Boosting PLA Power under tighter CCP Control

That Chinese Communist Party (CCP) controls the PLA is well known but the control just became tighter as PLA’s higher defence structure is reorganizing in order to become more focused including getting operationally ready for all domains of war including space. President Xi Jinping, also the general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) had announced he would reduce the country’s military strength by 300,000 personnel. Xi has laid down end of 2017 as the time line for cutting down on the strength of military by 3,00,000 personnel. Significantly, a CPC statement issued at the end of the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee that lay the agenda for reform said that the goal of military reform is to build an army that “obeys the Party’s command, is capable of winning battles and has a sound working style.”

Presently, the Central Military Commission (CMC) commands exercises command and control over the seven Military Regions (MR), the Navy, the Air Force and the Second Artillery Corps through the four general headquarters, namely, the General Staff Department (GSD), General Political Department (GPD), General Armament Department (GAD) and General Logistic Department (GLD). These seven MRs are likely to be reorganized into five new ‘Joint Battle Zone Commands’ (Joint Commands) working directly under the CMC. The frontline troops will be placed under a ‘Troops Command’ (possibly reorganizing existing command structures into in to Theater Commands) with the administration controlled from CMC through various services and integrated at the Joint Battle Zone Command level.

An article published in Xinhua (official mouthpiece of the government) last year asserted that “the CPC has absolute leadership of the armed forces; military will be the armed wing of the CCP remaining independent of the government. As it is, three PLA Generals are members of the powerful Politburo. The PLA, People’s Armed Police (PAP) and the militia and reserve forces have been placed under the command and administration of the CMC and the CPC Central Committee. Significantly, President Xi is the only civilian heading the CMC though the powers vested in leadership of the CMC are expected to be enhanced to be able to exercise command and control over these forces. Compare this arrangement with our MoD where there is all civilians and staffed with bureaucrats without professional military experience and without accountability. This restructuring apart, of major significance is China’s newly formed ‘Rocket Force’, the ‘Strategic Support Forces’ and the upcoming ‘Space Force’.

The Rocket Force (restructured from erstwhile Second Artillery Corps) is to include nuclear submarines and bombers, making it the first independent unit in the world, as per a PLA spokesman. According to ‘China Military Online’, this is better integration than in the US, Russia, Britain and France. Conversion and upgrade of the Second Artillery Corp is being compared to the Russian Strategic Missile Force. China is regarded as one of the largest missile forces in the world, holding variety of nuclear and conventional missiles.

The Strategic Support Force (SSF) to provide proper electronic and cyber intelligence backup for precision missiles strikes. China’s DF-26 exhibited during China’s V-Day parade on September 3 last year, carries both nuclear and conventional warheads has a range of 4000 kms. In the long term, the PLA Rocket Force may transfer short-range ballistic missiles to the army to extend its range of strike. With downsizing, the PLA is shifting to cyber and space warfare. That China may have already weaponized space cannot be discounted, having tested an anti-satellite weapon in 2007. According to Washington Times, in the event of an armed conflict, the Chinese military expects to use a combination of kinetic, electronic and cyber-attacks against satellites and ground support structures. To cater for future space warfare, the Space Force is to be integral to the Strategic Support Forces to include space warfare units, nuclear forces, electronic and cyber-warfare troops and signal intelligence units.

China is currently developing two direct-ascent missiles, capable of hitting satellites in both lower and higher orbits. The main task of the Space Force is to achieve control over low earth orbit to defeat the US as per Rick Fisher, a China expert.. According to a US congressional report, China conducted a test in October last year of a new missile capable of destroying US satellites; the Dong Neng-3 exoatmospheric vehicle test is the eighth anti-satellite missile test China has conducted. The rapid shift in the line of military command in China signifies a strategic shift to rely on futuristic state-of-the-art means of warfare. Integration of electronic warfare capabilities in the Space Force aside from ensuring safety of own missile strikes may even be used to destroy or deflect enemy missiles. India need to take note of these new developments in China.

As for our Aerospace Command, the media was pretty hyped up in 2004 but 10 years down the line there has been little forward movement despite even the Naresh Chandra Committee recommending in May 2012 setting up the ‘Aerospace’, ‘Cyber’ and ‘Special Forces’ commands.

Prakash Katoch is third generation army officer hailing from Himachal Pradesh. He is former Lieutenant General from Special Forces and post-retirement has published over 2100 articles on international affairs, geopolitics, military, security, technical and topical issues besides authoring two books. He is active in seminars at both national and international levels.

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