‘A Brave New World for Chinese Joint Operations’ - By CWP Fellow Joel Wuthnow

Friday, Mar 3, 2017
by dsuchens

Abstract: A key organizational challenge for all modern militaries is instituting an effective command-and-control (C2) structure for joint operations. China has been a relative latecomer to joint operations, with a persistent weakness in joint C2. Reforms launched in early 2016 sought to overcome this challenge by establishing a permanent two-level joint C2 structure. Although not a ‘tipping point’ that will lead ineluctably to stronger operational effectiveness, this reform is nonetheless an important milestone in an evolutionary process towards better PLA joint operations. The result could be added operational challenges for several of China’s neighbors and the United States.

KEYWORDS: ChinaPeople’s Liberation Armyjoint operationscommand and controlreform

Introduction

In late 2015, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) launched an ambitious five-year plan to overhaul its organizations, doctrine, and regulations.11 ‘CMC opinions on deepening national defense and military reforms’ [中央军委关于深化国防和军队改革的意见], Xinhua, 1 Jan. 2016. For an English-language summary, see: ‘China releases guideline on military reform’, Xinhua, 1 Jan. 2016.View all notes Some parts of the plan, such as a 300,000-person downsizing and a series of high-level structural reforms to the Central Military Commission (CMC), services, and theaters, have already been announced, while others are still pending.22 Pending elements include force structure changes and changes to the PLA’s procurement, legal, and budget systems. For an initial analysis of the reforms, see Phillip C. Saunders and Joel Wuthnow, ‘China’s Goldwater-Nichols? Assessing PLA Organizational Reforms’, Joint Force Quarterly 82 (July 2016), 68–75; Kenneth Allen, Dennis Blasko, and John Corbett, ‘The PLA’s new organizational structure: What is known, unknown, and speculation (Part 1)’, China Brief, 4 Feb. 2016; and Dennis Blasko, ‘Integrating the Services and Harnessing the Military Area Commands’, Journal of Strategic Studies, 1 Aug. 2016.View all notes The plan has two key goals. First is promoting a more upright, disciplined force that is responsive to the dictates of the Chinese Communist Party and its leader, Xi Jinping. This will compliment an ongoing anti-corruption campaign that has netted a number of senior officers accused of graft.33 See, e.g., Derek Grossman and Michael Chase, ‘Xi’s purge of military prepares the Chinese ARMY FOR CONFROntation’, Newsweek, 21 Apr. 2016; James Mulvenon, ‘Hotel Gutian: We haven’t had that spirit here since 1929’, China Leadership Monitor, 19 Mar. 2015; and Zhao Lei, ‘Inspectors to cover all of military’, China Daily, 6 May 2016.View all notes Second is improving the PLA’s ability to wage modern wars along China’s periphery, such as in the South China Sea or across the Taiwan Strait.44 This is known in the PLA’s current jargon as ‘informatized local wars’ (信息化局部战争). See: China’s Military Strategy (Beijing: State Council Information Office 2015).View all notes This requires the PLA to be better organized to carry out joint operations, in which the strengths of all the services, and other assets such as space and cyber forces, can be used in a more integrated way.

Operationally, the heart of the reform lies in the creation of a permanent joint command and control (C2) structure. Prior to the reforms, the PLA’s seven military regions and individual services oversaw peacetime operations, while a temporary joint headquarters would have had to be quickly erected to lead warfighting efforts. Establishing a joint C2 structure implied a fundamental change in this system. Operational control was placed in the hands of joint commanders, while the services were assigned the mission to train and equip personnel. This change immediately drew comparisons to the 1986 U.S. Goldwater-Nichols Act, which similarly strengthened the operational authority of joint commanders at the expense of the service chiefs, and which contributed to the U.S. military’s success in executing joint operations during the Gulf War and subsequent conflicts.55 David M. Finkelstein, Initial Thoughts on the Reorganization and Reform of the PLA (Arlington, VA: CNA 2015), 18; James Mulvenon, ‘China’s ‘Goldwater-Nichols’? The Long-Awaited PLA Reorganization Has Finally Arrived’, China Leadership Monitor, 1 Mar. 2016.View all notes Chinese commentators predicted that the reforms would presage similar operational success by allowing for a quicker transition to wartime operations and more effective integration of forces from different services.66 ‘Zhang Junshe: Creating New Theaters Better Protects National Sovereignty’ [张军社: 重新划设战区可更好维护国家主权], China National Radio, 4 Feb. 2016. Senior Captain Zhang is vice president of the PLA Naval Research Institute; ‘Army adjustment and establishment completed in five theater commands’, China Military Online, 4 Feb. 2016.View all notes

How should we assess the operational impact of the reforms, and what might be the implications for the United States and others? This essay argues that the reforms are not a turning point but rather a milestone in a longer, evolutionary process towards more effective PLA joint operations. Significant progress has already been made in areas such as doctrinal development and joint training, but certain problems, such as service parochialism and the dominance of ground force officers in key command posts, will remain. Nevertheless, the C2 reforms are an integral part of this process, allowing for more consistent joint exercises, operational planning, and integration of forces from different services during wartime. The result could be increased challenges for Taiwan, other neighbors of China such as Japan and India, and the United States. In particular, the PLA could be better organized and trained to carry out amphibious landings, blockades, and operations targeting U.S. intervening forces in the event of a regional conflict.

This essay develops this argument in five sections. The first identifies joint C2 as a challenge for all modern militaries and explains how it has been addressed by different states. The second provides an overview of the PLA’s progress in joint operations since the Mao era and explains how the lack of a permanent joint C2 structure constituted an enduring weakness. The third section shows how reforms announced in early 2016 attempted to address this problem both at the national and theater levels. The fourth assesses the possible implications for the United States and others, documents continuing weaknesses, and identifies signposts of further progress. The conclusion considers steps that might be taken to reduce the challenges that China’s potential adversaries could face as a result of the reforms. The essay draws on a variety of sources, including PLA doctrinal volumes such as the Science of Campaigns and the Science of Joint Campaigns, authoritative Chinese news reports, discussions with several senior PLA officers in mid-2016, and secondary analysis.77 Some key sources remain unavailable, such as authoritative PLA guidance on joint campaigns, details on joint training exercises, and certain details on how the new joint C2 structure will operate, such as the nature of its physical infrastructure. However, the available sources allow for a relatively detailed examination of the subject and its implications.View all notes

Organizing for joint operations

Joint operations, in which multiple services cooperate to achieve common operational goals, have become a predominant form of modern warfare. U.S. doctrine asserts that the ‘integration and synchronization’ of service capabilities raises the ‘effectiveness and efficiency of the force’.88 Joint Publication 3–0: Joint Operations(Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Defense 2011), I-2.View all notes NATO doctrine likewise notes that ‘military success relies on a joint effort… Few modern operations are carried out, let alone won, by one component alone’.99 Allied Joint Doctrine AJ0-01(D)(Brussels: North Atlantic Treaty Organization 2010), 5-I.View all notes Milan Vego writes that, in modern combat, ‘no single weapon or force reaches its full potential unless employed with the complementary capabilities of combat arms/branches of other services’.1010 Milan N. Vego, Joint Operational Warfare: Theory and Practice (Newport, RI: Naval War College Press 2007), V-99.View all notesA key example of effective joint warfighting was Operation Desert Storm, in which U.S. and allied forces relied on a combination of air-, sea-, and land-power, together with advanced technology such as precision-guided munitions and space-based surveillance, to decisively defeat the Iraqi army. Close air support for ground forces meant that ‘coalition breaching operations went quickly and without almost any casualties’.1111 Ibid., V-109.View all notes

A linchpin of effective joint operations is instituting a capable joint C2 structure. Vego notes that joint commanders need to be able to orchestrate ‘quick, decisive actions and have the ability to coordinate force capabilities to achieve desired results’.1212 Milan N. Vego, ‘Major Joint/Combined Operations’, Joint Force Quarterly 48/1 (Jan. 2008), 113.View all notes This means that commanders need to be sufficiently knowledge about subordinate forces and empowered to direct their activities, while also retaining the flexibility to delegate operational authority to lower levels when desired. A sound joint C2 structure also requires the ability to devise joint operational plans according to commonly understood terms of reference, maintain a resilient communications network through which information can be passed quickly between higher and lower echelons, and ensure interoperability of different service arms and branches. These can be difficult tasks given dissimilar service cultures, processes, and equipment. Thus, a key peacetime task is testing and evaluating the joint C2 structure so that it works as intended during a crisis.

Modern militaries have established a variety of joint C2 models based on their different operational needs. The United States instituted a system of combatant commands (COCOMs) to provide deterrence and address regional threats as part of a 1958 defense reorganization. COCOM commanders were given nominal operational control in their respective theaters, while service chiefs were to focus on training and equipping personnel. However, in practice the services continued to wield significant influence over operations.1313 James R. Locher III, ‘Has It Worked? The Goldwater-Nichols Reorganization Act’, Naval War College Review 54/4 (Summer 2001), 99; Peter J. Roman and David W. Tarr, ‘The Joint Chiefs of Staff: From Service Parochialism to Jointness’, Political Science Quarterly113/1 (Spring 1998), 95–6.View all notes It was not until a series of operational failures, most notably the 1980 aborted rescue attempt of U.S. hostages in Iran, that operational control became fully vested in the COCOMs.1414 The rescue attempt, known as Operation Eagle Claw, highlighted various weaknesses in conducting joint operations. The joint task force commander later recalled that there were ‘four commanders at the scene without visible identification, incompatible radios, and no agreed-upon plan, and not even a designated location for the commander.’ Op. cit. Locher, ‘Has It Worked?’ 100.View all notes Congress responded to these failures by passing the Goldwater-Nichols Act in 1986, which clarified the chain of command and mandated other reforms, such as joint experience as a requirement for promotion. The act also strengthened the office of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was designated as principal military advisor to the president (but does not have an operational command role).1515 Prior to Goldwater-Nichols, the chairman was responsible mainly for convening meetings. Joint Chiefs of Staff opinions required unanimous consent, which strengthened the influence of the service chiefs (all of whom were members of the JCS). After the reform, the chairman no longer required consent to provide advice to the president and secretary of defense. The reforms also created the office of JCS vice chairman.View all notesThis legislation set the stage for more effective joint warfighting in the ensuring years, including the success of Desert Storm, Operation Just Cause in Panama, and joint operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2000s.1616 Martin E. Dempsey, ‘The future of joint operations’, Foreign Affairs, 20 June 2013.View all notes

Russia has developed a system of four military districts that are each responsible for joint operations in Russia’s near abroad. District commanders have operational control over ground, air, and naval forces, in addition to border guards and Interior Ministry troops, while Moscow retains direct control only over space and strategic missile forces. This system resulted from a larger set of defense reforms pursued by former president Dmitry Medvedev in the wake of the August 2008 war with Georgia. Although considered Russia’s first major joint campaign since World War II, Russian forces were unable to operate in a truly integrated way during that conflict. Notable problems included a lack of interoperability between different service components and insufficient authority in the hands of the joint commander.1717 Athena Bryce-Rogers, ‘Russian Military Reform in the Aftermath of the 2008 Russia-Georgia War,’ Demokratizatsiya 21/3 (Summer 2013), 351.View all notes For instance, air assets were controlled not by the joint commander but by the air force chief ‘via mobile phone from his office in Moscow’.1818 Ariel Cohen and Robert E. Hamilton, The Russian Military and the Georgia War: Lessons and Implications (Carlisle, PA: U.S. Army War College 2011), 35.View all notes Russian reformers hoped that the new C2 system would produce stronger integration of service forces.1919 Ibid., 50.View all notes

Other states have instituted a single joint C2 structure that is primarily responsible for managing overseas contingencies. The United Kingdom established perhaps the earliest modern joint command system in 1924 under the Chiefs of Staff Committee, an organization which became a model for the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff during World War II. However, British operations in the postwar era were generally led by the individual services. This was the case in the Falkland Islands campaign in 1982 and in Britain’s participation in the 1991 Gulf War. Recognizing the need for joint operations to address emerging post-Cold War challenges, such as humanitarian crises, British reformers created the Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ) in 1994.2020 Tom Dodd, Frontline First: The Defence Costs Study, House of Commons Library Research Paper 94/101, 14 Oct. 1994, 7.View all notes In 2011, the PJHQ was absorbed into a new Joint Forces Command that consolidated control over a variety of functions, such as C2, intelligence, logistics, and training. Other states, such as France and Germany, have similar organizations to manage overseas joint operations.2121 The comparable French organization is the Commandement pour les opérations interarmées (CPOIA), created in 2016. The German cognate is the Bundeswehr Joint Forces Operations Command. For a discussion of the evolution of the German organization, see: Martin Zapfe, ‘Strategic Culture Shaping Allied Integration: The Bundeswehr and Joint Operational Doctrine’, Journal of Strategic Studies 39/2 (2016), 249–251.View all notes

Still other countries have joint C2 systems that exist mainly to organize defensive operations. Taiwan has a joint operations command center that monitors Chinese military activity and, under the direction of the Chief of the General Staff, would coordinate efforts to counter Chinese military actions against Taiwan and its outlying islands. Theaters of operations (TOs) would also be established during a crisis, under which regional joint commanders would be designated and have authority over local ground, air, and naval units. For instance, the commander of the 8th Field Army in Kaohsiung would be appointed the southern TO commander and would be able to request support from air and naval bases in his area of operations. During peacetime, however, those units report directly to their respective service headquarters.2222 Interviews, Taiwan, Sept. 2016.View all notes The South Korean armed forces is led by a Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman who will be responsible for responding to North Korean threats once operational control is transferred from the United States.2323 Bruce Klingner, ‘South Korea: Taking the Right Steps to Defense Reform’, Heritage Foundation Backgrounder2618 (Oct. 2011).View all notes In sum, there is no single paradigm for joint warfighting organizations across modern militaries. The following sections will make clear that China has not blindly copied any one foreign model but has instituted its own joint command structure in line with its unique operational requirements.

China: a latecomer to joint operations

China has been a relative latecomer to modern joint operations, with a particular weakness in establishing a permanent joint C2 structure. PLA) historiography traces Chinese joint operations to the successful January 1955 amphibious landing on Yijiangshan Island off the coast of Zhejiang, which had been under the control of Kuomintang (KMT) forces since the end of the Civil War. During this campaign, the PLA established a temporary joint headquarters that coordinated the activities of artillery, infantry, naval, and aviation forces.2424 Dang Chongmin and Zhang Yu, Science of Joint Campaigns [联合作战学] (Beijing: People’s Liberation Army Press 2009), 43. See also: Kevin McCauley, ‘PLA Yijiangshan joint amphibious operations: Past is Prologue,’ China Brief, 13 Sept. 2016.View all notes During the Mao era, the PLA also conducted several large-scale anti-landing exercises involving army, navy, and air force units. These were designed to prepare for the possibility of a KMT attempt to recover the mainland, which Chiang Kai-shek’s forces were actively preparing to accomplish until the early 1970s. Nevertheless, PLA doctrine during this period emphasized ‘people’s war,’ focusing heavily on the use of ground forces to counter a Soviet invasion.2525 Ralph L. Powell, ‘Maoist Military Doctrines’, Asian Survey 8/4 (Apr. 1968), 239–62.View all notes Moreover, China’s border conflicts with India, the Soviet Union, and Vietnam during the 1960s and 1970s primarily involved ground force operations.2626 For a review of the 1962 Sino-Indian border war, see M. Taylor Fravel, Strong Borders, Secure Nation: Cooperation and Conflict in China’s Territorial Disputes (Princeton: Princeton University Press 2008), Chapter 4. On the 1968 Sino-Soviet border clash, see: Lyle Goldstein, ‘Return to Zhenbao Island: Who Started Shooting and Why It Matters’, The China Quarterly 168 (Dec. 2001), 985–997. On the 1979 Sino-Vietnam border war, see: Andrew Scobell, China’s Use of Military Force: Beyond the Great War and the Long March (New York: Cambridge University Press 2003), 119–43.View all notes

The PLA put slightly more emphasis on joint operations in the 1980s. As early as 1975, Deng Xiaoping had urged the Chinese military to build a better understanding of joint operations and encouraged more joint training, which in the 1980s continued to focus on anti-landing exercises.2727 Tan Yadong (ed.), Joint Operations Course Materials [联合作战教程] (Beijing: Academy of Military Sciences Press 2013), 8. The KMT did not formally abandon the goal of militarily retaking the mainland until 1991.View all notes Deng also supported an increase in naval and air force capabilities and executed a series of ground force reductions as part of a larger doctrinal shift away from people’s war and towards modern ‘local wars,’ including those that might need to be fought along China’s maritime periphery.2828 For a discussion, see: Alexander Huang, ‘Transformation and Refinement of Chinese Military Doctrine: Reflection and Critique on the PLA’s View’, in James Mulvenon and Andrew Yang (eds.), Seeking Truth from Facts: A Retrospective on Chinese Military Studies in the Post-Mao Era(Santa Monica, CA: RAND 2001); Ellis Joffe, ‘People’s War under Modern Conditions: A Doctrine for Modern War’, The China Quarterly 112 (Dec. 1987), 555–71; and Paul H.B. Godwin, ‘Changing Concepts of Doctrine, Strategy and Operations in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army 1978–87’, The China Quarterly 112 (Dec. 1987), 572–90.View all notes Some progress was also made in developing joint doctrine, including analysis of joint island landing, air defense, and air-landing campaigns.2929 This was discussed in the 1987 Guidelines on Science of Campaigns [战役学纲要], approved by the Central Military Commission, and the 1988 teaching volume Science of Campaigns Course Materials [战役学教程]. See: Yadong, Joint Operations Course Materials, 8.View all notes However, this progress was limited due to Deng’s larger emphasis on economic growth at the expense of military modernization, and a continuing preoccupation of the PLA in preparing for large-scale ground force operations.

Over the next decade, two developments led to a stronger focus on joint operations in PLA doctrine and training. First was the Gulf War, which PLA analysts saw as a turning point in the conduct of modern warfare. Admiral Liu Huaqing, who served as vice chairman of the CMC during the conflict, noted that coalition forces were able to quickly dispatch the Iraqi army by conducting ‘diversified operations’ in the ground, air, sea, and electronic domains, relying in particular on significant advantages in high technology.3030 Liu Huaqing, Memoirs [刘华清回忆录] (Beijing: People’s Liberation Army Press 2004), Chapter 20. See also: Peng Guangqian and Yao Youzhi, Science of Strategy [战略学] (Beijing: Military Science Press 2005), 420–1.View all notes These observations led, in part, to the CMC’s decision in 1993 to issue a doctrinal revision calling for the PLA to prepare for ‘local wars under modern high-tech conditions.’ Under this framework, the PLA was required to develop theories of joint operations, improve joint training, and institute a ‘joint operations command system that conforms to our country’s national situation and military situation.’3131 David M. Finkelstein, ‘China’s National Military Strategy: An Overview of the ‘Military Strategic Guidelines’’, in Roy Kamphausen and Andrew Scobell (eds.), Right Sizing the People’s Liberation Army: Exploring the Contours of China’s Military (Carlisle, PA: Army War College 2007), 126. See also Nan Li, ‘The PLA’s Evolving Warfighting Doctrine, Strategy, and Tactics, 1985–95: A Chinese Perspective’, The China Quarterly 146 (June 1996) 443–63; and M. Taylor Fravel, ‘The Evolution of China’s Military Strategy: Comparing the 1987 and 1999 Editions of Zhanluexue’, in James Mulvenon and David M. Finkelstein (eds.), China’s Revolution in Doctrinal Affairs (Alexandria, VA: CNA, 2005), 79–99.View all notes

Second was growing tensions in cross-Strait relations. In the 1990s, Beijing became increasingly concerned about Taipei’s pursuit of greater international space, symbolized by President Lee Teng-hui’s visit to the United States in June 1995. Along with growing U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, China feared that time was no longer on its side to achieve reunification. The situation deteriorated when China tested ballistic missiles near Taiwan in advance of the island’s first democratic presidential election in March 1996, and the United States responded by deploying two aircraft carriers near the Taiwan Strait.3232 Robert S. Ross, ‘The 1995–96 Taiwan Strait Confrontation: Coercion, Credibility, and the Use of Force’, International Security 25/2 (Fall 2000), 87–123; Allen S. Whiting, ‘China’s Use of Force 1950–96, and Taiwan’, International Security 26/2 (Fall 2001), 120–3; and Joel Wuthnow, ‘The Integration of Cooptation and Coercion: China’s Taiwan Strategy Since 2001’, East Asia 23/3 (Fall 2006), 23–5.View all notes This prompted greater Chinese attention to potential conflict with both Taiwan and the United States. In January 1999, the CMC promulgated an initial Joint Campaign Guidelines (联合战役纲要) that discussed joint blockade and island landing operations (both of which were clearly directed at Taiwan), as well as joint anti-air raid operations, needed to counter U.S. aircraft operating near China’s shores.3333 The Guidelines themselves are not publicly available. However, they are briefly discussed in Zhang Peigao, Lectures on Joint Campaign Command[联合战役指挥教程] (Beijing: Academy of Military Science Press 2012), 7.View all notes The PLA also held a few large-scale joint exercises during this period, focused on amphibious operations.3434 For instance, during the 1995–6 Taiwan Strait crisis, Jiang Zemin observed a joint exercise in the Yellow Sea simulating an attack on one of Taiwan’s offshore islands.View all notes

In the 2000s, PLA concepts of joint operations increasingly emphasized the role of computer and information technology in facilitating cross-service collaboration. This is reflected in a 2004 doctrinal revision in which the CMC called on the PLA to prepare for ‘local wars under informatized conditions.’ Under this construct, ‘integrated joint operations’ (一体化联合作战) became the ‘basic operational form’ of modern warfare.3535 Chongmin and Yu, Science of Joint Campaigns, 43.View all notes The phrase ‘integrated’ implied greater interoperability between the services, such as the ability to sustain real-time communications. This coincided with initial efforts to develop more advanced C2 structures within and across the military regions (MRs). A notable development was the creation of the Triservice Tactical Information Distributed Network, which reportedly permitted units with different technology to communicate with each other, albeit with limited effectiveness.3636 Kevin Pollpeter, ‘Towards an Integrative C4ISR System: Informationization and Joint Operations in the People’s Liberation Army’, in Roy Kamphausen, David Lai, and Andrew Scobell (eds.), The PLA at Home and Abroad: Assessing the Operational Capabilities of China’s Military (Carlisle, PA: Army War College 2010), 212–9; Wanda Ayuso and Lonnie Henley, ‘Aspiring to Jointness: PLA Training, Exercises, and Doctrine, 2008–2012’, in Roy Kamphausen, David Lai, and Travis Tanner (eds.), Assessing the People’s Liberation Army in the Hu Jintao Era (Carlisle, PA: Army War College 2014), 188.View all notes PLA concepts of joint operations in this era also increasingly emphasized civilian support to military operations, often described under the rubric ‘military-civilian integration’ (军民融合).

Another development during this period was increasing joint training. The need to expand joint training was identified both at a 2006 all-PLA military training conference chaired by Hu Jintao, and in a 2009 revision of the Outline of Military Training and Evaluation, which sets training standards across the PLA.3737 ‘Chairman Hu Jintao Calls for Transformation in Military Training Towards Informatization’ [胡锦涛主席要求推进军事训练向信息化转变], Xinhua, 28 June 2006.View all notes This guidance precipitated a number of major exercises, including Joint-2009, held in the Jinan MR, which was the first to test an ‘integrated command platform’ between the services and the Second Artillery Force (SAF)3838 Pollpeter, ‘Towards an Integrative C4ISR System’, 219.View all notes ; Mission Action 2010, which emphasized joint campaign command, long-range army and air force maneuvers, and joint firepower attack; and Queshan 2012, focused on improving the skills of joint commanders, and including participants from 19 PLA academies.3939 Ayuso and Henley, ‘Aspiring to Jointness’, 182; ‘Study how to fight modern warfare – An account of personal experience in the ‘Joint Education-2012 Queshan’ joint exercise’ [‘学打现代战争’ – – 亲历‘联教-2012·确山’联合演习], Nanfang Zhoumo (南方周末), 15 June 2012.View all notes In 2012, a military training department was set up in the General Staff Department (GSD) to provide oversight for joint training.4040 Mark Stokes and Ian Easton, ‘The Chinese People’s Liberation Army General Staff Department: Evolving Organization and Missions’, in Kevin Pollpeter and Kenneth Allen (eds.), The PLA as Organization v2.0 (Vienna, VA: DGI 2015), 154–7.View all notesNevertheless, the limited frequency, complexity, and realism of joint exercises remained a concern for the PLA into the second decade of the 21st century.4141 Blasko, ‘Integrating the Services and Harnessing the Military Area Commands’, 18; Ayuso and Henley, ‘Aspiring to Jointness’, 182.View all notes

Despite gradual advances in joint doctrine and training, a persistent weakness was the lack of a permanent joint C2 structure. Organizationally, the PLA remained wedded to a command structure developed on the model of the Soviet military in the 1940s and early 1950s.4242 David L. Shambaugh, Modernizing China’s Military (Berkeley: University of California Press 2002), Chapter 4.View all notes Under this system, the GSD and MRs were primarily responsible for ground force affairs, and were always led by career army officers.4343 In later years, however, MR naval and air force component chiefs were dual-hatted as MR deputy commanders, while at least one deputy chief of the GSD was usually a non-ground force officer.View all notes Naval and air force operations were led by their respective service headquarters during peacetime, similar to how the U.S. military operated until 1958. At a regional level, fleets and air forces were poorly integrated into the MR system, although service boundaries were reduced somewhat with the establishment of a joint logistics system in the mid-2000s.4444 For instance, the commandant of a PLA service academy described the relationship between the services and MRs as one of ‘you don’t listen to me, and I don’t listen to you.’ Discussion with senior PLA officer, Washington, April 2016. On joint logistics, see: Susan M. Puska, ‘Taming the Hydra: Trends in China’s Military Logistics Since 2000,’ in Kamphausen, Lai, and Scobell (eds.), The PLA at Home and Abroad, 573–5.View all notes The SAF, established in 1966 to oversee China’s land-based nuclear missiles, bypassed the GSD and MRs entirely and reported directly to the CMC.4545 Bates Gill, James Mulvenon, and Mark Stokes, ‘The Chinese Second Artillery Corps: Transition to Credible Deterrence’, in James Mulvenon and Andrew Yang (eds.), The People’s Liberation Army as Organization (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2002), 546–7.View all notes

In lieu of a permanent joint C2 system, PLA doctrine envisioned that temporary joint headquarters would be set up during wartime. In particular, the MRs would be replaced with ‘war zones’ (战区) whose boundaries, staffing, and organization would be adapted to the specific operational challenge. For instance, in a Taiwan Strait campaign, the Nanjing MR would transition to the Nanjing War Zone, with commanders designated by the CMC.4646 In fact, during the 1995–6 Taiwan Strait crisis, the Nanjing MR was temporarily renamed Nanjing War Zone as part of a joint exercise. Fravel, Strong Borders, Secure Nation, 260–2.View all notes PLA discussions offered a variety of models for how the war zone structure might be organized, though most recognized the need for a central headquarters that would exercise unified command over all service forces within its designated area of responsibility and manage functions such as operations, intelligence, and logistics.4747 For a discussion, see: Dean Cheng, ‘The PLA’s Wartime Structure,’ in Pollpeter and Allen (eds.), The PLA as Organization v2.0, 456–8; and Dean Cheng, ‘Zhanyixue and Joint Campaigns,’ in Mulvenon and Finkelstein (eds.), China’s Revolution in Doctrinal Affairs, 107–11.View all notes Joint headquarters would also coordinate with local Party and government organizations, ensuring that commanders could draw from civilian resources such as police forces, supplies, and transportation networks.4848 Zhang, Lectures on Joint Campaign Command, 3.View all notes

By the early 2000s, the deficiencies of this system had become apparent. One challenge centered on the difficulties inherent in setting up temporary joint headquarters during wartime. Time would be needed to designate war zone commanders, determine authority relationships and decision-making procedures, and to familiarize staff (some of whom would have been seconded to the war zones by the GSD) with the operating environment. This would have led to delays in the PLA’s ability to execute operations. The act of transitioning from MRs to war zones would also have provided China’s adversaries with a useful warning indicator, potentially limiting the PLA’s ability to leverage the element of surprise. In addition, the lack of institutionalized cooperation between MR-based ground, air, and naval forces during peacetime – such as regular joint training – would have reduced their ability to cooperate effectively during a crisis. One PLA scholar described the lack of a permanent joint C2 structure as a ‘major hurdle’ that restricted effective joint operations.4949 Fang Yongzhi, ‘When will the Chinese military set up its joint operations command’ [中国军队何时设立联合作战司令部)], China Youth Daily[中国青年报], 28 March 2014. The author is an Associate Professor at the PLA Engineering Academy. For similar critiques, see: Wang Xiaohui, ‘What strategic preparations should China’s military make in a transition era?’ [转型期中国军队要做哪些战略准备] National Defense Reference [国防参考], 27 Oct. 2015; and Tu Chenxin, ‘An exclusive interview with major general Xu Guangyu: Performing arts troupes bear the brunt of force reduction’ [本端专访徐光裕少将:裁军文工团首当其冲], Zhejiang Online [浙江新闻], 4 Sept. 2015.View all notes

Another challenge was that the existing system was increasingly out of step with changes in the form of modern warfare and in China’s security environment. China’s 2015 defense white paper, titled China’s Military Strategy, stated that the ‘basic operational form’ had become ‘informatized local wars.’ Although similar to the earlier concept of ‘local wars under informatized conditions,’ the new formula put a greater emphasis on operations in the information domain, including space and cyber.5050 M. Taylor Fravel, ‘China’s new military strategy: ‘Winning Informationized Local Wars’’, China Brief, 2 July 2015.View all notes The 2015 white paper also placed significantly greater emphasis on maritime operations than previous iterations, noting that the ‘traditional mentality that land outweighs the sea must be abandoned.’5151 China’s Military Strategy.View all notes Integrating operations in these and other domains of warfare thus required a joint C2 structure that is ‘authoritative, streamlined, agile, and efficient.’5252 Ibid.View all notes The white paper also highlighted a range of growing security challenges that could require quick responses, often executed by joint forces. These included protecting China’s maritime interests in the South and East China seas in the face of ‘meddling’ by foreign powers such as the United States, increasing uncertainty on the Korean Peninsula, and the persistence of ‘separatist forces’ in Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang.5353 Ibid.View all notes

Enter the 2016 reforms

Given these challenges, a centerpiece of the Xi Jinping-era organizational reforms was instituting a permanent joint C2 structure. The goal was announced in broad terms at the November 2013 Third Plenum of the 18th Party Congress, in which the Party leadership called on the PLA to establish joint operations command organs at both the CMC and theater levels.5454 ‘CPC central committee decision on deepening of reforms for major issues’ [中共中央关于全面深化改革若干重大问题的决定], Xinhua, 15 Nov. 2013.View all notes In December 2013, Xi noted that the PLA ‘has given much consideration to joint C2, but fundamental problems remain… establishing a CMC and theater command joint C2 system requires urgency and should not be delayed.’5555 ‘Xi Jinping: build a modern military power system with Chinese characteristics’ [习近平:构建中国特色现代军事力量体系], Renmin Ribao [人民日报], 31 Aug. 2014. The article provides quotes from Xi’s remarks on military reform, made on 27 Dec. 2013.View all notes At a November 2015 CMC meeting on military reform, Xi reiterated that a ‘two-level joint operational command system’ would soon be created.5656 ‘At CMC reform work meeting, Xi Jinping stresses: Comprehensively implement reform and military strengthening strategy, resolutely take path to strong military with Chinese characteristics’ [习近平在中央军委改革工作会议上强调全面实施改革强军战略坚定不移走中国特色强军之路], Xinhua, 26 Nov. 2015.View all notes In January 2016, the CMC explained in its formal guidance on the reforms that:

By adapting to the requirement of integrated joint operation and command, we will establish a sound two-level joint operation and command system between the CMC and the theaters, and build a strategic and operational command system that integrates peace time and war time, that operates in a normal state, that specializes in main operations, and that is lean and highly efficient.5757 CMC opinions on deepening national defense and military reforms.’View all notes

 

Unveiled in early 2016, the ‘two-level’ system was essentially a hybrid of the Russian and British models. At the theater level, the MRs were consolidated into five regional theater commands (TCs).5858 Also called 战区 in Chinese. However, PRC English-language media has referred to these as ‘Theater Commands,’ likely to signify that they have both peacetime and wartime functions.View all notes These are the Eastern, Southern, Western, Northern, and Central TCs. At a subordinate level, all five TCs have army and air force service component headquarters, while three (the Eastern, Southern, and Northern) have assigned naval fleets. As in the Russian military district system, TC commanders were assigned operational responsibility over ground, air, and naval units within their respective geographic areas. By contrast, PLA navy and air force headquarters were removed from the operational chain of command and assigned a mission of training and equipping personnel. In addition to their operational role, TCs were to focus on joint training during peacetime.5959 Wang Xiaohui [王晓辉], ‘What Types of Strategic Preparations Must China’s Military Undertake?’, [中国军队要做哪些战略准备], Southern Weekend [南方周末], 11 Sept, 2015.View all notes Aiding the TC commanders are newly established joint operations command centers (JOCCs), staffed by personnel drawn from all the services, which perform 24/7 watch functions.6060 ‘Starting with a new style under fluttering red combat flags: Observations on the new theater commands’ [开局新风起 猎猎战旗红: 东南西北中五战区成立伊始见闻], Xinhua Online [新华网], 2 Feb. 2016.View all notes The approximate TC boundaries are depicted in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1. Approximate TC boundaries.

Source: Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2016, pg. 2

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Like the Russian system, the TCs are aligned against specific regional challenges. The Eastern TC, which replaced the Nanjing MR, is focused on the Taiwan Strait and the East China Sea. The Southern TC, with replaced the Guangzhou MR with slight geographic changes, will take responsibility for the South China Sea as well as the Sino-Vietnamese border.6161 The key geographic change was the apparent addition of southwestern Yunnan and Guizhou provinces to the Southern TC. These forces were previously assigned to the Chengdu MR.View all notes Southern TC commander General Wang Jiaocheng has stated that his command will ‘resolutely’ defend China’s maritime rights and interests in the region.6262 ‘Forging a strong and comprehensive joint operations command structure’ [锻造全面过硬的联合作战指挥机构], Renmin Ribao [人民日报], 28 Feb. 2016.View all notes The Northern TC, which replaced the Shenyang MR with the addition of parts of Inner Mongolia, will be responsible for contingencies on the Korean Peninsula and monitor the Sino-Russian border. The Western TC, largely a merger of the Lanzhou and Chengdu MRs, will safeguard China’s borders with India and respond to other regional challenges, such as transnational extremism. The Central TC will defend Beijing and is expected to provide support to other theaters as needed.6363 Interviews, Beijing, 2016.View all notes

At the national level, the GSD was replaced by a new Joint Staff Department (JSD). Unlike its predecessor, which focused mostly on ground force affairs and to a lesser extent on joint operations, the JSD will focus on joint operations. Like the British PJHQ, the JSD will directly supervise out-of-area operations, such as anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden, noncombatant evacuations, and disaster relief missions (though in some cases these missions will be carried out by individual services).6464 These missions will be performed by the JSD Overseas Operations Office (海外行动处), within the JSD Operations Bureau. ‘Defense Ministry’s Regular Press Conference on Mar. 31’, PRC Ministry of National Defense, 31 Mar. 2016.View all notes In the context of regional operations, the JSD will likely facilitate communications between the CMC and the TCs. Whether the JSD will play a role in devising and executing operations along China’s borders is not clear. At a minimum, the JSD will have a voice in those operations due to the position of its director as a CMC member.6565 By contrast, none of the TC commanders sit on the CMC as of writing. The future composition of the CMC will be determined at Party meetings, such as the 19th Party Congress set for late 2017. For a discussion of possible revisions to the CMC’s membership, see: Allen, Blasko, and Corbett, ‘The PLA’s New Organizational Structure.’View all notesOther functions performed by the JSD will be managing joint training,6666 A new CMC Training Management Department, formed from the previous GSD Military Training Department, will also play a role in managing joint training. The division of labor between this organization and the JSD has not been announced.View all notes developing operational plans, and conducting intelligence analysis.6767 The latter function was previously performed by the PLA Intelligence Department (2PLA), whose portfolio appears to have been transferred to the JSD.View all notes All this will require regular interaction with the TCs.

The CMC itself will continue to serve as the PLA’s highest level command organization, with oversight over both TC- and JSD-led operations. It will also play a role in issues such as approving the transfer of personnel and equipment between TCs during a large-scale exercise or operation. A key question is how active the CMC will be in managing operational details. In April 2016, Xi Jinping, dressed in battle fatigues, visited a newly established CMC JOCC where he was depicted supervising operations. This led to the perception that he would personally direct operations during a crisis.6868 Austin Ramzy, ‘China’s President, Xi Jinping, Gains a New Title: Commander in Chief,’ The New York Times, 21 Apr. 2016.View all notes However, interviewees argue that this visit was simply a photo opportunity designed to underscore Xi’s influence, and that in a real-world crisis uniformed officers would make operational decisions.6969 Interviews, Beijing, 2016.View all notes Yet how much operational flexibility the CMC will delegate to commanders at the JSD and TC levels remains uncertain. This bifurcated system is illustrated in Figure 2 below. 

Figure 2. Two-level joint C2 structure.

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Several other organizational changes complemented the new joint C2 structure. First was the creation of ground force headquarters at the national- and theater-levels. Prior to the reforms, the army – unlike the navy and air force – did not have its own headquarters, but was managed collectively by the GSD and MRs. Divested of responsibilities for administering the ground forces, the JSD and TCs can fully concentrate on joint operations. Second was the establishment of a Training Management Department under the CMC. This organization will provide standards for joint training across the TCs, including by sending inspection teams to individual units.7070 ‘CMC sends training supervision teams to all theater commands and some service units’ [中央军委训练监察组进驻各战区和军种部分单位], Jiefangjun Bao [解放军报], 11 May 2016.View all notes Third was by initiating reforms to the professional military education system to put more emphasis on joint operations. For instance, the PLA National Defense University (NDU) has established a joint command course for senior officers and is exploring ways to partner with the TCs to improve joint training.7171 Zhang Shibo and Liu Yazhou, ‘Strive to build the highest military academy with the world’s advanced standards and unique Chinese characteristics’ [努力建设具有世界先进水平和中国特色的最高军事学府”], Jiefangjun Bao [解放军报], 17 Apr. 2016. Zhang and Liu are president and political commissar of the PLA NDU, respectively.View all notes

Joint operations will also be served by the creation of two new support forces. First is the Strategic Support Force (SSF). Few details on this organization have been released, but Chinese sources expect that it will play a key role in providing information support to commanders. In particular, it appears that it will manage both defensive and offensive cyber operations, space operations, and electronic warfare activities.7272 ‘Expert: The strategic support force is a key to winning throughout the course of operations’ [专家:战略支援队将贯穿作战全过程是致胜关键], Renmin Ribao Online [人民网], 5 Jan. 2016.View all notes Consolidating these operations, which were previously carried out by a range of national-level organizations, could provide a ‘one stop shop’ in the process of waging ‘informatized local wars’. Nevertheless, key questions about this organization remain, such as its scope of activities and its relationship with the TCs. Second is the Joint Logistics Force. This appears to be the successor to the joint logistics departments set up in the MRs in the mid-2000s, and will include centralized logistics facilities in cities within each of the TCs. Xi Jinping encouraged this force to achieve integration into the joint operations system and to carry out realistic training.7373 ‘China sets up joint logistics force, Xi Confers flags,’ Xinhua, 3 Sept. 2016.View all notes

A game changer?

The new joint C2 structure will likely help increase the PLA’s ability to conduct a range of joint operations. It will do this in several ways. First is by developing the physical infrastructure and operational procedures needed to increase coordination between the CMC, joint headquarters, and service components.7474 The TC and CMC JOCCs, equipped to provide real-time communications between and across echelons, will likely play a critical role in this respect. ‘Xi Jinping inspects CMC joint operations command center’ [习近平视察军委联合作战指挥中心], China Central Television Online [央视网], 20 Apr. 2016; ‘Starting with a new style under fluttering red combat flags.’View all notes With a permanent joint C2 system, the PLA will be able to test and improve these systems in peacetime in order to reduce unexpected problems during a crisis. Second is by instituting a mechanism to develop operational plans with input from across the services. This will not only improve the quality of those plans, but will also be useful in cultivating a new generation of officers skilled in the art of joint campaign planning. Third is by regularizing joint training within the TCs. Joint exercises will likely increase in frequency and complexity, focused on theater-specific scenarios. These exercises could build on recent progress in assigning non-army headquarters control over theater-based joint exercises.7575 Recent joint exercises led by non-army components include Mission Action-2013C (Air Force) and Joint Action 2014A (Navy). Thanks to a referee for making this point.View all notes This will help maintain readiness and develop skills needed to execute a real-world operation.

These changes will pose a variety of problems for China’s neighbors and the United States. Taiwan will face an adversary in a stronger position to conduct joint landing, blockade, and firepower operations. For instance, successful amphibious operations against Taiwan will require the PLA to coordinate the activities of marines and army units, air and naval assets, conventional missile units, and others, while also competing in the information domain.7676 Dang and Zhang, Science of Joint Campaigns (2009), 226. See also Zhang Yuliang, Science of Campaigns [战役学] (Beijing: National Defense University Press, 2006), 273–326; and Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 2016), 89–90.View all notesSubstantial inter-service cooperation would also be needed to seize Taiwan’s offshore islands, such as Matsu or Jinmen. The Eastern TC commander will be able to improve coordination by relying on peacetime operational control over the East Sea Fleet and the Eastern TC air forces, improving joint training relevant to a Taiwan scenario, and instituting stronger joint campaign planning. Thus, along with ongoing PLA hardware improvements, such as a stronger submarine force and air defense system, Taiwan could be faced with a more capable opponent.7777 Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress, 90–1. See also: Phillip C. Saunders and Joel Wuthnow, ‘What do China’s military reforms mean for Taiwan?’ NBR Commentary, 19 May 2016.View all notes

Others in the region could face similar challenges. In the South and East China seas, China will be better organized to defend its territorial claims through a mix of air force, naval, coast guard, and maritime militia forces. For example, a permanent joint command capability would increase the PLA’s ability to conduct patrols involving multiple services, such as enforcing an Air Defense Identification Zone in both regions.7878 Prior to the reforms, the PLA established an East China Sea JOCC to coordinate enforcement of the East China Sea ADIZ, announced in November 2013. It is unclear whether that center still exists or whether it will be merged with the Eastern TC JOCC. The Southern TC JOCC would likely be responsible for enforcing a South China Sea ADIZ. Harry Kazianis, ‘The strategy behind China’s ADIZ in the East China sea,’ Asia Times, 17 Mar. 2016.View all notes Chinese joint forces would also be better trained to conduct amphibious operations directed at disputed land features held by Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Taiwan. In addition, the PLA could more effectively integrate infantry, conventional missiles, and air force units to press its territorial claims with India, with which China shares it’s only remaining major disputed land border.7979 This could be in the context of what PLA doctrinal writings call ‘joint border area counterattacks,’ in which multiple service forces are used to resist enemy incursions into China’s border areas. See: Zhang, Science of Campaigns, 273.View all notes

A permanent PLA joint C2 structure could also create more substantial counter-intervention challenges for U.S. forces in the Indo–Pacific region. Although U.S. analysts have debated the prominence of counter-intervention missions in PLA doctrine, it is clear from China’s hardware investments over the past several years that it has pursued the ability to raise the costs for U.S. or other third-party intervention.8080 See, e.g., M. Taylor Fravel and Christopher P. Twomey, ‘Projecting strategy: The myth of Chinese counter-intervention’, The Washington Quarterly 37/4 (Winter 2015), 171–187; and Timothy Heath and Andrew S. Erickson, ‘Is China pursuing counter-intervention?’ The Washington Quarterly 38/3 (Fall 2015), 143–156. Doctrinally, PLA sources often avoid using the terms ‘counter-intervention,’ although the need to counter intervening adversary forces is clear in discussions of joint anti-air raid, firepower, and other types of campaigns. See, e.g., Zhang, Science of Campaigns (2006), 273–343; Dang and Zhang, Science of Joint Campaigns(2009), 218–20.View all notes This includes the deployment of ballistic and cruise missiles capable of striking U.S. bases and large surface ships, as well as better capabilities in areas such as ballistic missile defense, air-to-air combat, undersea warfare, and cyber operations, all of which is needed to counter high-end adversaries.8181 Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress, 59–63.View all notes The PLA’s joint command structure could help to provide stronger integration of these capabilities. For instance, U.S. carrier strike groups intervening in a Taiwan crisis could face synchronized threats across multiple axes, including anti-ship ballistic missiles, submarine-launched torpedoes, air-launched cruise missiles, electronic warfare, and cyber-attacks. This could delay or deny the ability of U.S. forces to come to Taiwan’s aid, or to intervene on behalf of a regional ally.

Nevertheless, the PLA will continue to face several obstacles to effective joint operations. First is the questionable integration of conventional missile units into the joint command structure. As part of the reforms, the SAF was renamed the Rocket Force and upgraded from a branch of the army to a full-fledged service.8282 ‘China inaugurates PLA rocket force as military reform deepens’, Xinhua, 1 Jan. 2016.View all notes Comments by two TC commanders suggested that operational control over Rocket Force conventional units would be transferred to the TCs.8383 ‘Transcript of Eastern theater commander Liu Yuejun’s interview’ [东部战区司令员刘粤军访谈录], China Military Online [中国军网], 3 Mar. 2016; ‘Southern theater commander: Safeguarding South China sea rights and interests is our most important mission’ [南部战区司令员:维护南海权益是最重要使命], Renmin Ribao [人民日报], 28 Feb. 2016.View all notesNevertheless, some signs point to a weaker relationship between Rocket Force units and the TCs. For instance, unlike theater-based naval and air force commanders, Rocket Force officers have apparently not been dual-hatted as deputy TC commanders. Descriptions of recent joint exercises also describe only loose ‘coordination’ between Rocket Force and other units, rather than deeper integration of activities.8484 David Logan, ‘Implications of the New PLA Rocket Force’, Joint Force Quarterly, 2016; Joel Wuthnow and David Logan, ‘Should Taiwan Fear China’s New Rocket Force?’ Policy Forum, 2 Sept. 2016. This is consistent with previous assessments of weak SAF integration in cross-service exercises. See: Michael Chase et al., China’s Incomplete Military Transformation (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2015), 81.View all notes This could pose problems for the PLA’s ability to execute joint operations in which conventional missiles play a key role, such as island landing campaigns.8585 As noted above, the SSF is also not clearly integrated into the TCs. It is not even clear that the SSF maintains permanent units within the TCs.View all notes Nevertheless, the trend of conventional missile unit participation in joint exercises is likely to continue and expand under the new organization.

Second is the continued dominance of ground force officers in key leadership positions. Notably, all five TC commanders are ground force officers as are four of the five TC political commissars.8686 The exception, General Zhu Fuxi of the Eastern TC, is a current Air Force officer who spent most of his career in the army.View all notes Other senior leaders, such as the vice chairmen of the CMC, the JSD director, and the CMC Training Management Department director, are also career army officers. In effect, the PLA’s joint commanders are individuals with limited, if any, expertise in maritime, air, and conventional missile warfare – that is, the areas likely to be featured in future joint operations along China’s periphery. A useful point of comparison is with the U.S. Pacific Command, which is usually led by a naval officer who understands the complexity of operating in the Western Pacific. Adding to this problem is the prevalence of ground force officers in joint command courses, which are required for officers to ascend to senior positions.8787 For instance, nearly 70% of the participants in the 2016 PLA NDU senior-level command course were ground force officers, most of them group army commanders and political commissars.View all notes This means that the PLA might lack the talent it needs to maximize the effectiveness of its new organizations.

Third is service parochialism. This has been a problem for several states seeking to improve their joint operational capabilities. As noted above, the U.S. service chiefs resisted the transfer of operational control to the COCOMs after the 1958 reforms, often continuing to influence operations. Much of the resistance to the Goldwater-Nichols Act was also from the services, who feared a loss of operational autonomy.8888 Locher, ‘Has It Worked?’ 101–3; Roman and Tarr, ‘The Joint Chiefs of Staff,’ 93–7.View all notes In India, services have opposed the creation of a combatant command system due to the fear that this would reduce their authority and funding.8989 Anit Mukherjee, ‘Fighting separately: Jointness and civil-military relations in India,’ Journal of Strategic Studies, 5 July 2016, 18–19. For an argument in favor of an Indian COCOM-like system, see: Vijai Singh Rana, ‘Enhancing Jointness in Indian Armed Forces: Case for Unified Commands,’ Journal of Defence Studies 9/1 (January-March 2015) 33–62.View all notes Service-led opposition was likely one reason that China itself did not institute a joint C2 system earlier, though PLA discussions tend to speak more generally about the opposition to past reforms by unnamed ‘vested interests.’9090 David Liebenberg and Joel Wuthnow, ‘Navigating the Dangerous Shoals: An Overview of the New Period of China’s Military Reform’, paper presented at the 2014 CAPS-RAND-NDU Conference on the PLA, 22 Nov. 2014, 9–11.View all notes One sign of possible resistance to the current reforms is that the navy headquarters has continued to exercise operational control in some cases.9191 For instance, an April 2016 operation to evacuate sick workers from Fiery Cross Reef was ordered by the PLA navy commander, Admiral Wu Shengli. ‘PLA carries out historic medical mission in South China sea,’ China Daily, 18 Apr. 2016.View all notes This problem might only intensify as the TCs, led by ground force officers, seek to exercise authority over naval, air force, and possibly Rocket Force units under their command.

Fourth is the PLA’s lack of recent combat experience. China’s military has not conducted a major campaign since the 1979 border war with Vietnam. Few veterans remain in active service, and it is doubtful that many lessons of that war, which largely relied on ground force operations, would be relevant to 21st century joint operations.9292 The war did involve PLA air force sorties and the deployment of a naval task force to the Paracels to resist a possible Soviet naval interdiction. Nevertheless, one scholar concluded that ‘backwardness in doctrine and tactics precented the Chinese forces from carrying out a real coordinated operation.’ Xiaoming Zhang, ‘China’s 1979 War with Vietnam: A Reassessment,’ The China Quarterly184 (Dec. 2005) 870–1. For an earlier assessment, see: Harlan W. Jencks, ‘China’s ‘Punitive’ War on Vietnam: A Military Assessment,’ Asian Survey 19/8 (Aug. 1979) 801–815.View all notes Thus, the PLA has been left to infer operational lessons from peacetime experiences, such as the Gulf of Aden deployments and participation in UN peacekeeping operations; unilateral and multinational exercises, some of which have featured war-like conditions such as adverse weather and limited communications; and observations of recent wars conducted by foreign militaries. However, the lack of combat experience, especially against a high-end adversary such as the United States or Japan, means that the PLA has been unable to put its organization, doctrine, equipment, and personnel to the ultimate test. This could limit its ability to prepare for the full range of problems that might occur in a future joint campaign.9393 The 2013 Science of Strategyacknowledges this problem, noting that ‘the PLA has not undergone the trials of real combat in joint operations.’ Academy of Military Sciences Military Strategy Studies Department, Science of Strategy [战略学] (Beijing: Military Science Press 2013), 125.View all notes

There are several potential indicators that would indicate China is addressing these weaknesses. First would be evidence of closer Rocket Force integration in the TCs, such as dual-hatting Rocket Force base commanders as TC deputies. It is already the case that Rocket Force officers have been assigned to staff positions in TC-based joint operations command centers, indicating a desire to more closely integrate Rocket Force personnel into the TC structure. Second would be the appointment of non-ground force officers in joint command positions, such as TC commanders or chiefs of staff. Greater participation of navy, air force, and Rocket Force officers in joint command courses would also be a sign of closer service integration, especially regarding participation of senior officer programs conducted by the PLA National Defense University and the CCP Central Party School.9494 The 19th Party Congress, to be held in late 2017, will offer useful indications of the direction of PLA leadership appointments. Several senior officers at the CMC, JSD, and TC levels will have reached retirement age, giving the PLA a chance to draw more non-ground force officers into senior billets.View all notes Third would be signs that operational control has passed from the service headquarters to the JSD and TCs, as indicated in reporting on the command of both out-of-area and regional operations. The PLA’s lack of recent combat experience will be a harder obstacle to overcome short of an actual war. However, observers could look for increasingly complex and realistic joint exercises as a sign of growing capabilities to conduct combat operations.

Conclusion

In sum, the 2016 reforms are not a pivotal moment that will lead ineluctably to more cohesive and effective PLA joint operations. Rather they are an important milestone in a development process that has been ongoing since Deng Xiaoping’s call for a stronger focus on joint operations in 1975, and that has resulted in gradual progress in joint doctrine and training. As other militaries have found, organizational change is rarely sufficient, in and of itself, to transform operational proficiency. In the U.S. military, for instance, it is notable that the 1958 reforms were followed by operational failures that in turn required legislation, nearly 30 years later, to strengthen the COCOMs. Even in the early twenty-first century, there are continuing debates about the need to revise Goldwater-Nichols in light of changing operational challenges.9595 For instance, General Joseph Dunford has said that the COCOM system needs to be revised in order to meet challenges such as those posed by China, North Korea, and ISIS. In his words, ‘Our current planning, our organization construct, and our command and control is really not optimized for that fight.’ Rowan Scarborough, ‘Gen. Dunford: U.S. commands, war plans outdated,’ The Washington Times, 14 Dec. 2015. For a discussion of proposed amendments to Goldwater-Nichols, see: Aaron Mehta and Joe Gould, ‘Carter unveils goldwater nichols reforms,’ Defense News, 5 Apr. 2016.View all notes The PLA will similarly have to confront enduring challenges, such as service parochialism, as it implements its latest reforms.

Nevertheless, all else being equal, it is likely that the reforms will contribute to more effective PLA joint operations, posing challenges for China’s neighbors and the United States. A first step in responding is gaining an accurate picture of the problem. Internal U.S. assessments and public documents, such as the U.S. Department of Defense’s annual report on Chinese military power, should not only chronicle the reforms, but integrate them into assessments of the regional balance and characterizations of specific operational problems, such as those facing Taiwan.9696 The 2016 report provided a useful overview of the reforms, but did not explain their implications for the situations such as the Taiwan Strait, South China Sea, or China-India border. See: Annual Report to Congress, 1–3.View all notes Other countries should conduct similar assessments. For instance, Taiwan should consider the implications of the joint C2 structure for both Eastern TC-led operations, opposite Taiwan itself, and for those conducted by the Southern TC, which might take the lead in challenging Taiwan’s position on Pratas and Itu Aba.

The PLA’s reforms should also inform adjustments to operational plans and concepts. The U.S. military, for instance, has developed a Joint Operational Access Concept to provide a framework for ensuring continued access to critical regions in light of counter-intervention challenges posed by states such as China, Russia, and Iran.9797 Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC) Vesion 1.0 (Washington, DC: Department of Defense 2012).View all notes This concept should be updated to account for the possibility that PLA service forces and other enablers, such as the SSF, could be used more synergistically in a future campaign. This might entail a greater reliance on distributed basing, hardening critical systems and infrastructure, use of long-range precision-strike assets, and added reliance on stealthier platforms such as the new Zumwalt-class destroyer.9898 The U.S. Defense Department has already announced that its most advanced newest capabilities will be deployed to the Pacific, including the Zumwalt-class destroyer and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Ashton Carter, ‘Remarks on the next phase of the U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific,’ U.S. Department of Defense Website, 6 Apr. 2015.View all notes Related operational concepts that have been widely discussed in the United States, such as Air–Sea Battle and Offshore Control, should also be revised to account for recent PLA reforms.9999 On Air-Sea Battle, see: Jan Van Tol et al., AirSea Battle: A Point of Departure Operational Concept (Washington, DC: CSBA 2010). On Offshore Control, see: Thomas X. Hammes, ‘Offshore Control: A Proposed Strategy for an Unlikely Conflict,’ NDU Strategic Forum278 (June 2012). See also Andrew Krepinevich, ‘How to Deter China: The Case for Archipelagic Defense’ Foreign Affairs 94 (March/April 2015) 78–86.View all notes Other states, such as Japan, Vietnam, and Taiwan, will have to update their operational plans to account for the possibility that Chinese military and paramilitary forces will be used more seamlessly to enforce territorial claims in the South and East China seas.

U.S. and other strategists should also consider potential vulnerabilities created by China’s new joint C2 structure. In general, Chinese military modernization is increasingly focused on high-profile platforms and capabilities, such as aircraft carriers, surveillance satellites, logistics hubs, and forward-deployed aircraft, which are all vulnerable to precision strikes and potentially to non-kinetic operations, such as cyber-attacks. The PLA’s new joint C2 structure, including the computer networks linking different echelons and operational decision-making nodes, such as the CMC and TC JOCCs, might also become a key wartime target. Ironically, PLA doctrine has long focused on denying its adversaries the use of such systems at the onset of a campaign, turning its enemy’s strengths into a weakness.100100 PLA doctrine has long emphasized ‘key point strikes’ on critical enemy infrastructure, such as command-and-control nodes, computer networks, and airbases. For a discussion, see: Roger Cliff et al., Entering the Dragon’s Lair: Chinese Anti-Access Strategies and Their Implications for the United States(Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2007), 34–7.View all notes To maintain an operational advantage, the United States and others will likewise have every reason to consider how China’s own growing strengths, such as in joint operations, can become a weakness.

Acknowledgment

For helpful comments on previous drafts, the author thanks Dennis Blasko, Phillip Saunders, Jaehwan Lim, and Shinji Yamaguchi.

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.

Notes

1 ‘CMC opinions on deepening national defense and military reforms’ [中央军委关于深化国防和军队改革的意见], Xinhua, 1 Jan. 2016. For an English-language summary, see: ‘China releases guideline on military reform’, Xinhua, 1 Jan. 2016.

2 Pending elements include force structure changes and changes to the PLA’s procurement, legal, and budget systems. For an initial analysis of the reforms, see Phillip C. Saunders and Joel Wuthnow, ‘China’s Goldwater-Nichols? Assessing PLA Organizational Reforms’, Joint Force Quarterly 82 (July 2016), 68–75; Kenneth Allen, Dennis Blasko, and John Corbett, ‘The PLA’s new organizational structure: What is known, unknown, and speculation (Part 1)’, China Brief, 4 Feb. 2016; and Dennis Blasko, ‘Integrating the Services and Harnessing the Military Area Commands’, Journal of Strategic Studies, 1 Aug. 2016.

3 See, e.g., Derek Grossman and Michael Chase, ‘Xi’s purge of military prepares the Chinese ARMY FOR CONFROntation’, Newsweek, 21 Apr. 2016; James Mulvenon, ‘Hotel Gutian: We haven’t had that spirit here since 1929’, China Leadership Monitor, 19 Mar. 2015; and Zhao Lei, ‘Inspectors to cover all of military’, China Daily, 6 May 2016.

4 This is known in the PLA’s current jargon as ‘informatized local wars’ (信息化局部战争). See: China’s Military Strategy (Beijing: State Council Information Office 2015).

5 David M. Finkelstein, Initial Thoughts on the Reorganization and Reform of the PLA (Arlington, VA: CNA 2015), 18; James Mulvenon, ‘China’s ‘Goldwater-Nichols’? The Long-Awaited PLA Reorganization Has Finally Arrived’, China Leadership Monitor, 1 Mar. 2016.

6 ‘Zhang Junshe: Creating New Theaters Better Protects National Sovereignty’ [张军社: 重新划设战区可更好维护国家主权], China National Radio, 4 Feb. 2016. Senior Captain Zhang is vice president of the PLA Naval Research Institute; ‘Army adjustment and establishment completed in five theater commands’, China Military Online, 4 Feb. 2016.

7 Some key sources remain unavailable, such as authoritative PLA guidance on joint campaigns, details on joint training exercises, and certain details on how the new joint C2 structure will operate, such as the nature of its physical infrastructure. However, the available sources allow for a relatively detailed examination of the subject and its implications.

Joint Publication 3–0: Joint Operations (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Defense 2011), I-2.

Allied Joint Doctrine AJ0-01(D) (Brussels: North Atlantic Treaty Organization 2010), 5-I.

10 Milan N. Vego, Joint Operational Warfare: Theory and Practice (Newport, RI: Naval War College Press 2007), V-99.

11 Ibid., V-109.

12 Milan N. Vego, ‘Major Joint/Combined Operations’, Joint Force Quarterly 48/1 (Jan. 2008), 113.

13 James R. Locher III, ‘Has It Worked? The Goldwater-Nichols Reorganization Act’, Naval War College Review 54/4 (Summer 2001), 99; Peter J. Roman and David W. Tarr, ‘The Joint Chiefs of Staff: From Service Parochialism to Jointness’, Political Science Quarterly 113/1 (Spring 1998), 95–6.

14 The rescue attempt, known as Operation Eagle Claw, highlighted various weaknesses in conducting joint operations. The joint task force commander later recalled that there were ‘four commanders at the scene without visible identification, incompatible radios, and no agreed-upon plan, and not even a designated location for the commander.’ Op. cit. Locher, ‘Has It Worked?’ 100.

15 Prior to Goldwater-Nichols, the chairman was responsible mainly for convening meetings. Joint Chiefs of Staff opinions required unanimous consent, which strengthened the influence of the service chiefs (all of whom were members of the JCS). After the reform, the chairman no longer required consent to provide advice to the president and secretary of defense. The reforms also created the office of JCS vice chairman.

16 Martin E. Dempsey, ‘The future of joint operations’, Foreign Affairs, 20 June 2013.

17 Athena Bryce-Rogers, ‘Russian Military Reform in the Aftermath of the 2008 Russia-Georgia War,’ Demokratizatsiya 21/3 (Summer 2013), 351.

18 Ariel Cohen and Robert E. Hamilton, The Russian Military and the Georgia War: Lessons and Implications (Carlisle, PA: U.S. Army War College 2011), 35.

19 Ibid., 50.

20 Tom Dodd, Frontline First: The Defence Costs Study, House of Commons Library Research Paper 94/101, 14 Oct. 1994, 7.

21 The comparable French organization is the Commandement pour les opérations interarmées (CPOIA), created in 2016. The German cognate is the Bundeswehr Joint Forces Operations Command. For a discussion of the evolution of the German organization, see: Martin Zapfe, ‘Strategic Culture Shaping Allied Integration: The Bundeswehr and Joint Operational Doctrine’, Journal of Strategic Studies 39/2 (2016), 249–251.

22 Interviews, Taiwan, Sept. 2016.

23 Bruce Klingner, ‘South Korea: Taking the Right Steps to Defense Reform’, Heritage Foundation Backgrounder 2618 (Oct. 2011).

24 Dang Chongmin and Zhang Yu, Science of Joint Campaigns [联合作战学] (Beijing: People’s Liberation Army Press 2009), 43. See also: Kevin McCauley, ‘PLA Yijiangshan joint amphibious operations: Past is Prologue,’ China Brief, 13 Sept. 2016.

25 Ralph L. Powell, ‘Maoist Military Doctrines’, Asian Survey 8/4 (Apr. 1968), 239–62.

26 For a review of the 1962 Sino-Indian border war, see M. Taylor Fravel, Strong Borders, Secure Nation: Cooperation and Conflict in China’s Territorial Disputes (Princeton: Princeton University Press 2008), Chapter 4. On the 1968 Sino-Soviet border clash, see: Lyle Goldstein, ‘Return to Zhenbao Island: Who Started Shooting and Why It Matters’, The China Quarterly 168 (Dec. 2001), 985–997. On the 1979 Sino-Vietnam border war, see: Andrew Scobell, China’s Use of Military Force: Beyond the Great War and the Long March (New York: Cambridge University Press 2003), 119–43.

27 Tan Yadong (ed.), Joint Operations Course Materials [联合作战教程] (Beijing: Academy of Military Sciences Press 2013), 8. The KMT did not formally abandon the goal of militarily retaking the mainland until 1991.

28 For a discussion, see: Alexander Huang, ‘Transformation and Refinement of Chinese Military Doctrine: Reflection and Critique on the PLA’s View’, in James Mulvenon and Andrew Yang (eds.), Seeking Truth from Facts: A Retrospective on Chinese Military Studies in the Post-Mao Era(Santa Monica, CA: RAND 2001); Ellis Joffe, ‘People’s War under Modern Conditions: A Doctrine for Modern War’, The China Quarterly 112 (Dec. 1987), 555–71; and Paul H.B. Godwin, ‘Changing Concepts of Doctrine, Strategy and Operations in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army 1978–87’, The China Quarterly 112 (Dec. 1987), 572–90.

29 This was discussed in the 1987 Guidelines on Science of Campaigns [战役学纲要], approved by the Central Military Commission, and the 1988 teaching volume Science of Campaigns Course Materials [战役学教程]. See: Yadong, Joint Operations Course Materials, 8.

30 Liu Huaqing, Memoirs [刘华清回忆录] (Beijing: People’s Liberation Army Press 2004), Chapter 20. See also: Peng Guangqian and Yao Youzhi, Science of Strategy [战略学] (Beijing: Military Science Press 2005), 420–1.

31 David M. Finkelstein, ‘China’s National Military Strategy: An Overview of the ‘Military Strategic Guidelines’’, in Roy Kamphausen and Andrew Scobell (eds.), Right Sizing the People’s Liberation Army: Exploring the Contours of China’s Military (Carlisle, PA: Army War College 2007), 126. See also Nan Li, ‘The PLA’s Evolving Warfighting Doctrine, Strategy, and Tactics, 1985–95: A Chinese Perspective’, The China Quarterly 146 (June 1996) 443–63; and M. Taylor Fravel, ‘The Evolution of China’s Military Strategy: Comparing the 1987 and 1999 Editions of Zhanluexue’, in James Mulvenon and David M. Finkelstein (eds.), China’s Revolution in Doctrinal Affairs(Alexandria, VA: CNA, 2005), 79–99.

32 Robert S. Ross, ‘The 1995–96 Taiwan Strait Confrontation: Coercion, Credibility, and the Use of Force’, International Security 25/2 (Fall 2000), 87–123; Allen S. Whiting, ‘China’s Use of Force 1950–96, and Taiwan’, International Security 26/2 (Fall 2001), 120–3; and Joel Wuthnow, ‘The Integration of Cooptation and Coercion: China’s Taiwan Strategy Since 2001’, East Asia 23/3 (Fall 2006), 23–5.

33 The Guidelines themselves are not publicly available. However, they are briefly discussed in Zhang Peigao, Lectures on Joint Campaign Command [联合战役指挥教程] (Beijing: Academy of Military Science Press 2012), 7.

34 For instance, during the 1995–6 Taiwan Strait crisis, Jiang Zemin observed a joint exercise in the Yellow Sea simulating an attack on one of Taiwan’s offshore islands.

35 Chongmin and Yu, Science of Joint Campaigns, 43.

36 Kevin Pollpeter, ‘Towards an Integrative C4ISR System: Informationization and Joint Operations in the People’s Liberation Army’, in Roy Kamphausen, David Lai, and Andrew Scobell (eds.), The PLA at Home and Abroad: Assessing the Operational Capabilities of China’s Military (Carlisle, PA: Army War College 2010), 212–9; Wanda Ayuso and Lonnie Henley, ‘Aspiring to Jointness: PLA Training, Exercises, and Doctrine, 2008–2012’, in Roy Kamphausen, David Lai, and Travis Tanner (eds.), Assessing the People’s Liberation Army in the Hu Jintao Era(Carlisle, PA: Army War College 2014), 188.

37 ‘Chairman Hu Jintao Calls for Transformation in Military Training Towards Informatization’ [胡锦涛主席要求推进军事训练向信息化转变], Xinhua, 28 June 2006.

38 Pollpeter, ‘Towards an Integrative C4ISR System’, 219.

39 Ayuso and Henley, ‘Aspiring to Jointness’, 182; ‘Study how to fight modern warfare – An account of personal experience in the ‘Joint Education-2012 Queshan’ joint exercise’ [‘学打现代战争’ – – 亲历‘联教-2012·确山’联合演习], Nanfang Zhoumo (南方周末), 15 June 2012.

40 Mark Stokes and Ian Easton, ‘The Chinese People’s Liberation Army General Staff Department: Evolving Organization and Missions’, in Kevin Pollpeter and Kenneth Allen (eds.), The PLA as Organization v2.0 (Vienna, VA: DGI 2015), 154–7.

41 Blasko, ‘Integrating the Services and Harnessing the Military Area Commands’, 18; Ayuso and Henley, ‘Aspiring to Jointness’, 182.

42 David L. Shambaugh, Modernizing China’s Military (Berkeley: University of California Press 2002), Chapter 4.

43 In later years, however, MR naval and air force component chiefs were dual-hatted as MR deputy commanders, while at least one deputy chief of the GSD was usually a non-ground force officer.

44 For instance, the commandant of a PLA service academy described the relationship between the services and MRs as one of ‘you don’t listen to me, and I don’t listen to you.’ Discussion with senior PLA officer, Washington, April 2016. On joint logistics, see: Susan M. Puska, ‘Taming the Hydra: Trends in China’s Military Logistics Since 2000,’ in Kamphausen, Lai, and Scobell (eds.), The PLA at Home and Abroad, 573–5.

45 Bates Gill, James Mulvenon, and Mark Stokes, ‘The Chinese Second Artillery Corps: Transition to Credible Deterrence’, in James Mulvenon and Andrew Yang (eds.), The People’s Liberation Army as Organization (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2002), 546–7.

46 In fact, during the 1995–6 Taiwan Strait crisis, the Nanjing MR was temporarily renamed Nanjing War Zone as part of a joint exercise. Fravel, Strong Borders, Secure Nation, 260–2.

47 For a discussion, see: Dean Cheng, ‘The PLA’s Wartime Structure,’ in Pollpeter and Allen (eds.), The PLA as Organization v2.0, 456–8; and Dean Cheng, ‘Zhanyixue and Joint Campaigns,’ in Mulvenon and Finkelstein (eds.), China’s Revolution in Doctrinal Affairs, 107–11.

48 Zhang, Lectures on Joint Campaign Command, 3.

49 Fang Yongzhi, ‘When will the Chinese military set up its joint operations command’ [中国军队何时设立联合作战司令部)], China Youth Daily [中国青年报], 28 March 2014. The author is an Associate Professor at the PLA Engineering Academy. For similar critiques, see: Wang Xiaohui, ‘What strategic preparations should China’s military make in a transition era?’ [转型期中国军队要做哪些战略准备] National Defense Reference [国防参考], 27 Oct. 2015; and Tu Chenxin, ‘An exclusive interview with major general Xu Guangyu: Performing arts troupes bear the brunt of force reduction’ [本端专访徐光裕少将:裁军文工团首当其冲], Zhejiang Online [浙江新闻], 4 Sept. 2015.

50 M. Taylor Fravel, ‘China’s new military strategy: ‘Winning Informationized Local Wars’’, China Brief, 2 July 2015.

51 China’s Military Strategy.

52 Ibid.

53 Ibid.

54 ‘CPC central committee decision on deepening of reforms for major issues’ [中共中央关于全面深化改革若干重大问题的决定], Xinhua, 15 Nov. 2013.

55 ‘Xi Jinping: build a modern military power system with Chinese characteristics’ [习近平:构建中国特色现代军事力量体系], Renmin Ribao [人民日报], 31 Aug. 2014. The article provides quotes from Xi’s remarks on military reform, made on 27 Dec. 2013.

56 ‘At CMC reform work meeting, Xi Jinping stresses: Comprehensively implement reform and military strengthening strategy, resolutely take path to strong military with Chinese characteristics’ [习近平在中央军委改革工作会议上强调全面实施改革强军战略坚定不移走中国特色强军之路], Xinhua, 26 Nov. 2015.

57 CMC opinions on deepening national defense and military reforms.’

58 Also called 战区 in Chinese. However, PRC English-language media has referred to these as ‘Theater Commands,’ likely to signify that they have both peacetime and wartime functions.

59 Wang Xiaohui [王晓辉], ‘What Types of Strategic Preparations Must China’s Military Undertake?’, [中国军队要做哪些战略准备], Southern Weekend [南方周末], 11 Sept, 2015.

60 ‘Starting with a new style under fluttering red combat flags: Observations on the new theater commands’ [开局新风起 猎猎战旗红: 东南西北中五战区成立伊始见闻], Xinhua Online [新华网], 2 Feb. 2016.

61 The key geographic change was the apparent addition of southwestern Yunnan and Guizhou provinces to the Southern TC. These forces were previously assigned to the Chengdu MR.

62 ‘Forging a strong and comprehensive joint operations command structure’ [锻造全面过硬的联合作战指挥机构], Renmin Ribao [人民日报], 28 Feb. 2016.

63 Interviews, Beijing, 2016.

64 These missions will be performed by the JSD Overseas Operations Office (海外行动处), within the JSD Operations Bureau. ‘Defense Ministry’s Regular Press Conference on Mar. 31’, PRC Ministry of National Defense, 31 Mar. 2016.

65 By contrast, none of the TC commanders sit on the CMC as of writing. The future composition of the CMC will be determined at Party meetings, such as the 19th Party Congress set for late 2017. For a discussion of possible revisions to the CMC’s membership, see: Allen, Blasko, and Corbett, ‘The PLA’s New Organizational Structure.’

66 A new CMC Training Management Department, formed from the previous GSD Military Training Department, will also play a role in managing joint training. The division of labor between this organization and the JSD has not been announced.

67 The latter function was previously performed by the PLA Intelligence Department (2PLA), whose portfolio appears to have been transferred to the JSD.

68 Austin Ramzy, ‘China’s President, Xi Jinping, Gains a New Title: Commander in Chief,’ The New York Times, 21 Apr. 2016.

69 Interviews, Beijing, 2016.

70 ‘CMC sends training supervision teams to all theater commands and some service units’ [中央军委训练监察组进驻各战区和军种部分单位], Jiefangjun Bao [解放军报], 11 May 2016.

71 Zhang Shibo and Liu Yazhou, ‘Strive to build the highest military academy with the world’s advanced standards and unique Chinese characteristics’ [努力建设具有世界先进水平和中国特色的最高军事学府”], Jiefangjun Bao [解放军报], 17 Apr. 2016. Zhang and Liu are president and political commissar of the PLA NDU, respectively.

72 ‘Expert: The strategic support force is a key to winning throughout the course of operations’ [专家:战略支援队将贯穿作战全过程是致胜关键], Renmin Ribao Online [人民网], 5 Jan. 2016.

73 ‘China sets up joint logistics force, Xi Confers flags,’ Xinhua, 3 Sept. 2016.

74 The TC and CMC JOCCs, equipped to provide real-time communications between and across echelons, will likely play a critical role in this respect. ‘Xi Jinping inspects CMC joint operations command center’ [习近平视察军委联合作战指挥中心], China Central Television Online [央视网], 20 Apr. 2016; ‘Starting with a new style under fluttering red combat flags.’

75 Recent joint exercises led by non-army components include Mission Action-2013C (Air Force) and Joint Action 2014A (Navy). Thanks to a referee for making this point.

76 Dang and Zhang, Science of Joint Campaigns (2009), 226. See also Zhang Yuliang, Science of Campaigns [战役学] (Beijing: National Defense University Press, 2006), 273–326; and Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China(Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 2016), 89–90.

77 Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress, 90–1. See also: Phillip C. Saunders and Joel Wuthnow, ‘What do China’s military reforms mean for Taiwan?’ NBR Commentary, 19 May 2016.

78 Prior to the reforms, the PLA established an East China Sea JOCC to coordinate enforcement of the East China Sea ADIZ, announced in November 2013. It is unclear whether that center still exists or whether it will be merged with the Eastern TC JOCC. The Southern TC JOCC would likely be responsible for enforcing a South China Sea ADIZ. Harry Kazianis, ‘The strategy behind China’s ADIZ in the East China sea,’ Asia Times, 17 Mar. 2016.

79 This could be in the context of what PLA doctrinal writings call ‘joint border area counterattacks,’ in which multiple service forces are used to resist enemy incursions into China’s border areas. See: Zhang, Science of Campaigns, 273.

80 See, e.g., M. Taylor Fravel and Christopher P. Twomey, ‘Projecting strategy: The myth of Chinese counter-intervention’, The Washington Quarterly 37/4 (Winter 2015), 171–187; and Timothy Heath and Andrew S. Erickson, ‘Is China pursuing counter-intervention?’ The Washington Quarterly 38/3 (Fall 2015), 143–156. Doctrinally, PLA sources often avoid using the terms ‘counter-intervention,’ although the need to counter intervening adversary forces is clear in discussions of joint anti-air raid, firepower, and other types of campaigns. See, e.g., Zhang, Science of Campaigns (2006), 273–343; Dang and Zhang, Science of Joint Campaigns(2009), 218–20.

81 Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress, 59–63.

82 ‘China inaugurates PLA rocket force as military reform deepens’, Xinhua, 1 Jan. 2016.

83 ‘Transcript of Eastern theater commander Liu Yuejun’s interview’ [东部战区司令员刘粤军访谈录], China Military Online [中国军网], 3 Mar. 2016; ‘Southern theater commander: Safeguarding South China sea rights and interests is our most important mission’ [南部战区司令员:维护南海权益是最重要使命], Renmin Ribao [人民日报], 28 Feb. 2016.

84 David Logan, ‘Implications of the New PLA Rocket Force’, Joint Force Quarterly, 2016; Joel Wuthnow and David Logan, ‘Should Taiwan Fear China’s New Rocket Force?’ Policy Forum, 2 Sept. 2016. This is consistent with previous assessments of weak SAF integration in cross-service exercises. See: Michael Chase et al., China’s Incomplete Military Transformation (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2015), 81.

85 As noted above, the SSF is also not clearly integrated into the TCs. It is not even clear that the SSF maintains permanent units within the TCs.

86 The exception, General Zhu Fuxi of the Eastern TC, is a current Air Force officer who spent most of his career in the army.

87 For instance, nearly 70% of the participants in the 2016 PLA NDU senior-level command course were ground force officers, most of them group army commanders and political commissars.

88 Locher, ‘Has It Worked?’ 101–3; Roman and Tarr, ‘The Joint Chiefs of Staff,’ 93–7.

89 Anit Mukherjee, ‘Fighting separately: Jointness and civil-military relations in India,’ Journal of Strategic Studies, 5 July 2016, 18–19. For an argument in favor of an Indian COCOM-like system, see: Vijai Singh Rana, ‘Enhancing Jointness in Indian Armed Forces: Case for Unified Commands,’ Journal of Defence Studies 9/1 (January-March 2015) 33–62.

90 David Liebenberg and Joel Wuthnow, ‘Navigating the Dangerous Shoals: An Overview of the New Period of China’s Military Reform’, paper presented at the 2014 CAPS-RAND-NDU Conference on the PLA, 22 Nov. 2014, 9–11.

91 For instance, an April 2016 operation to evacuate sick workers from Fiery Cross Reef was ordered by the PLA navy commander, Admiral Wu Shengli. ‘PLA carries out historic medical mission in South China sea,’ China Daily, 18 Apr. 2016.

92 The war did involve PLA air force sorties and the deployment of a naval task force to the Paracels to resist a possible Soviet naval interdiction. Nevertheless, one scholar concluded that ‘backwardness in doctrine and tactics precented the Chinese forces from carrying out a real coordinated operation.’ Xiaoming Zhang, ‘China’s 1979 War with Vietnam: A Reassessment,’ The China Quarterly 184 (Dec. 2005) 870–1. For an earlier assessment, see: Harlan W. Jencks, ‘China’s ‘Punitive’ War on Vietnam: A Military Assessment,’ Asian Survey 19/8 (Aug. 1979) 801–815.

93 The 2013 Science of Strategy acknowledges this problem, noting that ‘the PLA has not undergone the trials of real combat in joint operations.’ Academy of Military Sciences Military Strategy Studies Department, Science of Strategy [战略学] (Beijing: Military Science Press 2013), 125.

94 The 19th Party Congress, to be held in late 2017, will offer useful indications of the direction of PLA leadership appointments. Several senior officers at the CMC, JSD, and TC levels will have reached retirement age, giving the PLA a chance to draw more non-ground force officers into senior billets.

95 For instance, General Joseph Dunford has said that the COCOM system needs to be revised in order to meet challenges such as those posed by China, North Korea, and ISIS. In his words, ‘Our current planning, our organization construct, and our command and control is really not optimized for that fight.’ Rowan Scarborough, ‘Gen. Dunford: U.S. commands, war plans outdated,’ The Washington Times, 14 Dec. 2015. For a discussion of proposed amendments to Goldwater-Nichols, see: Aaron Mehta and Joe Gould, ‘Carter unveils goldwater nichols reforms,’ Defense News, 5 Apr. 2016.

96 The 2016 report provided a useful overview of the reforms, but did not explain their implications for the situations such as the Taiwan Strait, South China Sea, or China-India border. See: Annual Report to Congress, 1–3.

97 Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC) Vesion 1.0 (Washington, DC: Department of Defense 2012).

98 The U.S. Defense Department has already announced that its most advanced newest capabilities will be deployed to the Pacific, including the Zumwalt-class destroyer and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Ashton Carter, ‘Remarks on the next phase of the U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific,’ U.S. Department of Defense Website, 6 Apr. 2015.

99 On Air-Sea Battle, see: Jan Van Tol et al., AirSea Battle: A Point of Departure Operational Concept (Washington, DC: CSBA 2010). On Offshore Control, see: Thomas X. Hammes, ‘Offshore Control: A Proposed Strategy for an Unlikely Conflict,’ NDU Strategic Forum278 (June 2012). See also Andrew Krepinevich, ‘How to Deter China: The Case for Archipelagic Defense’ Foreign Affairs 94 (March/April 2015) 78–86.

100 PLA doctrine has long emphasized ‘key point strikes’ on critical enemy infrastructure, such as command-and-control nodes, computer networks, and airbases. For a discussion, see: Roger Cliff et al., Entering the Dragon’s Lair: Chinese Anti-Access Strategies and Their Implications for the United States (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2007), 34–7.

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Additional author information

Joel Wuthnow

Joel Wuthnow is a Research Fellow in the Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs at the U.S. National Defense University.

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01402390.2016.1276012