Chinese Marine Corps: A formidable assault force | Daily News

Chinese Marine Corps: A formidable assault force

The PLA Marines are considered an elite special operations force, and theoretically therefore “punch above their weight class.” These Chinese Marines are well trained and equipped, using the latest Chinese technology. They are trained for amphibious and airborne assault operations. Defence analysts believe that the Marine Corps has evolved into a rapid deployment force specifically tasked for assault operations. The expanded Marine Corps, supported by Navy long-range sealift, will most probably become the core of the PLA’s future expeditionary force. Today, the Chinese Navy boasts of more than 350 vessels under the category of aircraft carriers, destroyers, frigates, landing helicopter docks, missile boats, landing ships, replenishment ships, minesweepers, hospital ships, icebreaker vessels, rescue ships, ballistic missile tracking ships, corvettes, submarine chasers and a fleet of submarines.

The present People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Marine Corps was originally established in April 1953 during the Chinese Civil War by Communist Chinese troops to conduct amphibious operations against islands held by the Nationalists. By the end of the Korean War, the PLAN Marine Corps numbered approximately 110,000 personnel organised in eight divisions. Following the disbanding of the Marine Corps, the PLAN did maintain a naval infantry force, which consisted of several infantry and amphibious tank regiments. In 1979 the Central Military Commission of China re-established the Marine Corps and organised it under the PLAN. On May 5, 1980, the 1st Marine Brigade was activated on Hainan.

In view of the growing tension between Mainland China and the Republic of China during the 1990s, the number of PLAN Marine Corps units was again increased. 1st Marine Brigade China was reinforced and rearmed. In July 1998, the 164th Motorised Infantry Division of the PLA Ground Force’s 41st Group Army had been transferred to the PLAN South Sea Fleet and became the 164th Marine Brigade, with its home base in Zhanjiang, Guangdong Province. In February 2017, it was reported that the 77th Motorised Infantry Brigade of the 26th Group Army was transferred to the PLA Navy.

The PLAN Marine Corps participates in multiple international exercises, including participation in RIMPAC, and engages with USMC in mutual training and friendly cultural exchanges during the Bush and Obama administrations as part of its “tranquility” policy. The PLAN Marine Corps is subordinate to the PLA Navy Headquarters, the Joint Staff Department and the Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC).

It is estimated 18,000 marines are under the Southern Theatre Command, with 6,000 being under Eastern Theatre Command and 12,000 being under Northern Theatre Command. These brigades possess combined arms units, including armour, artillery, missile, air defense, and logistics.

The new Marine Special Operations Force (SOF) brigade has been formed out of the Navy’s existing SOF Regiment stationed in Hainan, which includes the formidable Jiaolong (Dragon) commando unit. The former Navy SOF Regiment’s missions and capabilities overlapped with that of the Marine Corps, and therefore their transfer is a logical evolution as the Marine Corps expands. The expansion of the PLAN Marine Corps, which commenced in April 2017, is a vital element of reforms to the PLA’s operational forces. For the past two decades, the Marine Corps consisted of only two brigades, the 1st and 164th Marine Brigades assigned to the South Sea Fleet stationed in Zhanjiang, Guangdong. After recent reforms, the number of brigades now amounts to a total of eight, with four new Marine combined arms brigades, a Special Operations Forces (SOF) brigade, and the core of a ship borne aviation (helicopter) brigade augmenting the previously existing two brigades.

For air defence the dynamic Chinese marines employ a mix of automatic and manually operated anti-aircraft artillery systems further supported by short range surface-to-air missiles (SAMS). The marines have been seen operating the new Type 95 self-propelled air defense platform on an amphibious hull similar to the Type 77 APC. This platform is armed with four 25mm cannon with a short ranged SAM combination to achieve effective killing capabilities against low flying targets at short ranges. The Type 89 self-propelled 122mm gun is the first SP artillery system in service with the marines since 1999. This adds additional precision firepower to the PLAMC.

China’s PLA marine units recruit personnel based on standards for Special Operations troops. Aspiring marines must be physically fit, senior middle school or higher graduates, and be 5 feet 6 inches or taller. The marine physical fitness regimen is intensely challenging. During boot camp the men must swim five kilometres in full combat gear within two and a half hours, running the same distance in 23 minutes, and performing 500 push-ups, sit-ups, and squats daily. This requires total commitment and an empowered mindset. The marines will face many dangers in their line of duty. All Chinese marines receive hand-to-hand combat instruction. Marine amphibious reconnaissance and SOF personnel train in multiple forms of parachute, helicopter, overland, sea surface, and underwater insertion methods resulting in them having “triphibious” strike capabilities. They also train in underwater demolitions to clear obstacles from beaches.

The PLAN marines are equipped with amphibious light tanks and armoured personnel carriers. The Type 63A is the newest light tank in Chinese service. It is based on the hull of the older Type 63 (which in turn is based on the Soviet PT76 amphibious light tank). The Type 63A features a number of improvements, in particular the new welded turret which features much greater armour protection and the 105mm main gun (capable of firing standard NATO projectiles as well as the gun launched anti-tank missile). The marines are believed to have continued operating the Type 63 and the non-amphibious Type 62 light tanks as secondary units. The Type 77 amphibious Armoured Personnel Carrier was the standard armoured transport for the marines for many decades. New designs have been adapted from the army to complement these older transports. These include specially modified versions of the Type 89 and Type 63 APCs, with enhanced swimming capabilities for mounting amphibious operations.

While the marines train for their primary combat missions, they also prepare for and conduct a variety of non-traditional security missions. In recent years these tough marines have been deployed on several disaster relief efforts, most notably to Sichuan in 2008 after the Wenchuan earthquake. Here they offered a helping hand and delivered hope to those in need. The Chinese Marine Corps is a vital force that enriches the Chinese military. 

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