Hong Kong, January 11 (ANI): On 4 January 2022, Chairman Xi Jinping, signed a mobilization order that marked the formal commencement of People's Liberation Army (PLA) training activities for the New Year.
Unsurprisingly, news of the mobilization order appeared above the centerfold of the PLA Daily, the military's dedicated newspaper.
Xi is chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), and this was the commission's first order for the year. It was relatively short at 206 characters, far more condensed compared to last year's edition that had 636 characters.
A ceremonial event was held at a training area belonging to the 81st Aviation Brigade of the Central Theater Command, though news reports from state-owned media do not make clear whether Xi attended in person.
Footage of Chinese soldiers and aviators at the aviation brigade's base showed them wearing newly issued Type 21 winter camouflage combat uniforms. Media proclaimed that the personnel were "fully armed with high morale". More than 30 aircraft participated in the premier mobilization event - primarily helicopters performing precision firing and heliborne assaults, while unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) conducted reconnaissance.
Diverse capabilities such as special forces and electronic countermeasures also participated, a nod to the PLA's efforts to create a joint force. Simultaneously, other PLA units were conducting their own training mobilization events, streamed on a digital screen at the Beijing headquarters. The aim of the first training iterations was for the PLA to "perform mobile operations and multi-dimensional offense and defense".
State-owned reports claimed that special operations units, long-range firepower and army aviation have grown several-fold in recent years. More UAVs and helicopters are being utilized too.
In his order, Xi stressed that the PLA must "closely follow the evolution of technology, warfare and rivals, redouble its efforts to better combine training with combat operations, and strengthen systematic training and the use of technologies to develop an elite force that is capable of fighting and winning wars".
He also demanded that all officers and soldiers "should uphold the spirit of fearing neither death nor hardship, and conduct training in a vigorous, well-designed and safe manner to boost their commanding and fighting capabilities and foster excellent conduct".
M. Taylor Fravel, Director of the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the USA, noted several interesting points about the 2022 order. One noteworthy thing is that the text was quite personalized, with Xi saying, "I command..."The personal pronoun "I" was used in 2018, but not in subsequent ones.
It is not known why Xi should return to "I" in the 2022 order, but it perhaps relates to his blooming personality cult. Xi has installed himself at the top of the Chinese hierarchy as leader for life, and he requires personal fealty from the military, as well as unwavering loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Indeed, Xi urged the PLA to redouble efforts to better combine training with combat operations. The rank and file must resolutely implement the plans and instructions of the CCP leadership and the CMC.
The mobilization order stressed the changing environment faced by China - it must be said, much of it has been brought on by its bellicose display of force to intimidate Taiwan and South China Sea claimants, for example. Xi said the changing landscape of national security must be "accurately understood".
An authoritative commentary accompanied the text of Xi's order in the PLA Daily. It expressed pessimism about the international security situation, claiming, "In today's world, power politics and the 'law of the jungle' are still prevalent, and various foreseeable and unforeseeable risks and challenges have increased significantly, and the danger of war is real."It continued, "Facing the encirclement and suppression of hostile forces and the strong containment and pressure that hinder us, we must base ourselves on the most difficult and complex situations and make the most solid and comprehensive training preparations."The order also made reference to the all-important 20th Party Congress that will be held later this year. The PLA training achievements will be linked to the "victory" of holding the CCP congress.
The American MIT-based academic mused, "What to make of all this? Still unclear. But the urgency and necessity of preparing for the worst has received more prominence than the specific means by which the PLA might do so."Interestingly, Fravel noted, "Unlike previous orders, this year's order lacked no details about the goals for PLA training. These goals often identify what the PLA views to be obstacles/shortcomings to be surmounted and to 'unify thought' around these goals to improve capabilities. Instead, this year's order only contained a general exhortation to train elite troops and uphold a spirit of not fearing hardship or death."The absence of any training goals is interesting in the 2022 order, for these highlights what the PLA believes its areas of weakness are.
Dennis Blasko, a former US defense attache in Beijing and Hong Kong in the 1990s, and a prominent expert on the PLA, told ANI what one recurrent weakness is - that of tactical and small-unit leadership. "They couch it in terms that some commanders have problems understanding the intentions of higher headquarters, can't make battlefield decisions, don't know how to deploy troops, etc. But they've been saying that now for five or six years, and what they're talking about is basic military leadership."The area encompasses how officers, non-commissioned officers and conscripts interact, and break down upward and downward communication barriers. Of course, the Chinese military and political system are extremely hierarchal, with little space given for personal initiative within the highly centralized command structure.
In recent times, PLA media outlets have persistently identified the problem of the "Five Incapables". Specifically, these are deep-seated concerns that some commanders cannot (1) judge situations; (2) understand higher authorities' intentions; (3) make operational decisions; (4) deploy forces, and (5) manage unexpected situations.
In its report on the PLA, released at the end of 2021, the Pentagon explicated: "One outside expert has noted this may indicate the PLA lacks confidence in its proficiency to execute its own operational concepts. Additionally, senior party and PLA leaders are keenly aware that the military has not experienced combat in decades, nor fought with its current suite of capabilities and organizational structures. PLA leaders and state media frequently call on the force to remedy the 'peacetime disease' that manifests in the form of what it characterizes as lax training attitudes and practices that are viewed as hindering combat readiness."Blasko continued: "...They've got a contradiction, because what they're trying to do is push operations down to the battalion level. Now they say the battalion is the lowest-level unit capable of independent operations. They're pushing more responsibility down to battalion level but, so far, I haven't seen a whole lot of formalized training for battalion commanders."The former American army intelligence officer told ANI that the PLA does not seem to have as many professional military education courses as the US Army, for instance. "It almost seems like they're just throwing them the books and say, 'Learn about it online.' But at the same time, the CMC is sending down inspection teams to inspect training and inspect discipline. And so they're being told to go out and do things on your own, but they oftentimes turn around and there's somebody looking over their shoulder. So there's that friction."The PLA at its core is a political animal. It is not China's national armed force, but rather it is the armed wing of the CCP. Within China's military, an inordinate amount of time and energy is spent on political education, ideology and proving one's loyalty to the CCP. To a large extent, promotion is also a function of one's political affiliation rather than pure talent.
Blasko made this observation: "We would think, with all the political training they do, that loyalty would not be as great an issue. But they quite frequently talk about having to enforce political loyalty, or to make sure everybody is on the same sheet of music when it comes to the party. So in their minds, I think there's a question."This is not to say that there is any chance of the PLA rising up against the party. On the contrary, the military has proven its loyalty numerous times, including the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. But Xi wants total obedience to his authority, the same kind of thing that the Red Army under Stalin or Nazi Germany under Hitler required.
The Pentagon's 2021 report on the PLA said: "In recent years, Chairman Xi Jinping and senior military leaders have continued to emphasize the need to build the PLA's combat readiness so it can 'fight and win'. This emphasis has not only entailed the PLA conducting more training, but making its training more rigorous and realistic, as well as addressing issues in the PLA's training and education systems related to conducting complex joint operations and adapting to other aspects of modern warfare. The emphasis on enhancement the PLA's combat readiness probably has also led to a standardization of a combat readiness system across the PLA to enable the PRC to quickly transition to a wartime footing."Despite the rhetoric from Chinese media about integrated joint training, Blasko observed that the number of large joint exercises actually decreased initially after the major reforms enacted by Xi around 2015-16.
From 2006-16, the army would conduct some 100 trans-regional exercises annually of brigade or even division scale. "There were a lot more joint exercises before reform. Once the reform came in, for a couple of years most units were focusing primarily at squad-, platoon-, company- and battalion-level proficiencies - basically the building blocks of larger exercises.
And this was complicated by many of these lower-echelon units getting in all this new equipment ... They've had to focus training at these lower levels, and so you haven't seen quite as many big joint exercises and the number of trans-regional exercises."Named exercise series (e.g. Stride or Firepower) are occurring, but they were down to something like 29 in 2020. Nonetheless, Blasko said he expected the number of joint exercises and of large combined-arms exercises to increase.
The US military establishment assessed, as of 2021, "Despite initial delays and cancellations in military training, exercises, research and recruitment in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, impact to the overall readiness of the PLA remains minimal." Despite degraded PLA readiness in early 2020, mitigation measures allowed it to return to near-normal states of readiness levels by the middle of that year.
However, China is relying on a total elimination strategy against COVID-19. As the country now faces the threat of Delta and Omicron strains - which have spread like wildfire elsewhere in the world, and against which Chinese-made vaccines are almost worthless - the country may have to curtail some training activities if the virus begins to get out of control. (ANI)