130 mm Self propelled Rocket Launcher, Tracked Armoured Ambulance, Tracked Armoured Recovery Vehicle. The family of these vehicles are capable of being employed in a wide range of roles, including 82 mm and 120 mm mortar carriers and armed with a wide range of weapons including 12.7 mm Machine gun, 25 mm canon, 90 mm or 105 mm guns. 6

(d) Artillery. Late in 1988, the prototype of a new Chinese 155 mm SP gun-howitzer was unveiled for the first time. The prototype of the 203 mm (8 inch) SP gun was built in the mid 1990s but by mid 2000 the system had not been fielded. The towed version is in service and has a range of 40 km with ERFB projectile and 50 km with ERFB Base Bleed projectile. In 1999, reports from Hong Kong stated that NORINCO had developed a new long-range artillery system, a so called super range rocket gun, with a calibre of 406 mm and a range of 360 km. The effective radius of each such rocket depends on the warhead fitted, but is typically claimed to be 450 metres. The rockets are highly accurate and it claimed that each rocket is fitted with a GPS, TV, infrared and laser sensors for ballistic correction, which has the longest range of all the Russian unguided surface to surface systems. Chinese sources mention that the launcher system has a minimum range of 40 km and a maximum range of 100 km. The A-100 is seen as a complimentary MLRS to the previously fielded 320 mm (4-round)

Modernisation of PLAAF

5. The cultural revolution in China cost the PLAAF almost two decades of development and sharply diminished its political influence. This in turn hampered its technological development. 7

6. The principal role of the Air Force has been the defence of China mainland. This did not stretch the existing inventory or infrastructure beyond its limited capabilities. But the primary trend in development of PLAAF force structure in this century was summed up by its commander Liu Shunyao as a " switch of the air force from air defence to combined offensive and defence". 8

7. PLAAF comprised 50 air divisions which were further subdivided into regiments. However, the number of regiments has been gradually reduced to just over 30, plus one division level training base in each MRAF. The reduction has taken place to incorporate new weapon systems, retire older systems, meet new mission requirements and reduce personnel. The PLAAF's campaign command structure at the MRAF level did not match the ground force structure until 1985, when the PLA reorganised its eleven MRs into seven. 9

8. Modernisation of the Aircraft Fleet. In July 1998 Russian and Chinese Defence officials agreed to cooperate in joint research, development and production of military equipment. The sale of Su-27 SK (combat radius 1,500 km) and its licensed production for additional 200 was the first major step to speed up the PLAAF modernisation. The first J-11 (su-27) aircraft built in China was test flown in January 1999. Later, in August 1999, this was followed up with another deal whereby Russia is to sell 72 x Su-30 MKK fighter bombers to China. 10 These aircraft have been acquired and made operational. The procurement from Russia of the supersonic AS-17 "Krypton" (Kh-31) anti-radiation missile and the "Alamo" (R-77) long range self guided air to air missile as a part of Su-27 deal gives the necessary impetus for the PLAAF's modernisation. It is assessed that by 2010, the PLAAF's fighter force will most likelt consist of between 1500 and 2000 aircraft. Almost the entire J-6 and the early model J-7 would have been phased out and the remaining force will be of modified J-7s, J-8s, J-9s, J-10, J-11 and Su-30s. 11 PLAAF now has a strength of close to 300 fourth generation fighter/ fighter-bomber aircraft, including the indigenously developed J-10, the Su-30 MKK and the Su-27 SK/J-11. China with Pakistan has also jointly developed JF-17, which is likely to be amulti role fighter aircraft. The serial production of these aircraft for Pakistan Air Force has commenced. However, it is not certain whether PLAAF will induct and operationalise this aircraft. As such the avionics and weapon integration on JF-17 remains a grey area. 12 It has also been reported that China is developing a stealth fighter. The aircraft, which is being developed under a programme variously referred to as XXJ, J-X or J-XX by Western intelligence sources is apparently designated as J-14. 13

9. Stealth and Counter Stealth Capabilities. There is some report that a new variant of the JH-7 fighter bomber will incorporate stealth coatings. Also being developed is the J-231 mid-range surveillance radar having "anti stealth capability. 14

10. PLAAF has also deployed its first generation of locally developed long range ELINT aircraft in early 1999.

11. Upgradation of Air defence. In 1990, the PLAAF upgraded its defence (non aircraft) capabilities. This involved three of its branches :SAM, AAA and radar troops. 15 China has also developed modern radar technology. This has also been vindicated by export of the YLC-6 and YLC-2 series radars to Pakistan.

12. Lasers. The use of lasers as a kill weapon is suggested by Pentagon's reports since 1998 that the PLA may be using lasers to dazzle low orbit imaging satellites. Alos, reports indicate that Russians may have sold nuclear pump laser technology to China. The A-60, represents one kind of advanced kill laser technology that could be made available to PLAAF. 16

13. UAVs. PLAAF has been into development of UAVs since 1990s. There is a Chinese TV report that a few F-7 aircraft have been turned into drones, possibly for air combat training. The Zhuhai 1998 show featured the Chang Chun Institute of Emulation Technology and its virtual reality control systems, a technology often associated with future advanced unmanned combat air vehicles. 17

14. Anti Aircraft Capability. PLAAF is trying to enhance the development and deployment of ground to air missile systems in a big way. It is hoped that a multi tiered air defence network will be established. PLAAF since 1990 has acquired missile systems such as Russian S-300 PMU and Tor-M1. The S-300 series of missiles meet long range air defence, anti tactical ballistic missile and anti cruise missile requirements, (the Patriot is the only current equivalent). The TorM1 will also be able to intercept some PGMs. China is also likely to develop its own new generation of air defence systems with a combination of missiles and cannons. Hina has also developed the FT-2000 anti radiation SAM. 18 These are long range missiles and are also known as AWACS busters.

15. Long Range Bombers. PLAAF is interested in the purchase of Tu-22 M (Backfire), as a successor to the longstanding H-6 that has been in service for many decades. There are also unconfirmed reports of an H-9 bomber project that may involve some Russian technical assistance. 19

16. EW /ELINT and AWACS. China aims to acquire extensive EW and AEW capabilities. China has acquired Russian A-50 mainstay and developed Y-8 aircraft based AEW&C system. 60 Efforts are on to develop advanced AWACS such as the ZDK-03. Acquisition of EW suites such as the Sorbitsya ECM pod, KG-300 G airborne jamming pod, KZ900 ELINT pod, KZ 800 ELINT pod 20 for larger aircraft is also likely to provide a boost to PLAAFs EW capabilities.

17. Aerial Refuelling. PLAAF has already acquired Russian IL-78 M tankers and has developed own H-6 bombers which are converted for the aerial refuelling role. 21

18. Munitions. China is in the process of developing variety of air to air, air to ground and ground to air weapon systems. PLAAF aims to arm its aircraft with state of the art BVR missiles, PGMs, Anti Radiation Missiles and Anti Ship missiles. It aims to indigenously develop as well as procure these systems from Russia. Some of the missiles that are being developed by China are PL-5, PL-9, PL-7 series of missiles which are all aspect air to air missiles. It is also developing BVRs such as the SD-10, SAMs such as the FT-2000 etc. The Su-30 is equipped to use anti radiation missiles and eventually could carry laser, TV and radar guided missiles and munitions. Future aircraft are expected to employ a variety of both indigenously produced and Russian made LACM, ASCM, and ARM PGMs. 22

Modernisation of PLAN

19. Admiral Lui Huaquing, commander of PLAN in 1980s with the backing of Deng Xiaoping formulated three phases 23 to develop PLAN into a world class sea power by 2040. These three phases are given below : -

(a) Till 2000, the focus on the first stage was to be on training and enhancing the existing formations.

(b) From 2001-2020, the second stage would concentrate on the constructin of several light aircraft carriers, and acquiring suitable warships to enable task force based operations to be conducted. This is the phase which PLAN is in now.

(c) From 2021-2040, the third phase foresaw the transformation of the PLAN as a major sea power with blue water capability.

20. The PLAN is currently following three paths to acieve modernisation- buying, reverse engineering and indigenously producing new ships, aircraft and weapon systems. Modernisation of PLAN gained pace in the 1990s, when for the first time Chinese shipyards were capable of producing more advanced ships. The four Jiangwei-I class were designed and built directly with some standard features such as the combat data system, helicopters, optronic directors, satellite communications, data link, SAMs and CIWSs. Thereafter, the Jianwei-II class which is roughly comparable to French"Georges Leygues" class were produced. However, even then Chinese designs were some ten to twenty years behind Western standards. 24Two of the Luda class were deeply modified in 2002 and were armed with advanced guns, air defence missiles, ASW torpedo tubes, combat data system and VDS. The Luhu and Luhai class of destroyers also has boosted the blue water capability of PLAN. Apart from other weapon systems these destroyers were also provided with Ka-28 ASW helicopters. The Russian Sovremenny class of destroyers equipped with supersonic anti ship missiles have been a major technological leap. Apart from these destroyers, China has also acquired capability of building and upgrading frigates. Type 050, 053 J, 053 H and 053H2G are frigates built in China and their upgraded versions, the 053H2G are china's first guided missiles frigates. Chinese missile boats are being fitted with newer versions of SSMs such as the C-801 and C-802 25

21. Amphibious Capabilities. The PLAN also has 18 LSTs and 37 LSMs. 26 Its inventory includes 44 LCUs with a large reserve of 230 vessels. There are plans to build one more LST and three more LSMs. Thus the Chinese are likely to have a substantial amphibious capability for force projection away from mainland China.

22. Submarines. While PLAN surface fleet is struggling ( and definitely winning) to keep the pace of technological changes, it is also facing a significant numerical reduction. The PLAN submarine force, instead, shows numbers and vitality difficult to compare elsewhere. Diesel submarines were intended to implement the concept of "Great wall at sea", denying access to the waters of Chinese interests to any invasion force. However, now China with the development of nuclear submarines and high endurance stealthy diesel submarines can boast of its blue water and power projection capability in high seas. Brief details of various submarines 27 with PLAN are given below : -

(a) Ming Class. Modified versions of Romeo class subs for sea denial role close to shores.

(b) Song Class. These are large offensive subs with a range of over 9000 kms and endurance of upto 45 hours. These vessels are armed with YJ8-2 anti cruise missiles and other types of missiles.

(c) Han Class. These are nuclear pwered submarines lacking in stealth and noise suppression making it relatively more noisy and easier to detect. These vessels would be suitably integrated with a carrier based task force.

(d) Xia Class. This class of sub is a nuclear propelled ballistic missile submarine entirely designed and built in China. The submarine is equipped with 12 SLBMs and is likely to provide China a credible second strike capability.

(e) China is also known to be building a new attack sub, SSN Han class (Type 093), with Russian technological cooperation. These subs are likely to be fitted with anti ship cruise missiles launched from a submerged position.

(f) China also has Russian Kilo class submarines well known for its low acoustic signature and therefore represents a formidable threat to ships at sea.

(g) China is also known to be developing Yuan class of submarines which is similar to the Russian Kilo class. If this indigenous design succeeds Chinese capability will be enhance tremendously. 28

23. Aircraft carrier. With the PLAN venturing forth into the blue water realm, the absence of tactical air support for a sea borne task force will be actually felt. China is likely to acquire aircraft carrier in the 20,000-40,000 ton category capablr of launching both helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. Another source talks about 40-50,000 ton displacement and carrying 20 fixed wing aircraft on the deck and another 20 in hangars. It is also reported that China is building its own indigenous aircraft carrier based on the design provided by the Russian Nevskoye Bureau. 29

24. PLANAF Aviation. The PLANAF and PLAAF share the responsibility of air defence along the entitre coast. The LPANAF defends the coastal areas near the three fleet headquarters. Bulk of the 700 aircraft in the PLANAF inventory are vintage such as the H-6 bombers, J-6, J-7, J-8, Q-5 and the JH-7. However, H-6D aircraft have been modified for carriage of ALCMs and AShMs. The H-5 aircraft has also been modified to carry torpedoes. PLANAF plans to induct the indigenously developed J-10 aircraft into its inventory. Once this is achieved, and the aircraft carrier is inducted, the PLANAF is likely to have a very credible and potent air arm. 30

China's Revolution in Military Affairs

25. Ever since the 1980s the PLA has been focussed on the organisational, doctrinal and human aspects of military modernisation, waiting in meanwhile for the Chinese defence industries to catch up with their western counterparts and begin producing advance systems at a price China can afford. With the unprecedented economic development China can now affors to invest in military hardware and advance state of the art weapon systems for its defence forces. China today has access to some advance weaponry from foreign suppliers, especially Russia and is carrying out fast pace development and design of indigenous weapon systems. Thus, by combining organisational, doctrinal and human aspects of its military modernisation with the state of the art systems that China can now afford, China is advancing in the Revolutionary of military affairs realm.

26. Quest for Technology. China has been keenly pursuing modern technologies such as the High energy lasers. In addition, Chinese analysts also show a high interest in information warfare. It is assessed that China has developed sound capabilities towards information warfare, especially in terms of satellite base communication systems and cyber warfare capabilities. China's emphasis on information in military domain could be evident from the fact that though China has access to the US GPS and the Russian GLONASS systems, it does plan to develop its own satellite configuration for navigation and targeting. 31 China's anti satellite capability and its own satellites could be decisive in any future conflict with any adversary.

27. Chinese defence white papers of the year 2004 and 2008 have sections dedicated to RMA. In the white paper of the year 2004, in a section, the paper amplifies China's intentions of developing capabilities associated with RMA wirh "Chinese characteristics" with informationalisation as the core, obviously, a refernce to adoptiong information technologies. Towards this achievement of RMA, modernisation of its Navy, Air Force and Second Artillery Force has been highlighted as a key thrust area. Another key aspect is the understanding of the necessity of joint operations to achieve a clear victory over its adversaries and the need to intensify training to achieve this. The drive to incorporate RMA with Chinese characteristics and to intensify joint training are to be viewed as efforts to develop joint operations capabilities with an enhanced C4ISR network, a new command structure and a new integrated tri service (joint) logistics system. 32

China's Nuclear Capabilities

28. China detonated its first nuclear bomb in 1964. By 1980s China had achieved some spectacular successes in its strategic weapons' programme. In the 1980s China successfully test launched its full range ICBM, the Dong Feng-5 (CSS-4). In 1983, China launched three satellites into space orbit from a single booster, indicating that China might possess the technology to develop multiple, independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs). China also launched the Xia class SSBN in 1986, and the next year it conducted its first successful test laumch of CSS-NX-4 submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM). Thus, by 1986 China possessed a credible minimum nuclear deterrent force with land, sea and air components. Till date China has conducted a total of forty four nuclear tests and possesses high yield fission and thermonuclear devices. 33 The range of Chinese ballistic missiles is well beyond entire India and also have reach upto certain parts of the USA. The thermonuclear weapons available with China have yields more than 3 megaton, whereas those available with India have arguably a maximum yield of 45 kiloton. 34

29. The PLA entity responsible for deep strikes against vital strategic and operational targets is the Second Artillery. Since its inception in the 1960s, the Second Artillery's role has been limited to nuclear retaliatory strikes. However, consequent to the gulf war, Chinese planners have diversified the Second artillery's role to include conventional engagements against high value targets, and possibly targets to isolate the operational theatre in a limited high tech war. The second artllery's adoption of conventional strike role marks one of the most significant developments in PLA modernisation. 35

30. Chinese nuclear doctrine has evolved from credible minimum deterrence to limited nuclear deterrence 36 which implies the necessity for developing a larger and more diverse force than China has fielded in the past, inorder to respond more effectively and flexibly to a variety of conflict scenarios. China has a policy of "no first use". The combination of nuclear deterrence theory with PLA's doctrine of active defence may have an offensive implication as well.

End Notes

1. China's changing military, Military Technology 2/2006 p 40

2. ibid p 41

3. ibid p 41

4. JS Bajwa, Modernisation of the Chinese Armed Forces p 247 and 248

5. ibid p 248 and 249

6. ibid p 250

7. ibid p 252

8. ibid, p 253

9. China's changing military, Military Technology 2/2006

10. JS Bajwa, op cit p 254

11. ibid p 255

12. Lecture by Srikanth Kondanpalli at DSSC on Nov 09.

13. Sergio Coniglio, China develops Stealth Fighter, Military Technology 2/2006

14. JS Bajwa, op cit p 257

15. ibid p 255

16. ibid p 256

17. ibid p 257

18. ibid p 258

19. ibid p 259

20. ibid p 260

21. ibid

22. Annual Report On Military Power of The Peoples republic of China p 18

23. JS Bajwa op cit p 265

24. ibid p 267 and 268

25. ibid p 270

26. ibid p 269

27. ibid p 270 &271

28. Massimo Annati, China's PLA Navy The (R)Evolution p70

29. JS Bajwa op cit p 272

30. Indian defence Yearbook 2006

31. JS Bajwa op cit p 207

32. TD Joseph, Military modernisation in China: Some Implications for India p 89

33. JS Bajwa op cit p 284

34. Bharat Karnad in his lecture at DSSC Wellington on Dec 09

35. JS Bajwa op cit p 298

36. ibid p 290





Active manpower


PLA strength


Infantry Divisions


Motorised Infantry Divisions


Mechanised Divisions


Amphibious assault divisions


Tank Divisions


Tank Brigades


Motorised Infantry Brigades


Mechanised Infantry Brigades


Artillery Divisions


Artillery Brigades


Anti tank brigades


Anti tank Regiments


SAM/AAA Brigades


AAA Brigades


Army Aviation Regiments


Mountain Infantry Brigades


Motorised Infantry Brigade (Independent)


Motorised Infantry Regiment (Independent)


Artillery Regiment (Inependent)


Engineer Brigade (Independent)


Border Brigades


SSM Brigade


Coastal Defence Regiments


Engineer Regiments


Signal Regiments


Airborne troops (manned by Air Force)

03 Divisions (Strength 35,000)





4,00,000(Including 210,000 AD personnel)

Bomber Regiments


Fighter Regiments


Fighter Ground Attack Regiments


ELINT/Recce Regiments


AEW/AWACS Regiments


Transport Regiments


Tanker regiment







Tactical Submarines






Missile Craft


Patrol Craft


Mine warfare Ships


Amphibious Landing Ships