Rising from swords to strategic missiles | Daily News
Special Forces of the People’s Liberation Army of China

Rising from swords to strategic missiles

The ancient kingdoms of China took pride in their military might. Those of us familiar with military history will remember the prudent Chinese General Sun Tzu, a great leader of men, and a philosopher. His deep military doctrines relating to battlefield strategies are recorded in the Art of War. This book is read by aspiring officer cadets of many nations to this day. It is one of the best books I have read and its teaching offers insight and inspiration to deal with the challenges of life.

Over the decades the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has consistently grown to project its power in every spectrum of military engagement. Its five major branches are the Ground Force (PLAGF), Navy (PALN), Air Force (PLAAF), Rocket Force (PLARF) and the Strategic Support Force (PLASSF). The Peoples Liberation Army is the world’s largest defence force and one of the most modernized. It is respected and endorsed as one of the forces with global power projection, in terms of its military capability.

Every victorious journey has its roots in challenging situations, and the People’s Liberation Army was raised on August 1, 1927, in the midst of the Nanchang Uprising. At this stage they were known simply as the Red Army. During the Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) the Chinese soldiers were part of the National Revolutionary Army. Subsequently two major units emerged known as the Eighth Route Army and the New Fourth Army.

In 1945 the Japanese surrendered. The Chinese Eighth Route Army and New Fourth Army, almost with a cadre of one million, were merged and named the People’s Liberation Army. With concerted effort the PLA won the Chinese Civil War and successfully established the People’s Republic of China in 1949. By November 1949, the PLA was empowered with the Air Force and this was further augmented with the setting up of the Navy in April 1950. To increase efficiency and manage resources the armed forces were restructured with changes made to the artillery, armoured units, air defence troops, communication forces, strategic forces and railroad forces. This was done under the guidance of the Chinese Communist Party and Central Military Commission.

Strategic decision making is important for any military. This is why General Sun Tzu once said, “The quality of decision is like the swoop of a falcon, which enables it to strike and destroy its enemy.” By 1955 there were 13 military regions. By 2016 the PLA was divided into five major theatres of command – Eastern Theatre Command, Western Theatre Command, Northern Theatre Command, Southern Theatre Command and Central Theatre Command. It is estimated that the ground forces of the People’s Liberation Army has a cadre of 975,000 personnel. The total strength of the Chinese armed forces is estimated at around two million personnel. If required this number can be reinforced with trained reserve troops who number around 500,000 and they are divided into 30 infantry divisions with 12 anti-aircraft divisions. The Chinese military further expanded its ground operational capacity by establishing two amphibious mechanized divisions in Nanjing and Guangzhou. Nations across the globe are vying to impress with missile capability. PLA ground forces have also been empowered with updated innovations in information technology, electronic warfare and long-range precision strikes. The old generation radio-based command system has been changed to facilitate a modern integrated battlefield information network which is connected to satellite communications, UAV enabled surveillance with mobile command and control systems.

Special Operations Forces

The People’s Liberation Army has its strategic missile section known as the PLA Rocket Force. This sector controls the nuclear and conventional missiles of the Chinese Army, and boasts of a cadre of 120,000 personnel. By December 2015 steps were taken to create the Strategic Support Force (SSF). It is believed that this strike force has a fighting strength of 175,000 soldiers. Counter-terrorism and commando operations are part of every army and the People’s Liberation Army has its Special Operations Forces (SOF). This is a rapid response army unit.

The role of conventional infantry ground units is changing globally; therefore the role of Special Forces becomes more significant. The Special Operations Force (PLASOF) has been active since 1988. Their cadre remains classified but is believed to stand between 7,000 and 14,000 elite commandos.

The Chinese Special Operations Force uses an array of modern weapons. This includes the Norinco QBZ-95 assault rifle, the 95B-1 compact rifle used by the Marines and Falcon commandos, QBZ56 (similar to the AK-47), QBS6 underwater assault rifle, Jihanse sub-machine gun and Norinco 79 sub-machine gun. This is enriched by the QS92 semi-automatic pistol, QX4 multi caliber pistol. The precision rifles include the Norinco QBU 88, CS19 with tactical interface, Remington model 700, SIG SSG 3000 sniper rifle, Orsis 5000 sniper rifle and the Zijiang M99 long-range rifle. Commandos also carry the Hawk type 99 shotgun. The grenade launchers include the QLZ 87/91.

The Chinese military has many specialized brigades for warfare. Among its Special Operations Force, one of its premier units is the South Blade operating in the Guangzhou military region. Its roots can be traced to 1988 when it was the first special reconnaissance group. In 2000 it was expanded to operate by air, sea and land. Members of South Blade receive a tough training. Aspiring members must master 15 modern combat skills including GPS navigation, photo reconnaissance and night vision.

Operating from the Beijing military region are the Oriental Sword unit, an elite 3,000-member group of commandos. This force can undertake and complete all kinds of operations. Another unit form this region is named Arrow. Soldiers in this outfit must be able to run five kilometres in 25 minutes and perform 100 push-ups in one minute. These troops are tasked with handling handheld laser dazzling weapons and UAVs for reconnaissance. The Falcon Unit operates in the Chengdu military region. They are tasked with target locating, airborne insertion, sabotage and emergency evacuation. Their combat history dates back from 1992.

The Siberian Tiger Unit is a feared component of the People’s Liberation Army. They are experts in small team operations. These warriors can operate on land, sea and air. They are based in the Shenyang military region. During their training they are kept in the forest and grasslands for three to four months, with no man-made shelter. They must learn to survive. These commandos undergo 1,000 hours of scuba diving and are also parachute qualified. They have lived to the expectation of General Sun Tzu who opined, “Let your plans be dark as night. When you move fall like a thunderbolt.”

The PLA Rocket Force has its own Special Force unit called Blade Commandos who engage in facility protection and intelligence gathering. From the Lanzhou military region we encounter the Night Tiger Unit. These commandos initially fought in the Second World War. This base is the cradle of China’s first counter-terrorism unit formed in 2000. In the Jinan military region we come across the Eagle Unit of the PLA whose commandos have a high physical stamina. All of them can run 3,300 metres in 12 minutes. They also excel in martial arts.

China has invested much to train and empower its Special Forces. Another potent unit is the Leishen Airborne Force of the PLA Air Force. These commandos excel in strategic deterrence and combat assault. In 2015 this unit won first place in the Golden Owl Special Forces competition. The Sea Dragon Assault Team is part of the PLA Naval forces (Marines). This unit has taken part in anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. General Sun Tzu said, “Victorious warriors win first, and then go to war.” This implies the mental confidence, comradeship and readiness of the Chinese Army. They have grown in every theatre of military operations.

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