Tuesday, April 05, 2016

China's new model Army

In January 2016, the world of the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) turned upside down. This is not the consequence of revolution or coup, but a well-thought-out design to transform the land-centric PLA into a global force, patterned on that of the United States. 
For obvious reasons, this has implications not just for India, but the world. 

On December 31, 2015, Xi Jinping presented flags to the commanders of three new forces of the PLA. Of these, two were essentially restructured and remodelled - the PLA got its own headquarters like the Navy and the Air Force, and the Second Artillery Force which holds China’s nuclear and conventional missiles was redesignated as the Rocket Force. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping presented flags to the commanders of 3 new forces of the PLA in December 2015 

However the third, the new Strategic Support Force, is brand new and provides pointers to the future evolution of the PLA as a fighting force. 
The goal of the SSF is to prepare Beijing to fight the war of the future, where the weapons will be a computer terminal and space satellites. As a Chinese naval analyst Yin Zhuo pointed out in an article, it will be involved in “targeted reconnaissance and tracking, global positioning operations and space assets management, as well as defence against electronic warfare and hostile activities in cyberspace.” 
An article in People’s Daily said that the researchers of the SSF were focusing on cutting edge technologies such as big data applications, cloud computing, 3D printing and nanomaterials. The new forces are only the tip of the iceberg of the reform process that has gripped the PLA. 
On the block has been its apex headquarter departments - the four general departments of staff, politics, logistics and armament - which have been abolished, and replaced by 15 functional units which report directly to the Central Military Commission, chaired by Xi, which runs the whole show. 
In turn, these 15 units comprise of seven full-fledged departments, three commissions and five affiliated institutions. The new departments are the CMC General Office; Joint Staff office, and departments relating to Political Work, Logistic Support and National defenses Mobilisation.
The new commissions are the CMC Discipline, Political and Law, and Science and Technology Commissions; and the affiliated offices are the CMC Strategic Planning, Reform and Formation, International Military Cooperation, Audit Offices, and the CMC General Affairs Administration. 

China’s seven military regions have now been reduced to five “battle zones” or theatre commands. This is of considerable interest to India since it is now “handled” by a single western battle zone, headquartered in Urumqi. 
Earlier operations relating to India were divided by the Xinjiang Military Region headquartered in distant Lanzhou, as well as the Chengdu Military Region headquartered in Chengdu. 
So, a single Chinese commander with all the assets of the Army, Air Force and conventional missiles of the rocket force will direct the battle against four Indian Army commands headquartered in Udhampur, Chandimandir, Lucknow and Kolkata, and three air force commands with headquarters in Shillong, Allahabad and New Delhi. 
Many of the things the Chinese are doing are things we in India have also tried to do. First, remodel the apex management of the system. Currently, our Ministry of Defence is run by generalist IAS officers and there is an urgent need to introduce specialisation here through two means. 
Second, introducing uniformed personnel into the MOD hierarchy, just as they are in the bureaucratic hierarchies of the ministries of defence of other nations. 
Third, creating a cadre of civilian officers who specialise in security issues. Currently, they exercise their power through the blunt sword of procedures by nixing or approving issues over which they have no domain knowledge. 

India has sought to create a joint staff command under a chief of defence staff and restructure the existing geographical commands into integrated theatre commands. Unfortunately, after beginning with the experimental Andaman & Nicobar command set up through the far-reaching reforms of the Vajpayee government, the system seems to have lost its nerve. 
Recommendations made by the Naresh Chandra Committee have been shelved and the Modi government seems more eager to push defence procurement, rather than carry out the deep restructuring needed to make India’s military a war-winning force. 
The process of reform is never easy, and so it will not be smooth sailing for Xi & Co, but so far they have managed to ram through the key decisions whose implementation will unfold over the next five years. 
But if there is one lesson that we need to learn from the changes it is that whether a democracy or an authoritarian state, change can only be brought about through a process led by the political class. 
That accounted for the success of the reforms in the Vajpayee era, and their failure in UPA-2. We are still waiting to see what the Modi era will bring. But whatever it intends to, it better get going.
Mail Today February 1, 2016

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