History of the Chinese War Strategy
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Published: Tue, 19 Dec 2017
The PLA has been undergoing the “Strategic Transition” from preparing for an “early, total and nuclear war” in 1985 to a “local and limited war” in the current context. The PLA understanding of the nature of these future local wars has been greatly influenced by the 1991 Gulf War and the experiences of 1996 Taiwan Straits Crisis. PLA planners believe that future local wars will be a medium sized local war which could involve large scale sea crossing and amphibious landing operations, counter offensive operations in the border regions and repelling local foreign invasion. These wars are likely to manifest in wars involving national unification and disputes over maritime and land boundary issues.
The WZC concept was first recorded in 1979 when an adhoc operational area command was formed during the Sino- Vietnam war. It is a doctrine developed for future military operations to be conducted in China’s strategic neighbourhood as a limited war fought under Joint HQ. It entails limited objectives, greater central control with political settlement as the end result and considerable preparation. In order to develop an understanding of the concept, this paper is laid out as under:-
(a) Historical and Theoretical Perspectives of Chinese War Strategy.
(b) Chinese Views on the Characteristics of Future Wars.
(c) Levels of Conflict.
(d) Evolution of Chinese Mil Doctrine.
(e) War Zone Campaign.
(f) Interpretation of Terms at Operational / Campaign level.
HISTORICAL AND THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVE OF CHINESE WAR STRATEGY
Transformation of the PLA. After Mao’s demise in 1976, saw the re-emergence of Deng Xiaoping. Under his political leadership, the military became disengaged from civilian politics and resumed the political quiescence that characterized its pre-Cultural Revolution role. Focus of military modernization was the reform of military organization, doctrine, education and training, and personnel policies to improve combat effectiveness in combined-arms warfare and the transformation of the defense establishment into a system capable of independently maintaining a modern military force. The reforms were implemented in the PLA from 1978-85.
In 1985, the Enlarged Central Military Commission (CMC) endorsed Dengs shift in strategic thinking from preparing for an all out war to preparing for a local war. It carried out a review of sit and threats and concluded that there existed NO threat of early war, however a general war which could have a nuclear backdrop (nuclear war) was very much imminent.
In 1995, the Enlarged Central Military Commission (CMC) meeting chaired by Jiang Zemiin officially adopted the “Two Transformations” (liangge zhuanbian) as the policy for “army building” to guide all aspects of PLA reform. It called for the Chinese army to undergo a metamorphosis from an army preparing to fight local wars under ordinary conditions to an army preparing to fight and win Local Wars Under Modern High -Tech Conditions; and from an army based on quantity to an army based on quality.
Key PLA Teachings on Military Strategy. In 1987 “Science of Military Strategy” was published by Academy of Military Sciences which reflected change in strategic thinking from total war to local war. It was for internal circulation (neibu) to all officers at the divisional level and above. This, however, offered limited approach to strategy and was primarily based on People’s War Under Modern Conditions (PWUMC) using positional and mobile warfare along with combined arms operations. It relied heavily on Soviet based invasion setting.
In 1999, post Gulf War I, “Science of Military Strategy” was re-published by PLA National Defence University (NDU) and formed the core teaching text for Strategy Course at NDU. The salient highlights were the broader approach to strategy, covering a range of contingencies under modern hi-tech conditions and covered a range of varied objectives, intensity and lethality. This was followed by publication of “Study of Campaigns” in 2000. In 2001, AMS published open (gong kai) version of “Science of Military Strategy” in Chinese and, in 2005, the English version of the book was published.
Theoretical Perspective. In general terms, China’s military doctrine can be divided into four levels as under:-
(a) Junshi Sixiang (Military Thought).
(b) Zhanlue (Military Strategy).
(c) Zhanyi (Military Campaigns).
(d) Zhanshu (Military Tactics).
Military Thought. This forms the foundational principles and concepts of war fighting and military struggle. It gives out the basic views for guiding and planning the overall situation of military struggle. However, specific guidelines or rules for conducting military operations are not specified. The concept of strategic thoughts is closely linked to Mao’s military thought and some of the relevant concepts include Active Def and People’s War.
Military Strategy, as per the NDU, is defined as “planning and guidance for the overall situation of military struggle, including planning, deploying and guiding the construction and use of military force, to reach the effective achievement of a stated political goal”. It is described as a trinity comprising of Strategic Goals (zhanlue mudi) – Ends, Strategic Guidelines (zhanlue fangzhen) – Ways and Strategic Means (zhanlue shouduan) – Means. Strategy links Military Thought and Campaigns by providing general guidance for planning and conduct of military operations. The scope of Strategy includes
(a) Threat Assessments.
(b) Overall Strategic Goals.
(c) Strategic Direction.
(d) Basic Principles for conducting military struggle.
(e) Means, methods and coordination of military struggle.
Strategic Goals. Strategic Goals determine the ultimate political objective in any struggle and thus is linked to national interest. Strategic Missions (zhanlue renwu) are the operational tasks required for achieving strategic goals. Strategic missions and strategic goals are the comprehensive reflection of Strategic Circumstances (zhanlue xingshi) including the main features of international strategic situation and National security requirements. The focus of Strategic Goals during wartime includes operational aspects such as maintenance of initiative, destruction of enemy force. In peacetime, it is to safeguard national interests such as using military means to create deterrence for a stable external environment.
Strategic Guidelines. Strategic Guidelines consist of general principles and programs for guiding overall situation of a military struggle. It is a closest analogue to operational doctrine, though at strategic level only, as opposed to campaign or tactical level. Past strategic guidelines include People’s War Under modern Conditions and the current one being Local Wars under Modern High Tech Conditions. Organizational and operational modernization requirements for a force are determined from identification of appropriate strategic guideline.
Strategic guidelines stipulate the following: –
(a) How to complete a strategic mission.
(b) How to realize the strategic goal by identifying key points of struggle.
(c) Identification of main Strategic directions.
(d) Identification of Strategic deployments.
Strategic guidelines are generally composed of five components: –
(a) Identification of Strategic Opponent. It is based on the threat to national interest and the operational threat is based on the specific military nature of threat.
Strategic Direction. It primarily identifies the focal point of struggle and the centre of gravity for use of force to decisively shape the struggle.
Basic Points of Preparations for Military Struggle. This refers to the type of struggle e.g. nuclear vs conventional.
Basic Methods of Military Struggle. This includes
Types of Struggle. Combat Operations vs Deterrence.
Types of Strategic Operations. Offense or Defence.
Main Operational Forms. Mobile Warfare or Positional Warfare.
Types of Operations. Blockade or Ambush.
(e) Guiding Thoughts and Principles for use of Military Force. This includes the options of Striking first or second (xianfa zhiren, or houfa zhiren) and Fighting a Protracted Warfare or Quick Decisive War.
Strategy manifests in General (zong) or Specific Strategic Guidelines (juti zhanlue fangzhen). The WZC doctrine is a strategic guideline for Local War Under Hi-Tech Conditions (LWUHTC).
Strategic Means. Strategic Means spells out ways and methods of using military force to achieve an objective – what and how to use including military and non-military means. This can be carried out in basically four ways which include: –
(a) Actual combat operations in general or local war.
(b) Deterrence operations which is the primary method to be used during peace time.
(c) Warning operations which include strategic early warning, border defence and internal defence.
(d) Combat readiness exercises including force build up, strategic troop transfers, adjustments in deployments, military exercises, weapons tests and war preparation tests.
Spheres of Military Strategy. There are three identified spheres of military strategy: –
(a) Wartime Strategy (zhanzheng shiqi de zhanlue). This refers to periods of time when society as a whole deals with war, such as general war e.g. countering an invasion as the only type of general war China might face.
(b) Peacetime Strategy (heping shiqi de zhanlue). This refers to periods when nation is not in a general state of war. Peace should not be confused with absence of future conflict, but LOW LIKELIHOOD of general war. It includes: –
(i) Deterrence operations.
(ii) Crisis managment.
(c) Local War Strategy (jubu zhanzheng de zhanlue). This is a special type of problem that occurs during peacetime. It has been defined as “war with limited objectives in a part of an area where limited armed force is used”.
Traditionally Chinese Strategy has laid much emphasis on the “initiative”. Hence, the strategy advocated is pro-active vis-à-vis reactive. Successive literatures on strategy have also re-emphasized that the “operational” or “campaign” level of operations is the most productive and rewarding for achieving political aims. The strategy adopted must be futuristic and support future national aims or roles. It must factor in economy of options and weigh the cost-benefit evaluation of war i.e. whether to go to war and how best to profitably conclude it. The stated doctrine must also conform to China’s image and position of assertiveness after ‘century of humiliation’. In order to ensure “no direct threats to China” there is a deliberate effort to gradually move towards “capability – driven” from “threat-driven” which has been a fallout of emerging international / regional situation.
CHARACTERISTICS OF FUTURE WARS
Characteristics of Future Conflict. Some of the assessed characteristics of future conflicts are as under:-
(a) Future conflicts will be restricted in their scale, means and timing of war.
(b) Objectives would be often political / diplomatic rather than military in nature.
(c) Conflict processes will be under greater centralized control and political settlement will invariably be the end result.
(d) Conflict resolutions will have to be carried out amidst complicated international background.
(e) Even though wars would be limited in nature, they would require detailed and prolonged preparation.
(f) Pre-emptive strikes would be a major form of action.
(g) Costs of wars would be high despite their short duration.
(f) Globalization and integration would result in spilling of economically deleterious effects of war.
(g) Brief conflicts can best be handled by following the maxim “killing the chicken to scare the monkeys”.
(h) Demonstrative operations would be essential for politically sensitive objectives.
(j) A decisive result in conflict resolution will not be essential though welcome.
(k) There are going to be political, economic and prestige payoffs resulting from conflicts and hence the need to factor in ways of exercising control over each one of them.
(l) Cost-benefit evaluation of wars would be a major input in deciding the end-state decisions of conflicts.
(m) Internal perception management of the people will be a major factor in consolidating national efforts.
LEVELS OF CONFLICT
Levels of Conflict. The levels of conflict assessed to occur in near future are as under:-
(a) National Level. A national level conflict would involve national mobilization of resources. It will be characterized by centralized control by the CMC. The objectives and decisions in such a case would be strategic in nature (zhan lue xing).
(b) Theatre level. A conflict at theatre level would involve the Military Region (MR) / MRs. The battle area under such circumstances would be called War Zone Front and overall control will be exercised by nominated MR / HQ.
(c) Campaign Level (corresponds to own “operational” level – zhanyixing). A campaign level operation would involve Combined Arms Gp Armies (CAGA) or gps of CAGAs (corps equivalents / groups of these). The area of conflict is termed as campaign zone (qu). In peacetime, the area of battle maybe under a Military Region or part of it; in wartime, however, it would be referred to as war zone. The outcome of WZC directly affects realization of national strategic objective. Equivalent weightage is given (employed as appropriate to mission) to all four services.
EVOLUTION OF PLA DOCTRINE
The PLA Doctrine has evolved over the years commencing from its basic aim to defeat the Nationalist forces to ensuring territorial integrity and subsequently as a tool for diplomacy and external relations. It has transformed itself as under:-
People’s War (Pre – 1949 till 1960). The People’s War doctrine, was the result of lessons learned from the War of Resistance against Japan (1937-1945), and emphasized the preparation of masses of foot soldiers and militia to engage in prolonged guerrilla warfare in China’s vast interior. This era also marked the looming threat of total, nuclear war and the Chinese capabilities being almost defensive against any strategic nuclear attack. The Chinese strengths basically included space and people and hence basic Strategy involved mobilization of population, trading time for space and final counter-offensive to annihilate the enemy.
(b) People’s War under Modern Conditions (PWUMC). (1960 to 1985) This change in doctrine was a result of the changed perceptions post Sino-Soviet split in 1960. The strategy aimed to develop capability to check aggression forward to gain time for national mobilization and People’s War. The Chinese strategy during the period was aimed at defeating a Soviet type invasion before it could penetrate deeply into China. It envisaged a forward defense that is near the border, to prevent attack on Chinese cities and industrial facilities, particularly in north and northeast China. Such a defense-in-depth required positional warfare, much closer to the border, in the initial stages of a conflict. This strategy downplayed the people’s war strategy of “luring in deep” in a protracted war. It also took into account the adaptations in strategy and tactics necessitated by technological advances in weaponry.
(c) Limited War (jubu zhanzheng) Under Hi-Tech Conditions (LWUHTC) (Post-1985). This was promulgated after Deng’s call for a review of the existing strategy. This came into being due to reduction in the Soviet threat due to Sino- US entente, the demonstration of hi-tech weapon systems employed in the Gulf War I and the post-liberalized growth of Chinese Comprehensive National Power (CNP). The strategy placed reliance on small, effective, hi-tech capable, tri-service integrated troops. It also stressed the need to fight away from borders or exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
(d) Limited War under Conditions of Informationization (LWUCI). This f irst found expression in 2004 White Paper. Informationisation was to be treated as a Force Multiplier and it sought to integrate all available platforms or assets. This is also in consonance with development of Chinese infrastructure and capabilities in their efforts to undergo RMA.
WZC – THE PLA’s DOCTRINE FOR CAMPAIGN IN WARZONES
WZC. War Zone Campaign as a doctrine evolved for conducting a limited war under high technological conditions. Future campaigns under the doctrine will be fought by combined arms synergy applied under unified joint command and control HQs. Such a HQ is created in theatre of operations by pooling in resources from Mil Region HQs and offrs from Gen Staff Department. WZC is an intermediate between Combined Arms GA (CAGA) army dominated command and total war where more than one war zones are activated simultaneously. Salient characteristics of the WZC are as under:-
(a) The doctrine has been developed by PLA for future wars which are going to be limited wars and conducted in peripheral regions under a joint HQ.
(b) It is a joint services campaign and an intermediate between military region and national (CMC) level campaign.
(c) WZC is designed for a local / limited campaign but however its outcome determines realization of national objectives.
(d) PLA Mil Regions already have AF / Navy on their orbat or under operational control.
(e) PLA traditionally has been Mil Region-centric. WZC envisages imposition of another higher HQ to:
(i) Coordinate employment of troops of more than one Mil Region.
(ii) Act as CMC representatives for employment / control of tactical, strategic and nuclear missiles.
As it involves more than one MR, theatre-wide control, coordination and deception is ensured by imposition of this HQ.
A recent example is of the Taiwan straits incident when the PLA was engaged in large scale exercises and firing rockets across the Taiwan Strait in 1996 when Gen Kui Fulin from GSD was superimposed on Nanjing MR and Guangzhou MRs and formed the Fujian Front.
WZC in the Level of Conflict. WZC is an intermediate between Combined Arms GA (CAGA) army dominated command and total war where more than one war zones are activated simultaneously. In the spectrum of Level of Conflict it is short of a national mobilization but more than CAGA ops.
Salient Features of the Doctrine.
The doctrine envisages combined arms and joint service operations.
In depth strike. Aim is not to engage enemy at forward positions but in depth through infiltration, forced penetration, air projections and flank intrusions.
There is a requirement of professionally and technically qualified person to operate high tech advance equipment.
It envisages mastery in outer space.
Delegation of command to lower commanders as severe hindrances / loss of command during operations is envisaged.
It places great emphasis on C4ISR systems.
Interpretation of Terms. Certain important terms used in definition of the doctrine are as under:-
(a) Local and Temp Superiority (LATS) – Concentration of Force at point of decision.
(b) Trans-Regional Sp Ops (TRSO) – Flexibility.
(c) Gaining Initiative by Striking First (GISF) – Initiative, Offensive Action, Pre-emptive Action.
(d) Quick Battle, Quick Resolution (QBQR) – Simultaneity of ops, Non-Linearity, Tempo (Speed, Momentum).
(e) Elite Forces, Sharp Arms (EFSA) – Appropriateness, Economy of Effort.
Implementation of WZC. The basic aim of WZC is to turn PLA inferiority into superiority by three pronged strategy namely Elite Forces Sharp Arms (EFSA), Gaining Initiative by Striking First (GISF) and Quick Battle, Quick Resolution (QBQR). These are deliberated upon in succeeding paras.
Elite Forces Sharp Arms (EFSA)
Elite Forces Sharp Arms (EFSA). What justifies EFSA is that limited nature of local war makes it possible to achieve local and temporary superiority through the concentrated use of the EFSA. The use of EFSA can be optimized by their deployment, coordination and command.
Sp Ops (TRSO)
Dply per se
Deployment. A relatively new concept in this aspect is the Trans Regional Sp Ops (TRSO). Its implication at campaign level and at strategic level is as explained below:-
(a) At Campaign Level. Deployment of EFSA must be with the aim to achieve ‘comprehensive strike effects’, and for this forces must be carefully selected. The principle also advocates ‘Dispersed deployment’ of optimal forces to deny enemy ‘window of vulnerability and increase survivability of own forces and to achieve ‘concentration of effects’ by concentrating destructive effects of these arms and forces which is the basic prerequisite for achieving local and temporary superiority.
(b) At Strategic Level. It envisages deployment of the best available forces and arms from other Mil Regions to reinforce war zone where local war may occur. Such a trans regional support operation (TRSO) has many advantages:-
(i) It enhances political and diplomatic initiatives.
(ii) Avoids sustained force deployment but optimizes readiness in the rear.
(iii) RRU/RRFs ensure indirect forward presence by utilizing mobility.
(iv) It may also prevent escalation as also enable local and temporary superiority in psychological terms.
Coord. Coordination of sub campaigns is a must to achieve synergy of effect w/o inter service friction. It is aimed at permitting service commanders to coordinate and control respective services sub campaigns. As EFSA is associated with technology intensive services [RRF, Special Ops Forces (SOF), Navy, AF, Sec Arty] the relationship between services / branches has to be defined by equality and partnership in a joint services campaign. Hence coordination of joint service campaigns is a crucial issue for successful conduct of WZC.
Principles of Coordination of Joint Campaigns.
(a) Coordination is centered on whichever service that conducts the sub campaign. It calls for a heightened sense of responsibility and initiative by service commanding officers.
(b) An important aspect for coordination is the timing and manner of transition from one phase of the campaign to another for example from electronic to air sub campaign, to sea denial and crossing operations, then to amphibious landing and ground operations. The coordination between various services is also very important during transitions to reduce internal chaos and friendly fire casualty.
(c) Coordination in stratagem (e.g. outflanking troop movement to divert enemy forces to secondary fronts) is important to determine whether local and temporary superiority will be achieved on the primary front.
(d) A common method of coordination is mutual dispatch of service representatives to coordinate air-land, air-sea or sea – land operations.
(e) Modes of coordination are strike zone based, target based and timing based.
(f) Most important coordination mechanism is establishment of joint force command.
Principles of Command. A joint command is established with deputy commanding officers from Air force, Navy and Sec Arty. The joint command formulates joint services operational plans and conducts inter service coordination. Some issues related with command are as under
(a) Extent and Timing of Centralised Command. Command must be centralised during planning. However during execution, a decentralized command and service autonomy are desirable.
(b) Traditional Mil Region command organs are ground force dominated and hence could be a potential for inter service friction during implementation.
(c) Under WZC, a joint command is established using the present Mil Region command as nucleus.
(d) The joint command may have higher proportion of command and staff officers from services other than the army as necessitated by the requirement..
32. Trans Regional Sp Ops (TRSO).
(a) This deals with concentration of EFSA at strategic level.
(b) It aims at deployment of best forces and arms from other Mil Regions to reinforce the War Zone e.g. Rapid Reaction Forces (RRF), missiles, AF etc.
(c) It focuses on development of rapid reaction forces and capabilities in the rear while maintaining a moderate level of forces deployed forward.
(d) It contributes to achievement of local and temporary superiority.
(e) TRSO stresses on tech – based mobility and effectiveness to achieve its aim.
(f) Enhances political and diplomatic initiatives by maintaining reduced forces in the fwd areas and de-escalating tensions.
(a) Adaptation and responsiveness are the two key elements of RRF.
(b) It is intended for quick reaction to deal with internal security (IS) and local / ltd border conflicts.
(c) These forces are maintained at full strength with all terrain and all weather capability including survival training for 48 hours.
(d) They have the capability to reach anywhere in any Mil Region within 24 to 48 hours.
(e) RRFs of 15 AB Corps can reach anywhere in China within seven days.
Gaining Initiative By Striking First (GISF)
Gaining Initiative By Striking First (GISF). Increased precision and lethality of high tech weapons causes unprecedented destruction. Under such conditions the side that strikes second may lose momentum and face the prospects of defeat. As also the demarcation between first and second strike will be less relevant and hence by carrying out first strike a local and temporary superiority may be achieved. However, first strike may not lead to temporary initiative if the enemy is well prepared and anticipates the strike. This can be ensured by element of surprise and initiation of the initial battle of the campaign. GISF is hence associated with the beginning of the campaign.
Gaining Initiative by Striking First
Element of Surprise
Initiation and Initial
Battle of the Campaign
Note: China will not be averse to striking first ?
Element of Surprise. There are two key issues while considering Element of Surprise. If adversary is well prepared and anticipates strike, effect is reduced hence the need for element of surprise. There is a requirement of identifying enemy intentions and capabilities and simultaneously concealment of PLA intentions and capability. This can be achieved by concealing the real and demonstrating the false by employing conventional / asymmetric, electronic and civil-military means.
(a) Transparency of En Intentions and Capabilities.
(i) At the Strat Level. This can be achieved through long term, systematic and institutionalized study and analysis of military target especially with regard to his war fighting doctrine, styles, command, organization and weapon systems.
(ii) At the Campaign Preparation Level. This can be achieved by acquiring and affirming intelligence with regard to the enemy by continuously monitor enemy movement, weapons and targets by the use of satellites, surveillance ships, planes, radars, radios and human intelligence.
(b) Successful Concealment of PLA’s Intentions and Capabilities. Modern technology enables effective surveillance and difficult concealment. Non tech means employed in 1991 Gulf War resulted in successful concealment achieving local and temporary superiority. Also fighting the battle close to China’s borders would increase success of concealment.
Methods of Concealment. Some of the measures which may be employed to confuse the adversary about timing, place, scale, nature and direction of the campaign initiation are:-
(a) Create a situation of internal intensity and external relaxation i.e. political and diplomatic means be employed to conceal strategic intentions.
(b) Concealing the real (hiding real forces by camouflage).
(c) Demonstrate the false (use of dummy planes, ships, tanks, vehicles, artillery pieces and use reserve militia to show false deployment).
(d) Blending the real with the false and illusory with the substantial (mixing real and substantial forces with false and illusory ones, meshing forces with civilian facilities).
(e) Electronic measures (ECM, deception, ECCM).
37. Initiation and Initial Battle of the Campaign.
(a) There is a contradiction between active defence as a central principle of PLA military operations and first strike (GISF in fact becomes a central component of active defence).
(b) “Window of opportunity for first strike” is the period between the failure of political and diplomatic initiatives at the strategic level and completion of enemy deployment – “between the en’s strat choice and his strat probe”.
(c) The outcome of the first battle would be crucial to determine whether local initiative is seized or not and hence it is necessary to “Throw a powerful and superior initial strike force into the initial battle”.
(d) In order to maintain the advantage created by the initial battle, resolute, active and continuous offensive must be carried out to deny enemy breathing space.
Quick Battle Quick Resolution
If GISF is the beginning of the campaign, QBQR is the conclusion. QBQR deals with prosecution and conclusion of the campaign. The importance of QBQR arises from the fact that border wars fought for disputed territories will be limited to a confined area and not for total conquest of a country. Hence, there is a need to contain the conflict and achieve final resolution at one stroke. QBQR seeks to avoid prolonging of war as (high tech weapons would also cause extensive damage to own military and civil infrastructure in the event of a prolonged war. As the PLA is deemed inferior in technology, the enemy may regain and counter strike to cause PLA a defeat if war is protracted.
MOB SURPRISE ATTACK
Methods to Achieve QBQR. Mobility and Offensive operations are the two key concepts to achieve QBQR.
Mobility. Mobility is a pre-requisite for carrying out continuous and dynamic offensives. Mobile Warfare is dependent on good infrastructure and complex logistics but these leave adequate signature for the enemy to pick up. Whether local information superiority can be achieved will determine whether QBQR can be realized in PLA’s favour. Counter reconnaissance is advocated to achieve information superiority (neutralise en’s C4I by use of anti svl satl measures, laser and kinetic energy, particle beam wpns and other measures) which also helps in achieving surprise. There is a need to mitigate threats to mobility from air by integrated air defense measures required to defeat over-the-horizon (OTH) beyond-visual-range (BVR) missiles and their launch platforms, smart bombs, stealth tactical aircraft and attack helicopters (AH).
Modes of Mobilization. Employing various modes of mobilization may enhance deception or reduce exposure and casualty, thus improving the odds of local and temporary initiatives. These include
(a) Exterior Line Mobilization. This involves establishment of one or several inter-connected mob
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