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China’s Military Reforms: People’s Liberation Army’s Adaptation to Joint Operations

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  • April 17, 2015
    Fellows' Seminar
    1030 to 1300 hrs

    Chairperson: Lt. Gen. J.S. Bajwa (Retd.)
    External Discussants: Commander Lalit Kapur, Gp. Capt. Ravinder Singh Chhatwal
    Internal Discussant: Col. Vivek Chadha (Retd.)

    China embarked on its ‘four modernizations’ drive in the late 1970s. However, it was only over the past two decades that China carried out a comprehensive military modernization program. China gave special impetus to joint operations and informationization. The paper argues that China’s ability to project combat power depended on coordination across all domains — air, land, sea, space, cyber, and the electromagnetic spectrum.

    This paper analyzed the Chinese military transformation with special reference to joint operations. Specifically, it sought to answer questions relating to the Chinese concept of joint operations, evolution of its strategy and thinking on joint operations, initiatives it has undertaken and the degree of success in achieving its goals.

    The paper concluded that China’s modernization drive has resulted in its growing military prowess, co-terminus with its emergence as a global economic power. As part of their thinking on revolution in military affairs (RMA), the Chinese identified fighting ‘local war under the conditions of informationization’ as its strategy with focus on joint operations. This approach prompted China to undertake reforms to conduct integrated joint operations and to establish joint commands, prioritize technology-intensive capabilities like space, cyber space and the electro-magnetic spectrum.

    The rapid pace of Chinese military modernization and increasing technological gap evident vis-à-vis India has serious consequences, which needs to be prepared to tackle the emerging threat from China. The author noted that India needs to reduce the gap in technological and strategic capabilities. This would entail building strategic partnerships with neighboring countries and countries with common strategic interests and at the same time focusing on modernization of its armed forces including enhanced integration and capability development.

    Major Points of Discussion and Suggestions to the Author

    • It was argued that joint operations are mainly conducted by US, which has global interests and power projection capabilities. China claims that its armed forces are for defensive purposes. However, focus on joint operations and China’s posturing conveys a contrary message that Chinese military build-up is more for power projection than for defensive purposes. The Chinese naval projects and acquisitions specifically are robust in nature and geared up more towards offensive actions.
    • The implication of China’s military modernization for India was discussed at length. It was argued that Chengdu and Lanzhou military regions, which have operational responsibility for the Sino-Indian border, do not have naval component limiting any Chinese joint operations. Similarly, air borne operations cannot succeed in the absence of air superiority. Though China’s enjoys air superiority vis-à-vis Taiwan, vis-à-vis India, such a capability is suspect. China has limitations in operating from Tibet due to high altitude. It was pointed out that undertaking a sustained air campaign required good infrastructure, particularly air fields, which China currently lacked.
    • It was pointed out that in China’s quest for jointness, parochial interests are likely to hamper its efforts. The PLA for instance was the dominant force in the Chinese military set up and this could affect jointness.
    • India’s preparedness to meet any threat depended on its armed forces’ ability to operate jointly. However, deficiencies on this front included lack of integration as regards communication devices used by the three services. It was argued that integration should start at the functional level instead of just focusing at the Service Headquarter level.
    • The paper would be enriched by examining aspects such as limitations of the Chinese Air Force, which highlight gaps in China’s quest for jointness.
    • The strategic environment surrounding China should be analyzed in order to understand what really drove Chinese efforts. Is it the nature of threats that China was facing or was it Chinese ambitions that is the driver behind such efforts?
    • The author could explore the manner in which these efforts were driving China’s overall military modernization programme and the lessons that India could learn in this regard.
    • The author would do well to explore the extent of integration in the Chinese armed forces, specifically whether it was only at the command level or whether it is present also at the combat level.

    Report prepared by Amit Kumar, Research Assistant, IDSA