PEOPLE'S LIBERATION ARMY GROUND FORCE
The People's Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF), also known as the PLA Army (PLAA), is the primary land combat service of the People's Republic of China (PRC). With roughly one million soldiers to call upon, the Ground Force is the largest service within the People's Liberation Army (PLA). As one of five military departments (Ground Force, Navy, Air Force, Rocket Force, Strategic Support Force), the PLAGF maintains an active and reserve component. According to current estimates, the PLAGF can activate 500,000 reservists within a 90 day period.
The Ground Force is organized similarly to the United States Army, with soldiers falling within different branches. These twelve branches include Infantry, Armor, Artillery, Air Defense, Aviation, Engineering, Chemical Defense, Communications, Electronic Warfare, Logistics, Maintenance, and Special Operations.
PLAGF STRUCTURE (STRATEGIC, OPERATIONAL, & TACTICAL)
The People’s Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF) utilizes a complicated command structure. Individual services often maintain dual command structures during peacetime, with one reporting to the national service headquarters and another to its respective Theater Command (TC). This practice not only confuses western analysts seeking to better understand the PLAGF, but also junior members of the service seeking approval for training and operational support. At the operational and tactical levels, military decisions can be further complicated by ideology due to the presence of political commissars.
STRATEGY, TACTICS, & DOCTRINE
PLATFORMS, SYSTEMS, & EQUIPMENT
The PLAGF can trace its linage to 1927, when the Communist Party of China (CPC) established a military wing during the Nanchang Uprising. Originally known as the Chinese Workers and Peasants Red Army, the force was composed solely of light infantry relying upon civilian support for logistics. The Red Army survived several bloody campaigns from 1927 through 1936 despite suffering incalculable losses at the hands of Chiang Kai-Shek and the Kuomintang.
In 1937, the Red Army was forced to partner with Chiang Kai-Shek’s forces during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The Red Army’s two primary formations, the Fourth Army and Eighth Route Army, carried out low intensity operations utilizing guerrilla tactics due to a lack of combat power, logistical support, and operational leadership. The partnership between the Kuomintang and CPC enabled China to stay in the fight against Japan.
Following the defeat of Imperial Japan in 1945, hostilities between the Kuomintang and CPC re-emerged. The Red Army underwent a major reorganization in 1947 and 1948, with a new command structure, unit numbers, and service name. The reinvigorated and renamed People’s Liberation Army led the Communist Party to victory in the Chinese Civil War in November 1949. Following the defeat of the Kuomintang on mainland China, the PLA established individual service branches, including the Ground Force, Air Force (PLAAF), and Navy (PLAN).
PLAGF formations directly engaged United Nations (UN) forces during the Korean War, when policymakers in Beijing feared American-led formations would enter Manchuria. The PLAGF relied heavily on infantrymen during the conflict, and suffered horrific losses due to the utilization human wave attacks against motorized, mechanized, and armored forces. Nonetheless, Chinese soldiers and their North Korean partners succeeded in driving coalition personnel away from Manchuria and down the Korean Peninsula. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) developed a close working relationship with the PLAGF throughout this conflict, as Moscow provided advisors and gear to the ill-equipped PLA. Following the cessation of hostilities, military cooperation between the PRC and USSR significantly decreased. Following the Sino-Soviet split, the PLAGF received no support from the USSR.
In the 1960s, the PLA engaged in a series of border conflicts with Republic of India (IN). The PLAGF successfully achieved operational objectives in most engagements, although the sustainment of heavy losses meant the achievements were viewed as pyrrhic victories in Beijing.
In 1969, PLAGF elements engaged Soviet Border Guards on Zhenbao Island. Although the skirmish never grew into a wider war, PLAGF leadership realized they would be grossly outmatched by the Soviet military. The situation spurred a period of development within the service, although domestic requirements soon dampened the effect of this spending program.
In 1979, a border skirmish with the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (VT) once again necessitated the deployment of PLAGF formations. Despite Hanoi and Beijing both claiming their units had achieved stated strategic objectives following the cessation of hostilities, analysis conducted in the years following the conflict have shown that PLAGF elements were significantly outperformed by their Vietnamese counterparts.
During the Soviet-Afghan War, the PLAGF supplied and trained the Afghan Mujahideen alongside the United States and Middle East North Africa (MENA) powers. The PLAGF supplied the Mujahideen with short range air defense (SHORAD) man portable (MANPAD) systems, rocket launchers, crew served systems, and individual weapons. Chinese advisors also trained fighters in small unit tactics.
Since the 1980s, the PLAGF has taken part in a multitude of low intensity operations, both at home and abroad. In 1989, PLAGF formations played a critical role in clamping down on protestors in Tiananmen Square. In 1990, Chinese soldiers once again helped to put down riots in Baren Township. PLAGF elements first began operating far from the PRC during UN peacekeeping operations in Lebanon in 2007, a mission which it continues to support today. In 2014, the UN once again utilized PLAGF personnel for peacekeeping missions in Mali. 2015 saw the latest UN deployment of PLAGF personnel, with elements assisting peacekeeping forces in South Sudan.
In 2020, the PLAGF once again engaged the Republic of India in a border skirmish. Although there were only a small number of deaths on both sides, the PLAGF rushed units to the region in anticipation of a larger conflict. Diplomacy won the day, although tensions remain high along the Sino-Indian border.