PLA Special Operation Units

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) of the People's Republic of China (PRC) operates a wide variety of special operation units under each military branch, including the Ground Force (PLAGF), Navy (PLAN), Air Force (PLAAF), Rocket Force (PLARF), and Strategic Support Force (PLASSF).


Overview

PLA special operation components are very different from their western counterparts, Due to their name, many assume they conduct missions such as unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, civil affairs, counterterrorism, and military information support operations. Such a notion would be inaccurate. Composed of 14,000 personnel, the majority of SOF soldiers are two-year conscripts and junior officers on their first assignments. Although this force is prioritized for equipment procurement, it does not have the special mission aircraft or support staff found in the US special operation community, and as such, operates alongside conventional formations.


Units

As previously mentioned, special operation units are operated by every PLA branch, including the PLAGF, PLAN, PLAAF, PLARF, and PLASSF.


The People's Liberation Army Ground Force operates multiple Special Operations Forces (SOF) units. Unlike their western counterparts, there is little reliable open source intelligence (OSINT) indicating that these SOF elements would be used in highly complex or unconventional warfare operations. Furthermore, SOF units do not have any publicly known experience in overseas foreign internal defense activities. If anything, these units are similar to the US Army’s Ranger Regiment, and thus are more prone to operate in larger groups. This theory is reinforced by PLA Ground Force doctrine, which states that the main objective of SOF units is special reconnaissance, sabotage, and harassment of conventional hostile units. They are also able to deploy quickly, and thus can effectively engage in border conflicts or unexpected flare ups near the homeland.


The People's Liberation Army Navy operates two types special operations units. The first, known as the Jiaolong Assault Team (Sea Dragons), operates similarly to United States Navy SEALs or Marine Raiders. Although The Intelligence Ledger has discovered little about the group's structure or tactics, it should not be underestimated. In 2015, an unknown number of Jiaolong teams successfully evacuated 571 Chinese citizens and 200 foreign nationals from Yemen following the initiation of hostilities between Houthi rebels and the Saudi government. More recently, in 2017, a Jiaolong team successfully retook a cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden. No casualties were sustained by the crew of the vessel during the assault team's rescue operation. It remains unclear if any Jiaolong missions have been a failure thus far.


The PLAN also operates Marine Amphibious Assault Battalions. These units would be tasked with clearing the way for follow on forces in the case of an amphibious invasion. It is difficult to determine if the PLAN considers these battalions to be special operation units, as The Intelligence Ledger has found existing evidence to be conflicting and inconclusive.


The People's Liberation Army Air Force operates one special operations unit: the Leishen Commando Airborne Force (LCAF). According to the APAN Community, members of LCAF are, "elite parachutists," and have acted as, "a test bed for innovations in the airborne corps." According to some reports, Leishen operators have attended Venezuela’s Hunter School in order to master jungle warfare tactics and have begun training to jump from civilian aircraft in contested areas of operation.


The PLA's two newest branches also maintain special operation units, although their effectiveness is unknown. the Rocket Force Blade Commandos a supposedly tasked with "special reconnaissance" and security of strategic facilities. The Intelligence Ledger has been unable to determine the exact meaning of special reconnaissance, while strategic facilities can be assumed to be sites with strategic weapons. Lastly, the Strategic Support Force operates a small Counter-Terrorism Assault Unit, although its exact taskings are unclear.