Chinese Continue Modernization Push, Process Is Slow To Overhaul Policy, Equipment for Huge Army
By Wendell Minnick
TAIPEI — The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) continues to expand its land warfare modernization efforts, but challenges remain in revamping equipment, training and doctrine for such a massive force. Arms production includes new tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery. Much of the production of new arms was outlined in the recent 2009 Pentagon report on China’s military modernization.
These include about 200 Type 98 and 99 third-generation main battle tanks deployed in the Beijing and Shenyang military region, new amphibious assault vehicles and multiple rocket launch systems capable of hitting Taiwan from China.
“China’s reliance on foreign partners to fill gaps in critical technical capabilities could still limit actual surge output,” said the report. However, China’s primary land warfare arms manufacturer, China North Industries Corp. (NORINCO), has produced a variety of new arms without much difficulty.
During recent defense exhibitions in the Asia-Pacific, NORINCO displayed mockups and brochures of some unique arms for the PLA, including the LD2000 Ground-based Close-in Weapon System, the AF902 FCS/35mm Anti-Aircraft Gun Air Defense System, and the PLZ45 155mm Self-Propelled Gun Howitzer System.
Many of the systems are designed for rapid deployment and have sophisticated targeting features. For example, the road-mobile LD2000 is a seven-barrel, 30mm, 730B chain gun that can fire 4,200 rounds per minute, with advanced C-band search radar and Ku-band tracking radar.
Equipment for Show
However, such new systems might not be widely available or affordable for the PLA at present.
“Much of what the Chinese defense industries display at arms shows are prototypes [or even models or pictures] of equipment they could produce if somebody is willing to pony up some money beforehand to get the production line going. A few lines may be producing equipment, but usually at a relatively limited pace,” said Dennis Blasko, author of “The Chinese Army Today.”
“Nearly all units, by their own admission, are composed of a combination of high-tech, mediumtech and low-tech equipment. ... In other words, nearly everybody has some old equipment still on their books,” he said.
According to the Pentagon annual report, China has about 6,700 tanks and 7,400 artillery pieces, and efforts to replace old equipment could prove to be slow.
China’s ability to absorb new equipment and technology has caused problems integrating PLA forces under the mantra, “local wars under conditions of informatization.” The PLA is still a large force with 1.25 million troops; 400,000 troops are based in the three military regions facing Taiwan.
The PLA is attempting to transform from a bulky, low-tech army aimed at fighting protracted wars of attrition, such as the Korean War, to an army capable of fighting short-duration, high-intensity wars along its border or beyond against technologically sophisticated enemy forces, primarily the U.S..
Larry Wortzel, a former U.S. Army attaché assigned to Beijing, said the PLA has made major progress in integrating operations into “joint operations.”
Though there have been improvements in independent and joint campaigns, Blasko said the Chinese admit “training for joint operations is not what it should be.” China is looking at a wide range of contingencies, he said, including war fighting and “non-war,” “noncombat,” or “non-traditional security” missions.
The PLA has a lot on its plate. It is attempting to prepare the Army for traditional combat and “nontraditional security,” including antiterrorism, internal stability, disaster relief, peacekeeping operations and assistance in public health emergencies, Blasko said.
Mastering C4I Realm
“For the past year, there has also been a lot of emphasis on operating in what they call a ‘complex electromagnetic environment,’” said Wortzel, vice chairman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
This “environment” involves China’s attempt to eliminate weaknesses in its C4I training and increased emphasis on destroying the enemy’s operational systems. This includes the development of counterspace, computer network operations and anti-radiation systems. It also includes the creation of space-based and land-based C4ISR capabilities.
PLA theorists refer to this as “integrated network electronic warfare” (wangdian yitizhan). Recent media reports of Chinese cyberintrusion and attacks on U.S. government computers and pro-Tibet Web sites are examples.
“Across the PLA, field and communications exercises are emphasizing the ability to operate through serious jamming, other forms of electronic warfare and cyberwarfare,” Wortzel said.
“That also means that the PLA is training to work through problems that would be caused by the PLA’s own electronic warfare and countermeasures. The General Staff Department apparently envisions operations against a sophisticated adversary that can do serious damage to China’s own C4ISR capabilities,” he said.
The PLA is not likely to discontinue modernization efforts despite the economic crisis, though there might be a shift to internal security concerns arising from civil disorder, food riots, so-called terrorism in Tibet and Muslim areas, and internal threats to the Chinese Communist Party.