Restructuring of Military Commands

The overhaul of PLA of China under President Xi Ping as outlined in Chinese media is going to be one of the most exhaustive reorganization in power structure of China; however its effectiveness can only be gauged after few years.

Normally such a major overhaul is necessitated by Lessons of last war, change in National ambition/aim/objectives, change in threat, political and strategic environment/compulsions, technological changes, and change in leadership. In case of China, after ‘Not so impressive’ performance in conflict with Vietnam in 1979, a similar large scale revamping took place, but PLA is yet to test her operational effectiveness thereafter. All the other factors mentioned above for reorganization, are equally true for China with her ambitions growing global with growing economic muscles, problems in South and East China Sea, need to have global connectivity to offload trade surpluses and overcapacities, security of SLOC for inflow of energy and raw materials.  Most of these factors can easily be deduced from in depth analysis of full text of BRI document, and Chinese Military Strategy document.

The most important factor in addition to the above, in case of China is the growing strength of President Xi Jinping, and his determination to have tighter control of CPC over Armed Forces, besides efforts to curb corruption in Military Hierarchy.  The need to cut down numbers and divert funds towards modernization, learning from experiences of US and allies in Afghanistan and Iraq, technological military advances of Defence Forces of other countries, have been a common factors in earlier modernization efforts of China. However from the eyes of a military analyst, I feel some issues with respect to this model of military overhaul, which attract attention, are:-

  • Is the projected model of overhaul of PLA of China, is genuinely the most operationally effective one, or its marred by political considerations, assuming that no large scale war is envisaged in near future?
  • The reorganization of Theatre Commands seems to be in sync with concerns in South and East China Sea, but is the Western Theatre too large to be managed, especially when China seems to be showing interest in Middle East including Afghanistan and Iran?
  • The concept of Theatre Commands although successful in many countries, but it has some limitations like the Theatre Commander may not be well versed with employment of other services and may overrule certain decisions at a wrong time.
  • With so many departments controlling the entire PLA instead of just four departments, with equal status, will the problems of coordination between them affect the operational effectiveness of PLA?
  • Despite modern equipment, modernization, diversification based on experiences of defence forces of other countries, PLA continues to be an operationally inexperienced force (last operational experience in conflict with Vietnam), with tight political control, how well will it deliver in operations? After all it’s the man behind the gun which matters.
  • How will PLA perform the role of “Ensuring world peace” listed in their White Papers, with existing force structure? Even their modernization trajectory does not give them this capability at least for next two decades. Is BRI a tool for global deployment capability.

The overhaul of Dragon Army will continue to be an interesting development to watch in future.





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