China’s Incomplete Military Transformation

China’s Incomplete Military Transformation: Assessing the Weaknesses of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)

Michael S. Chase
Jeffrey Engstrom
Tai Ming Cheung
Kristen A. Gunness
Scott Warren Harold
Susan Puska
Samuel K. Berkowitz
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: RAND Corporation
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  • Book Info
    China’s Incomplete Military Transformation
    Book Description:

    Through extensive primary source analysis and independent analysis, this report seeks to answer a number of important questions regarding the state of China’s armed forces. The authors found that the PLA is keenly aware of its many weaknesses and is vigorously striving to correct them. Although it is only natural to focus on the PLA’s growing capabilities, understanding the PLA’s weaknesses—and its self-assessments—is no less important.

    eISBN: 978-0-8330-8833-8
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Preface
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  4. Figures and Tables
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. Executive Summary
    (pp. ix-xiv)

    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to the PLA’s growing capabilities, it is easy to forget that, in the 1980s and 1990s, the PLA was not only saddled with outdated equipment but also hamstrung by problems with personnel quality, poor training, and the distractions and massive corruption associated with involvement in an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-...

  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  7. CHAPTER ONE Introduction: The Importance of Understanding the Peopleʹs Liberation Armyʹs Weaknesses
    (pp. 1-12)

    Much of the growing scholarly and analytical attention devoted to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) focuses on improvements in its capabilities; the military modernization of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has achieved impressive results since the 1990s. In recent years, observers have chronicled China’s deployment of increasingly capable equipment, including modern multimission surface ships; advanced submarines; more-modern fighter aircraft; and conventional cruise and ballistic missiles, including an antiship ballistic missile (ASBM) designed to target U.S. aircraft carriers (Office of the Secretary of Defense [OSD], 2014). Scholars and analysts have also highlighted Chinese efforts to enhance the PLA’s command,...

  8. CHAPTER TWO Peopleʹs Liberation Army Modernization: Mid-1990s to 2025
    (pp. 13-24)

    To provide broader context for this assessment of the PLA’s shortcomings, this chapter provides an overview of the overall scope and scale of PLA modernization since the 1990s, during which the PLA has undergone a rapid transformation characterized by a series of important changes in such areas as equipment, doctrine, personnel, and training. The chapter also assesses the PLA’s likely trajectory through 2025.¹ Finally, it offers a brief discussion of internal and external events that might alter the direction of PLA modernization over the next decade.

    The PLA has undergone a remarkable transformation since the 1990s.² With all the attention...

  9. CHAPTER THREE Missions of the Peopleʹs Liberation Army
    (pp. 25-42)

    This chapter assesses the missions Beijing has assigned to the PLA. Far from the infantry-centric army of the past that sought to draw invaders deep into Chinese territory to fight a war of attrition, the PLA today performs an increasing number of missions that span the spectrum of conflict and MOOTW both at home and, increasingly, regionally and globally. Although the PLA recognizes that its quest for a high-tech military is far from being fully realized, the sustained modernization drive started in the early 1990s is already paying dividends, allowing it to carry out “diversified military tasks” of increasing scope...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR Weaknesses in Peopleʹs Liberation Army Organization and Human Capital
    (pp. 43-68)

    Chinese military writers, as well as expert foreign observers of the PLA, have noted that many of the PLA’s weaknesses stem from problems with organizational structure and human capital. Organizational weaknesses arise from the fact that the PLA, as an organization, is fundamentally a collection of institutional relationships and practices, some of which are poorly suited to its current requirements for historical or political reasons. As a result, the very structure itself can create a system riddled with inefficiencies, stovepiped information, and lack of oversight. By contrast, human capital weaknesses stem directly from the personal characteristics of the individuals who...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE Weaknesses of Peopleʹs Liberation Army Combat Capabilities
    (pp. 69-124)

    This chapter addresses weaknesses in the PLA’s combat capabilities through the lens of the “two incompatibles,” a concept Chinese publications often use to highlight what the PLA perceives as a gap between its current capabilities and its goals. The chapter consists of six sections. The first section discusses the concept of the two incompatibles in greater detail. The second evaluates weaknesses in the land domain. The third addresses weaknesses in the maritime domain. The fourth reviews weaknesses in the air domain. The fifth reviews weaknesses in space, cyberspace, and the electromagnetic spectrum. The sixth assesses potential weaknesses in China’s approach...

  12. CHAPTER SIX Weaknesses in Chinaʹs Defense Industry
    (pp. 125-134)

    This chapter evaluates the weaknesses of China’s defense industry and considers their potential implications. China’s defense industry has made tremendous progress in terms of its ability to deliver advanced weaponry and equipment to the PLA, especially since the 1998 defense industrial reforms, which resulted in the establishment of the GAD, among other changes. At the same time, however, China’s defense industry continues to suffer from a number of problems that have yet to be fully addressed. Indeed, China’s defense industry is still in transition from central planning to a more market-oriented system, and China still faces many major obstacles, such...

  13. CHAPTER SEVEN Conclusion: Peopleʹs Liberation Army Weaknesses and Their Implications
    (pp. 135-138)

    This concluding chapter of the report recaps our key findings and then offers some final thoughts on their implications that underscore the importance of conducting further research on the PLA’s weaknesses and its strengths. The PLA has made impressive progress in a relatively short time. It is clearly becoming a more professional and more capable military. Its capabilities aimed at deterring or, if necessary, countering U.S. military intervention in the Asia-Pacific region, including systems designed to hold U.S. military bases, aircraft carriers, space systems, and computer networks at risk, are becoming an increasingly serious cause for concern among defense analysts...

  14. APPENDIX Critical Assumptions
    (pp. 139-146)
  15. Abbreviations
    (pp. 147-150)
  16. References
    (pp. 151-172)
  17. Index
    (pp. 173-184)