Chinese and Russian militaries share a potential weakness, new US report finds

The report identifies a lack of cross-training as a potential Achilles’ heel within the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), but analysts are wary of downplaying China’s capabilities and caution against comparisons with Russia.

The report examines the backgrounds of more than 300 senior PLA officers across its five services – Army, Navy, Air Force, Rocket Force and Strategic Support Force – in the six years to 2021. Service leaders were unlikely to have operational experience in any branch other than the one in which they began their careers.

In other words, PLA soldiers are soldiers, sailors are sailors, airmen are airmen. They rarely break out of those silos, the report said, a stark contrast to the U.S. military, where cross-training has been a legal requirement since 1986.

The 73-page report said that this “toughness…could reduce China’s effectiveness in future conflicts”, particularly those that require high levels of joint service, and It has been suggested that PLA forces will be caught up in similar operations. Issues that have troubled their Russian counterparts in Ukraine, “where the overall coordination of forces was poor.”

Since the launch of Russia’s invasion of its neighbor seven months ago, flaws in the Russian military structure have become apparent to outside observers.

In recent Defeat of Russian forces by Ukrainian retaliationMoscow’s ground forces lacked air cover, analysts say, while early in the war, logistical problems crippled Russia’s ability to resupply its forces. The trucks did not have tires suitable for the terrain and kept breaking down. from lack of care.

According to report author Joel Vothnow, senior PLA leaders may face similar problems due to a lack of cross-training.

“Operational commanders, for example, rarely have the experience to broaden a career in logistics, and vice versa,” Wuthnow, a senior research fellow at the university’s Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs, said in the report. has gone

“Operational commanders who never need to gain a high-level understanding of logistics or maintenance may fail to deploy these forces optimally, paralleling another Russian failure in 2022.”

A brigade of the PLA Army under the Eastern Theater Command, along with a department of the Navy, Air Force and Army Aviation, is organizing the Red and Blue Combat Exercise for troops on September 2, 2022 in Zhangzhou, China.

Compared to four-star rank commanders in 2021 — such as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs or the head of the Indo-Pacific Command in the U.S. or the leader of the Central Military Commission or the theater command in China — the report found that 40 U.S. officers had a combined had service experience compared to 77 percent of their 31 Chinese equivalents.

He also noted another important difference: In the US, almost all four-star commanders had operational experience. In China, about half were “professional political commissars.”

Don’t underestimate PLA.

Carl Schuster, former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center in Hawaii, said the new report was “the best assessment of where China is and is going that I’ve seen.”

But he cautioned against using it as a predictor of how the PLA might fare in a war like Ukraine because it has many other advantages over the Russian military.

He said China trains new recruits better and no longer relies on conscripts, while the Russian military “relies on seven-month conscripts for 80-85 percent of its enlisted personnel.”

And, unlike Russia, China has a professional non-commissioned officer corps, he added.

Shuster, who now teaches at Hawaii Pacific University, estimated that China is about four or five years behind the United States in terms of joint operations capabilities — but warned that recent exercises “suggest they are catching up.” “

He referred. Recent Chinese actions such as around Taiwan US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi demonstrated this after visiting the island in early August.
Analysis: The 'New Normal' China's threat across the Taiwan Strait looms ever closer.

“The study’s implicit implication that the PLA may be unable to conduct effective joint operations is incorrect,” Shuster said.

The report by Wuthnow, also an adjunct professor at Georgetown University in Washington, also found demographic differences between Chinese and American leaders.

“Senior (Chinese) officers were homogeneous in terms of age, education, gender and ethnicity,” the report said.

At four-star rank, Chinese officers were on average older than their American counterparts (64 vs. 60) and had more years in the military (46 vs. 40).

“The US leadership was also more diverse, with two women and three African Americans, compared to the PLA’s homogeneous leadership (all male and 99% Han Chinese),” the report states.

And a final difference: 58% of American officers have served in a foreign country, while none of the Chinese officers had overseas experience.

Newly recruited civil servants undergo military training at Shizong District People's Court on September 3, 2022 in Zhaozhuang, China.

Nutritional factor

The report also described how Chinese leader Xi Jinping has tightened his grip on the leadership of the PLA since taking control of the Chinese Communist Party in 2013.

It said that through his role as chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, Xi has been personally involved in the selection of senior officers.

“All PLA officers are members of the Chinese Communist Party and must have sufficient political acumen to demonstrate loyalty to the XI and its agenda,” it said, referring to senior Xi officials within China. move geographically to prevent them from developing “networks of patronage”. One day his leadership threatened.

But he also noted that Xi was careful to reward loyalty and patience in the senior officer corps.

“Xi Jinping did not spare a generation of people who waited their turn to promote young Turks more familiar with modern conflicts,” it said.

As those older officers reach the retirement age for their grade — those in the Central Military Commission are 68 — their successors bring more battlefield experience, including the latest technology, the report said. will

But silos reinforced by tradition and organizational culture are expected to remain.

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