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New Study Highlights Shortcomings in China’s Military Transformation

A recent study by RAND states that whilst PLA is becoming more professional and more capable with regards to deterring or, if necessary, countering US military intervention in the Asia-Pacific region, this transformation remains incomplete. There are perceived gaps between current PLA capabilities and the demands of winning a local war under informatized conditions and successfully executing the PLA’s other missions.

There have been many perspectives regarding the modernization of Chinese navy. A recent study by RAND titled “China’s Incomplete Military Transformation-Assessing the Weakness of the People’s Liberation Army” focused on the PLA Weaknesses rather than the strengths.

Key findings of the original paper were that whilst PLA is becoming more professional and more capable with regards to deterring or, if necessary, countering U.S. military intervention in the Asia-Pacific region, this transformation is incomplete. The paper was prepared by the authors as gleaned from Chinese military media and PLA books and journal articles. There are perceived gaps between current PLA capabilities and the demands of winning a local war under informatized conditions and successfully executing the PLA’s other missions.

These weaknesses according to authors were,

  • An organizational structure that appears to be an obstacle to its reaching the level of joint operations to which it aspires.
  • The human capital shortcomings such as insufficient education and technical proficiency and rampant corruption.
  • Shortcomings in joint operations capabilities, training, and combat support and combat service support functions.
  • Concern about the integration of increasingly complex weapons and equipment, the associated training, the level of mastery of critical capabilities, insufficient numbers of key enablers and protecting China’s growing interests in space and the electromagnetic spectrum.
  • A defense industry that still suffers from a number of problems that have yet to be resolved, including widespread corruption, lack of competition, delays and cost overruns, and quality control issues.

The authors recommended that Analysts should devote greater attention to studying the PLA’s weaknesses — and its self-assessments of its shortcomings. This according to them will add value to assessments of the future direction of PLA modernization, support the development of a military-to-military relationship with China, improve the ability of the other nations to deter China from using force or coercion to resolve disputes, and devise strategies for countering Chinese use of force if deterrence fails.

This apparently was contested by the China watchers and the authors have tried to clarify their perspective.

The tone and tenor of their defense is summed up here as indicated by the authors.

“In short, we are quite impressed with what the PLA has accomplished over the past couple of decades, and with the challenges the PLA’s growing capabilities create for the United States and its allies and partners. At the same time, however, we argue that understanding the PLA’s weaknesses is just as important as studying its strengths. Knowing the weaknesses—and particularly what PLA officers themselves see as the most important shortcomings—is critical to understanding what areas the PLA will emphasize as it continues to modernize. This also will improve the United States’ ability to deter China from using coercion or force to resolve disputes with its neighbors and, if deterrence fails, to prevent China from successfully using forces to achieve its political aims.”

It is felt that if transformation of defense forces is studied at any instant, there will be chinks in that armor.  However, the rapidity with which the Chinese are transforming portends a trajectory that would match its ultimate aim – to be a superpower. While conceding to the argument that the present snapshot has some weaknesses, one should remember that the PLA modernization is a work in progress and is far from over. China has definitely got the money and has displayed a will to learn and improve as they go along!

At the same time, the authors have definitely delivered what they have been asked to- study the weaknesses, which they have done with commendable with elan, given that there are very few works that look at weakness, whereas the  strengths have been articulated copiously.

We invite your insight and awareness on this topic. To read the study  please click here http://www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/Research/China%27s%20Incomplete%20Military%20Transformation_2.11.15.pdf.

 

 

 

 

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