Weaknesses of the People’s Liberation Army
This analysis was done by the RAND National Security Research Division in USA
The team assessed entire weakness of Chinese Army's modern Preparations for War. This is the summary of the article. you can find the eBook below this Article
This research report was prepared at the request of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission to support its deliberations. Posting of the report to the Commission's website is intended to promote greater public understanding of the issues addressed by the Commission in its ongoing assessment of U.S.-China economic relations and their implications for U.S. security, as mandated by Public Law 106-398 and Public Law 108-7. However, it does not necessarily imply an endorsement by the Commission or any individual Commissioner of the views or conclusions expressed in this commissioned research report.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has undergone a remarkable transformation since the mid-1990s. With most of the attention currently devoted to the PLA’s growing capabilities, it is easy to forget that, in the 1980s and 1990s, the PLA was not only saddled with outdated equipment but also hamstrung by problems with personnel quality, poor training, and the distractions and massive corruption associated with involvement in an array of commercial activities. Reflecting the high priority attached to modernizing the PLA, sustained increases in defense spending, reaching double-digit percentage increases in most years, have fueled the PLA’s rapid progress since the mid- to late 1990s. Along with the substantial resources China is devoting to national defense, the PLA’s progress has been impressive overall, and the PLA is clearly becoming an increasingly professional and capable fighting force. It is thus understandable that assessments of the PLA tend to focus on the achievements of its rapid modernization over the past two decades. Analysts have devoted insufficient attention, however, to studying the PLA’s persisting weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
We have found that the PLA suffers from potentially serious weaknesses. These shortcomings could limit its ability to successfully conduct the information-centric, integrated joint operations Chinese military strategists see as required to fight and win future wars. Chinese military writers and outside analysts generally agree that these weaknesses fall into two broad categories. The first is institutional. The PLA faces shortcomings stemming from outdated command structures, quality of personnel, professionalism, and corruption. The second set of weaknesses centers on combat capabilities. These shortcomings include logistical weaknesses, insufficient strategic airlift capabilities, limited numbers of special-mission aircraft, and deficiencies in fleet air defense and antisubmarine warfare. Although the PLA’s capabilities have improved dramatically, its remaining weaknesses increase the risk of failure to successfully perform some of the missions Chinese Communist Party leaders may task it to execute, such as in various Taiwan contingencies, maritime claim missions, sea line of communication protection, and some military operations other than war scenarios.
Our premise was that understanding where the PLA falls short of its aspirations, or perhaps has not fully recognized the need for improvement, is just as essential as understanding the PLA’s strengths. The PLA is increasingly capable of threatening its neighbors and holding U.S. bases and other high-value assets at risk, but shortfalls threaten its ability to accomplish many of its assigned missions. It is also important to know what Chinese military officers think about the PLA’s shortcomings: Understanding the PLA’s self-assessments can enable U.S. planners and policymakers to respond more effectively to the challenges China’s impressive, but incomplete, military transformation poses.
Assessing a rapidly modernizing military’s emerging operational concepts and capabilities in peacetime is a difficult analytical task, but understanding that military’s shortcomings is perhaps even more complex. Some weaknesses are readily apparent in the form of a brittle capability or a single point of failure, but other weaknesses truly manifest themselves only when a gap exists between the requirements of a mission and the actual ability of a military to perform it. Indeed, accurately and completely assessing PLA weaknesses requires understanding the various missions and the potential threat environment in which the missions may be conducted. Far from the infantry-centric army of the past, which sought to draw invaders deep into Chinese territory to fight a guerilla war, the PLA today performs an increasing number of missions that span the spectrum of conflict and military operations other than war both at home and, increasingly, regionally and globally.
Although the PLA has dramatically improved its ability to perform assigned missions, including countering U.S. military intervention, if necessary, we found that a number of serious challenges remain.The PLA itself seems to be well aware of its shortcomings. Indeed, PLA publications are replete with references to problems in many areas, and discussions of these problems often highlight what Chinese writers refer to as the “two incompatibles,” reflecting their assessment that the PLA’s capabilities are still unable to cope with the demands of winning a local war under informatized conditions and successfully carry out the PLA’s other missions.
Chinese military writers, as well as expert foreign observers, note that many of the key weaknesses of the Chinese armed forces stem from shortcomings in organizational structure and the challenges involved in bringing the PLA’s human capital up to the proficiency levels required to perform its missions effectively. The PLA’s organizational structure is often portrayed as an obstacle to greater “jointness” and to the PLA’s ability to execute modern informatized military operations. Weaknesses in the realm of human capital include continuing concerns about insufficient educational accomplishments and levels of technical proficiency among soldiers and officers; shortcomings in the realms of mental and physical health; and problems with corruption, morale, and professionalism, including difficulties accepting military discipline and maintaining operational security.
The PLA also faces shortfalls in terms of its combat capabilities. Many Chinese strategists identify the inability to conduct integrated joint operations at the desired level of competence as the central problem China faces as it aspires to project combat power beyond its land borders. Indeed, Chinese sources highlight several problems that contribute to the PLA’s shortcomings in the area of joint operations and suggest that there is still a large gap between China and developed countries’ militaries, especially the United States. PLA publications also highlight continuing shortfalls in training, despite years of effort to make training more realistic and more valuable in terms of addressing shortcomings and improving the PLA’s operational capabilities.
In addition, the publications point to persistent challenges in combat support and combat service support functions and forces, as reflected by frequent discussions of shortcomings in logistics and maintenance capabilities that appear in PLA newspaper reports and journal articles.
Many shortfalls specific to China’s naval and air forces remain despite major advances in their capabilities in recent years. While the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN’s) new surface combatants and submarines boast impressive capabilities comparable with those of a modern world-class navy, the PLAN still faces a number of challenges. These exist in such areas as the integration of increasingly complex modern weapons and equipment platforms; the training of PLAN personnel, who currently are not fully equipped to operate or maintain them; and the mastery of such capabilities as antisubmarine warfare and amphibious operations. The People’s Liberation Army Air Force has similarly made enormous strides but must still cope with such challenges as a large force comprising multiple generations of aircraft, a shortage of key special-mission aircraft, unrealistic training, and insufficient strategic transport capability.
The PLA also faces potential weaknesses in its ability to protect Chinese interests in space and the electromagnetic spectrum and to operate successfully in these areas to support military campaigns requiring information dominance. Indeed, as China places more andmore satellites in orbit, the PLA is becoming more dependent on space capabilities for such important functions as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; navigation and positioning; and communications. Chinese military publications suggest that the PLA still sees itself as less dependent on space than the U.S. military but also appear to recognize, albeit largely implicitly, that increasing reliance on space brings greater vulnerability. China also sees itself as potentially vulnerable in the electromagnetic spectrum. One area in which this concern has been particularly pronounced is Chinese concern about cybersecurity weaknesses. Indeed, the PLA clearly views itself as occupying a relatively disadvantageous position due to its perceived inferiority in the key aspects of “network military struggle.” This problem may become more pressing as the PLA increases its reliance on technology that is potentially vulnerable to disruption, thus creating a weakness an adversary could exploit.
Although China’s defense industry has made tremendous progress in terms of its ability to deliver advanced weaponry and equipment to the PLA over the past two decades, it also suffers from a number of problems that have yet to be resolved. Indeed, China’s defense industry is still in transition from central planning to a more market-oriented system, and many major obstacles remain to be tackled. The main problems the defense industry faces include widespread corruption, lack of competition, entrenched monopolies, delays and cost overruns, quality control problems, bureaucratic fragmentation, an outdated acquisition system, and restricted access to external sources of technology and expertise.
The PLA can be expected to attempt to address these self-assessed weaknesses and vulnerabilities and to develop new capabilities to fill gaps in its ability to protect China’s expanding international interests. As the PLA continues to modernize, it is critical for U.S. analysts, planners, and decisionmakers to improve their understanding of the PLA’s shortcomings—and how the PLA itself sees these weaknesses and vulnerabilities. This is key to identifying the PLA’s future modernization paths; enhancing military-to-military engagement; tailoring deterrence strategies to be the most effective in influencing the Chinese leadership’s decision calculus; and if deterrence fails, exploiting the PLA’s weaknesses to ensure the United States and its allies are able to prevent China from using force to achieve its policy objectives.