PLA Theater Commands

Updated: Feb 12

Theater Commands (TCs) are joint, geographic commands utilized by the Central Military Commission (CMC) to exercise operational control over the People's Liberation Army (PLA). There are currently five TCs in existence: Eastern Theater Command (ETC), Southern Theater Command (STC), Western Theater Command (WTC), Northern Theater Command (NTC), and Central Theater Command (CTC).

Responsibilities & Command Structure

As joint, geographic commands similar in nature to US Combatant Commands (CCMDs), Theater Commands exercise a great amount of control and command authority over units assigned to their areas of responsibility (AORs). Unlike CCMDs, however, current TCs are strictly domestic in nature, and do not extend to locations outside Beijing's control or influence. According to Army Training Publication (ATP) 7-100.3, Theater Command leaders oversee the development of strategy, tactics, and policy in areas under their control, and are also responsible for, "responding to threats and crises within their assigned regions." Responses to crises, however, may be inhibited by a complex political and bureaucratic command structure.

The TC command structure is extremely complicated, as Theater Command senior leaders share command with political commissars of equal rank. In this convoluted structure, commissars oversee ideological issues and TC commanders oversee military operations. Individual services, such as the People's Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF) or People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), operate a subordinate headquarters under the TC responsible for running the service’s operations in the TC. According to ATP 7-100.3, PLAGF, PLAAF, and People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) elements have, "dual chains of command during peacetime, reporting both to their national service-level headquarters and to their assigned TC." The document further states that in wartime, these services will likely surrender unit control to their respective TCs. The Intelligence Ledger has not been able to independently verify that claim.

Example of TC dual command structure through the eyes of the PLAGF.