After an extensive review of regional wars since the 1980s, the PLA leadership concluded that new means of firepower are important factors in determining the outcome of modem military operations, the degree of jointmanship and overall coordination between the different branches of the armed forces has to be substantially increased highly advanced all-round skills need to be developed in military units, and, hi-tech wars generally tend to have specific political goals there is a need for high quality military commanders and subordinate personnel.
The People’s Liberation Army is gradually becoming a more modern dually becoming a more modern and profession force that is capable of dealing with diverse threats. This transformation is being fuelled by significant changes: in doctrine and tactics, the introduction of sophisticated comm and control systems, the gradual acquisition of state-of-the-art hardware, an enhanced training regime and steady downsizing to improve the teeth-to-tail ratio. Underpinning the new professionalism of the PLA is the doctrine of “active defence” (jiji fangyu) and “limited war under hi-tech conditions” (jubu zhanzheng zai gaoyl jishu tiaoyian xia). As the territorial and boundary dispute between India and China remains unresolved China’s military modernisation is of more than passing interest to India.
Since China’s ignominious incursion into Vietnam in 1979, PLA doctrine has evolved from Mao’s “people’s war” to “people’s war under modern conditions” , through a “limited/ local war” phase to the current doctrine introduced in 1993. The new doctrine is more assertive than previously and is not bound by any restrictions that confine and planning for future conflict to within China’s national boundaries. Compared with China’s historically reactive stance of luring the enemy in deep and destroying him through strategic defence, the present doctrine is essentially pro-active and seeks to take the battle into enemy territory. David Shambaugh, a US security analyst, has written: “Rather than conducting a ‘people’s war’ (a Strategy to ‘lure the enemy in deep’ into one’s own territory), the modem PLA doctrine of ‘active defence’ calls for forward positioning, frontier defence, engagement of the enemy at or over the border and potential engagement in conflict beyond China’s immediate periphery. Consequently, China has had to redefine its ‘strategic frontiers’, a commonplace term in the West, but one that has been adopted in China only over the last seven or eight years and that for the first time encompasses defence of China’s air, space and sea frontiers.” China defines “strategic frontier” as the living space of a state and a nation that contracts with the ebb and flow of comprehensive national strength.
China’s “active defence” doctrine also calls for integrated, in-depth strikes — a concentration of superior firepower that is to be utilised to destroy the opponent’s ‘retaliatory capabilities by employing long-range artillery, short-range ballistic missiles and precision guided munitions. The doctrine emphasises the effective use of advanced equipment wielded by elite units, with a focus on joint services operations. The overall aim in this “limited war under hi-tech conditions doctrine is to disrupt the enemy’s combat forces and logistics but not annihilate him, so as to bring about a negotiated end to the conflict or dictate terms if possible. Beijing’s limited war doctrine encompasses five key scenarios: military conflict with neighbouring countries in a limited region, military conflict on territorial waters, undeclared air attack by enemy countries, territorial defence in a limited military Operation, and, punitive offensive with a minor incursion into a neighbouring country. The new doctrine and the strategy and tactics associated with it have been influenced by the lessons of the 1991 Gulf War that has been extensively studied by Chinese military scholars, The doctrine demands the creation of a capability to project force across China’s borders through rapid deployment, conventional SRBMs and cruise missiles, information warfare, electronic warfare, precision-guided munitions, night fightIng capabilities and other advanced military technologies. The building of these capabilities, in turn, drives procurement and defence production policies, command and control structures and training.
The present doctrine represents a Chinese adaptation of the US revolution in military affairs concepts to achieve victory by reorganising the military to exploit rapid advances in technology. The PLA has accepted that modern hi-tech wars, whether defensive or offensive, generally have limited political goals and it is necessary to achieve political objectives as quickly as possible. and with the minimum possible casualties.
As per a White Paper on Chinas National Defence in 2000, issued Ov the State Council in Beijing. China is engaged in developing a “revolutionised, modernised and regularised people’s army with Chinese characteristics. It is endeavouring to transform its armed forces from numerically superior to a qualitatively superior type and from a manpower-intensive to a technology-intensive type, as well as to train high-quality personnel and improve the modernisation of weaponry in order to comprehensively enhance the armed forces combat effectiveness.
The Gulf War of 1991 had brought about a rude awakening as China realised that there was a wide gap between its technological capabilities and those of the West. In August 1991, President Jiang Zemin said, “The Gulf War let us further realise the importance of technology in a modern war. Although we believe that the decisive factor in winning a war is human power not firepower, advanced weaponry is very important and we cannot neglect (the impact of) science and technology”. Despite the rhetoric about “human power”, the Chinese military planners were forced to accept that the PLA was still in the so-called “people’s war” groove and that it would be quickly out-gunned, out-manoeuvred and hopelessly upstaged electronically if it were to face a modern army — or air force and navy, for that matter. Since then, the Chinese defence budget has witnessed a double-digit rate of growth. After an extensive review of regional wars since the 1980s, the PLA leadership concluded that new means of firepower are important factors in determining the outcome of modem military operations, the degree of jointmanship and overall coordination between the different branches of the armed forces has to be substantially increased, hence, highly advanced all-round skills need to be developed in military units, and, hi-tech wars generally tend to have specific political goals, hence, there is a need for high quality military commanders and subordinate personnel.
The PLA leadership also concluded that a hi-tech war requires a more coordinated effort by way of reconnaissance, Intelligence, command and control, communications, weapon systems and logistics. Though the basic principles of war do not change in a hi-tech war, its effective execution requires speed and mobility, the ability to carry out a decisive first strike and a highly efficient command system. To make up its perceived deficiencies, the PLA decided to focus on developing new technologies in microelectronics, computers, explosives, nuclear weapons and space technologies. Other defence expenditure priorities include organisational restructuring; command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) system; training and readiness; logistics infrastructure; doctrine and tactics and weapon systems upgrades. At least since 1979, when China launched its four modernisations, C4I modernisation and automation have been top priorities. The present command and control infrastructure is capable of supporting only static command posts within China’s borders and that too only for peacetime operations. It lacks the resilience that is necessary for active military operations against a modern military machine. A capability to handle complex joint operations is still beyond China’s means as it lacks the infrastructure necessary to do so as well as the organisational and joint staffing structure and high standards of training.
In October 1998, the Beijing Military Region reportedly used a “military information superhighway” for the first time during a joint training exercise. It was described as an information network subsystem of the “campaign training (Command) automation system . The PLAs Liberation Army daily reported that the Lanzhou MR military leaders made use of video tele-conferencing during a command post exercise in 1997. In the same year, China conducted its first ever logistics support exercise using a computer network. The exercise involved 150 computers and linked 22 separate divisions thousands of kilometres apart. The Second Artillery, China’s elite nuclear force, has recently acquired a digital microwave communications system that provides all-weather encrypted communications capability up to the missile launchers.
Though a cellular telephone facility has not yet become common in the PLA Army, a project to establish dedicated military cellular systems for the PLA is underway and this mode of communications could soon become a significant element in the PLA’s command and control structure. Most of China’s military communications networks are in the process of being upgraded using off-the-shelf, commercially available technologies. Countries of the European Union, Japan and Israel compete to sell tele-communications technology, hardware and related software to China.
The Gulf War and the air campaign in Kosovo brought home to the Chinese the immense importance of ground-based air defence capabilities. China has recently acquired several regiments of long-range air defence missiles from Russia to fill existing operational gaps. Another area being earnestly addressed is the lack of any real capability for defence against cruise missiles and theatre ballistic missiles. The newly developed CSA-5 and the Hong Qi-7 (HQ-7) air defence systems have a limited capability against cruise missiles. Follow-on systems with an improved capability to counter cruise missiles are under development. One of these is the HQ-9 SAM that is modelled on the US Patriot. The HQ-16 is a Sino-Russian joint project that possibly involves SA-11 technology.