China Slowly, Steadily Improving Joint Ops
By Wendell Minnick
TAIPEI — China’s Kuayue-2009 livefire exercise, planned for the second half of this year, will for the first time involve participation from four military regions and feature a complex interaction among land, air and specialist units, the General Staff Headquarters announced on May 5.
It will involve 50,000 troops from the Shenyang, Lanzhou, Jinan and Guangzhou military regions, along with participation from the Chinese Air Force. China has seven military regions.
“This is the first time in the history of the [People’s Liberation Army] that four divisions from four military regions are taking part in military exercises that involve the deployment of troops across different military regions,” China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
The purpose of the exercise is to test the PLA’s “overall capabilities of operations under informationalized conditions.” The Kuayue-2009 will test the PLA’s joint operations of land and airborne troops, command and control, “operations in complicated electro-magnetic conditions,” airborne assault operations, simulated battles, and comprehensive exercises by specialist units, Xinhua said.
“The overall effort in the People’s Liberation Army is to move to ‘integrated joint warfare,’” said Larry Wortzel, a former U.S. Army attaché based in Beijing, and now vice chairman of the Washingtonbased U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
“The effort is designed to bring together all services and arms [land, sea, air, missile, and satellite, communications and intelligence] in a common operational structure,” Wortzel said.
The PLA is moving away from “a combination of sequential or single arm or service operations,” he said. “They are exercising this way and are doing it across regional and service boundaries.”
The massive exercise will require the transportation of 50,000 troops by civilian airliners, trains and motorized military units.
“More than 60,000 vehicles and large weapons and equipment will be used,” Xinhua said. “It is expected that the total length of mobility assignments will be more than 50,000 kilometers. The longest oneway journey for some units will be more than 2,400 kilometers.”
However, the massive scale of the operation does not necessarily suggest China is making great leaps in joint warfare capabilities. “I think I would describe this as ‘more joint’ than what the PLA used to do, but I seriously doubt if it approaches the type of jointness that the U.S. military is capable of,” said Richard Bitzinger, a former CIA analyst.
“The PLA needs to do more than a little ad hoc training with a few divisions, every once in a while, before you can say that the PLA is truly capable of ‘joint operations,’” said Bitzinger, now with the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
China appears to be aware of its weak points and is expanding cross-regional mobility training. This includes the joint ChineseRussian Peace Mission 2007 counterterrorism exercise sponsored by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The exercise was held in Chelyabinsk in Russia’s Ural Mountains, and involved 4,700 Russian troops and 1,600 Chinese troops.
Historically, it was the largest contingent of Chinese troops ever on Russian soil for a military exercise. The Chinese also sent six Air Force Ilyushin Il-76 airlifters and an Army aviation unit with 32 Mi17 and Z-9 helicopters.
China’s slow but steady joint warfare capability appears geared more for dealing with an internal military crisis rather than with issues regarding Taiwan, which most sources agree would be handled by the Chinese Air Force and Navy.
China’s military also was caught unprepared last May by the 8.0magnitude Sichuan earthquake, which killed nearly 70,000 people. The PLA’s inability to quickly coordinate and mobilize relief efforts was widely criticized.