Beijing: China’s newly formed Rocket Force launched 100 ballistic missiles last year while army conducted scores of live drills, official media reported here on Wednesday, as the 2.3 million strong PLA, the world’s largest army, adopts a more aggressive posture with massive structural revamp.
Each combatant branch of the PLA – the Army, Navy, Air Force and Rocket Force – has confirmed that realistic training drills and exercises were intensified last year under military reforms initiated by Chinese President Xi Jinping, state-run China Daily said in a lengthy feature on how the Chinese military is transforming itself.
“The Army sent 15 brigades to participate in more than 100 drills; the Air Force conducted at least six large, long-range training drills in the Western Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea; the Rocket Force carried out more than 20 exercises and launched nearly 100 ballistic missiles,” the report said.
“The Navy organised three live-fire exercises that featured a large number of forces from its three fleets,” in addition to the first aircraft carrier Liaoning battle group conducting its first live-fire drill, four years after its commissioning.
The massive modernisation of the military which has annual budget of over USD 146 billion also made big strides in armament modernisation last year.
“The Air Force is now taking delivery of the Y-20 strategic transport plane, mass production of the J-20 stealth fighter is understood to have started. A next-generation strategic bomber is also being developed for the Air Force and is expected to be unveiled soon,” the report said.
However, while China is developing new generation of fighter aircraft, it is still heavily reliant on engines from Russia which remained a major technology partner.
At the same time, the first domestically designed aircraft carrier is taking shape at a shipyard in Dalian, it said.
It will be the second carrier for the military in addition to Liaoning whose hull was built in former Soviet Union. Reports say China is also planning to have a third carrier.
The Rocket Force which was previously known as strategic force has commissioned a new type of strategic ballistic missile, the report said without disclosing details.
Also, over 50 high-ranking generals were convicted for graft in the unprecedented sweep in the military.
“A sweeping anti-corruption campaign within the military did not ease up last year. According to the information available, at least seven high-ranking officers – including the former political commissar of the PLA Air Force and the former commander of the People’s Armed Police Force – were placed under internal investigation after being accused of corrupt activities,” it said.
“More than 50 senior officers at the rank of major general or higher – including Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong, the former vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission – have been convicted or placed under disciplinary probes since Xi took office in 2012,” it said.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) also set to retrench three lakh troops as part of structural reforms as part of China’s efforts to develop capabilities and produce a leaner, modern fighting unit.
The reform has resulted in the biggest overhaul of the PLA for several decades.
It’s higher governing bodies up to the level of the Central Military Commission (CMC), the overall high command of the PLA were reshuffled, the regional command was reorganised and new units were established to prepare for wars in cyberspace and even space itself, the report said.
The blue-print prepared by CMC pledged to establish a leaner and more efficient chain of command, to reduce the number of non-combatant personnel and departments, and to build the PLA into a force capable of winning modern wars, which are characterised by information warfare and joint operations, it said, adding that the goals should be achieved before 2020.
“The last day of 2015 saw the establishment of PLA Army Headquarters, the PLA Rocket Force and the PLA Strategic Support Force, moves that formally started the historic shakeup,” it said.
“The founding of the PLA Army Headquarters ended 88 years without a leading body for the Army, and also signalled the end of an era in which the unit dominated the other services and had the final word in military affairs,” it said.
Historically, the Army did not have its own headquarters because its units were under the direct control of the CMC, while the seven former regional commands oversaw the operations of Army units under their jurisdictions.
The regional commands were also reshuffled to become the Eastern, Southern, Western, Northern and Central theatre commands replacing seven regional commands named after the cities in which their headquarters were located.
The western command became an integrated command for India borders.
Du Wenlong, a senior researcher at the PLA Academy of Military Science said, the rebranding of the Second Artillery Corps as PLA Rocket Force indicates that China is transparent and confident about displaying its true military capabilities to the world, and that the Rocket Force is expected to play a larger role in the future.
The tasks assigned to the Strategic Support Force have yet to be unveiled, but Yin Zhuo, director of the PLA Navy’s Expert Consultation Committee, said the responsibilities of the new branch will include target reconnaissance and tracking, global positioning operations, space-asset management and defending against hostile activities in the cyberspace and electromagnetic fields.