Chinese PLA’s 100th Anniversary in 2027: Implications for India

By Neeraj Mahajan

Opinion

Chinese PLA’s 100th Anniversary
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) , the armed wing of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the principal military force of the People’s Republic of China has undergone significant transformations since its inception in 1927.

The PLA today consists of four services — Ground Force, Navy, Air Force, and Rocket Force — and four arms — Aerospace Force, Cyberspace Force, Information Support Force, and Joint Logistics Support Force. It is led by the Central Military Commission (CMC). The Chairman of the Central Military Commission is the Commander-in-chief of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Under the doctrine of “the party commands the gun” the PLA is under the absolute control of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

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Early Years and Civil War (1927-1949)

The PLA was founded as the Red Army of the Communist Party of China during the Nanchang Uprising in 1927. It was a guerrilla force engaged in a protracted struggle against the Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT). In 1934-1935, the PLA underwent the Long March, a strategic retreat that allowed it to survive and regroup, gaining support from rural populations.

During World War II, the PLA (then called the Eighth Route Army and the New Fourth Army) fought against Japanese invaders and later continued the civil war against the KMT, ultimately leading to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

Korean War and Early Cold War (1950-1976)

The PLA fought in the Korean War (1950-1953) against UN and South Korean forces, under the banner of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army and demonstrated its capacity to engage in large-scale conventional warfare. The 1960s saw tensions between China and the Soviet Union, prompting the PLA to focus on self-reliance and modernization, albeit constrained by limited resources and technology. The PLA was heavily involved in the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), playing a political role and experiencing internal turmoil and disruptions.

The PLA consists of four services — Ground Force, Navy, Air Force, and Rocket Force — and four arms — Aerospace Force, Cyberspace Force, Information Support Force, and Joint Logistics Support Force. The chairman of the Central Military Commission is the Commander-in-chief of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)

Reform and Opening up (1978-1999)

The late 1970s and 1980s saw economic reforms under Deng Xiaoping, leading to a gradual shift in the PLA’s focus from political to professional military development.

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The PLA began modernizing its forces, reducing troop numbers, and investing in new technologies and equipment. The emphasis was on creating a leaner, more efficient force.

The PLA’s role in enforcing martial law and suppressing the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 highlighted the tension between its political and military roles.

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21st Century (2000-present)

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China has undergone extensive transformations since the beginning of the 21st century. China aspires to be a world-class military by 2049 with the ability to “fight and win wars” and project power globally.

President Xi Jinping initiated major military reforms to transform the PLA into a modern, capable, and flexible force, capable of protecting China’s interests and projecting power on a global scale. One of the most notable changes was the reorganisation of the PLA’s regional command structure. As a part of this initiative the previous seven military regions were replaced by five theatre commands (Eastern, Southern, Western, Northern, and Central) to improve strategic flexibility and operational efficiency by aligning the command structures more closely with geographic and strategic priorities. This move was intended to enhance centralised command and reduce bureaucratic inefficiencies. In addition to this, the PLA disbanded outdated units and vacancies of 300,000 troops to create a leaner and more technologically advanced force to reduce redundancy and focus on quality over quantity.

Another key aspect of the reforms was the emphasis on joint operations. Accordingly, the PLA increased the frequency and complexity of joint training exercises that require coordination across different branches to enhance interoperability and prepare the PLA for modern, integrated warfare.

The PLA has made significant advancements in several areas to enhance its operational capabilities and strategic reach. Here are the key components of these reforms:

The People’s Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF), commonly referred to as the PLA Army (PLAA), has approximately 975,000 active-duty personnel in combat units including infantry, armour, artillery, air defence, and special operations forces. This makes it one of the largest standing ground forces in the world. This allows the PLAA to perform a wide range of military operations, from conventional warfare to counter-terrorism and peacekeeping.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China has undergone extensive transformations since the beginning of the 21st century. China aspires to be a world-class military by 2049 with the ability to “fight and win wars” and project power globally

Recently the PLAA has transformed from a manpower-intensive force into a technologically advanced and mechanised force with the introduction of modern main battle tanks (such as the Type 99 and Type 15), advanced artillery systems, and improved infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) and armoured personnel carriers (APCs). The PLAA is incorporating advanced technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), cyber warfare capabilities, and electronic warfare systems to conduct joint operations with other branches of the PLA, including the Navy (PLAN), Air Force (PLAAF), and Rocket Force (PLARF). The emphasis is on integrated training exercises, improved command and control systems, and new doctrines for joint and multi-domain operations to build a world-class military capable of asserting its influence on the global stage by 2049, the centenary of the People’s Republic of China.

The PLA Navy (PLAN) is the world’s largest navy by fleet size, with over 350 ships and submarines, including 125 surface combatants, aircraft carriers, and amphibious warfare ships. China has two domestically built aircraft carriers, the Liaoning and the Shandong, while a third aircraft carrier Fujian is currently undergoing sea trials and a fourth carrier called “Type 004” might be under construction. The PLAN operates a growing number of nuclear-powered and conventionally powered submarines, including the Jin-class (Type 094) ballistic missile submarines.

The PLAN has advanced destroyers such as the Type 055, equipped with modern sensors and weapons systems for enhanced anti-air, anti-surface, and anti-submarine warfare capabilities. The PLAN also has advanced missile systems, including the YJ-18 anti-ship cruise missile and the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile, designed to target aircraft carriers and other large surface vessels. China’s long-term goal is to build a world-class navy by 2049 capable of operating far from China’s shores, to assert its presence in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea as well as compete with the United States Navy and other leading naval forces.

The PLA Air Force (PLAAF) and PLAN Aviation the largest aviation force in the region and the third-largest in the world, operate a wide range of advanced aircraft, including the J-20 stealth fighter, J-16 multirole fighter, and H-6K strategic bomber. It has more than 2,800 advanced fighter jets, strategic bombers, and transport aircraft, enhancing its strategic reach and power projection capabilities. The J-20, China’s first fifth-generation stealth fighter designed for air superiority missions and precision strikes against ground targets, represents a major leap in the PLAAF’s capabilities. The PLAAF in 2019 revealed its first nuclear-capable, air-to-air refuel able bomber.

PLAN Aviation operates carrier-based aircraft such as the J-15 as well as advanced maritime patrol aircraft and helicopters, such as the Y-8Q and Z-18F, designed to detect and engage submarines. PLAN Aviation operates a variety of strike and reconnaissance aircraft, including the H-6J maritime bomber and the KJ-500 airborne early warning and control aircraft.

The PLA Rocket Force (PLARF) previously known as the Second Artillery Corps is a crucial component of China’s strategic military capabilities. The PLA Rocket Force is equipped with intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs), and hypersonic missiles, to strengthen China’s strategic deterrence. The PLARF has significantly evolved and expanded its role in recent years. In 2021, the PLARF launched 135 ballistic missiles for testing and training, more than the rest of the world combined.

The PLARF today controls both strategic nuclear missiles and conventional missiles. This dual capability allows China to project power and maintain a credible deterrence posture at multiple levels of conflict. The PLARF’s nuclear arsenal consists of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) like the DF-41, which can strike and destroy targets across the globe, including the United States. The PLARF also controls and operates tactical missile systems like the DF-21D, known as the “carrier killer,” designed to China with a significant anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capability. The DF-21D incorporates advanced guidance systems, including satellite navigation, radar, and optical sensors, to accurately locate and track its targets. It has the capability to target and potentially neutralise high-value naval assets like aircraft carriers in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Strategic Support Force (SSF) is a key component of China’s military modernisation efforts. The theatre command-level organisation was established in 2015 as part of broader military reforms initiated by President Xi Jinping to centralize the PLA’s strategic space, cyberspace, electronic information, communications as well as psychological warfare missions and capabilities. The SSF is responsible for offensive and defensive cyber operations and plays a critical role in China’s cyber warfare strategy. It is responsible for protecting China’s cyber infrastructure while conducting cyber espionage and cyber-attacks against adversaries. The SSF focuses on electronic warfare, aiming to disrupt enemy communications and radar systems while protecting China’s electronic assets. The SSF oversees China’s military space capabilities, including satellite operations, space-based reconnaissance, and missile early warning systems. The SSF is also responsible for information operations, including psychological warfare and propaganda to influence perception and decision-making in peace and conflict scenarios.

The Joint Logistic Support Force (JLSF) created as part of President Xi Jinping’s military reform initiatives in 2016, aims to streamline logistics operations, reduce redundancy, and ensure rapid and reliable support for PLA operations. The JLSF is geared to provide efficient and coordinated logistical support for the PLA’s army, navy, air force, and rocket force both in war and peace.  The JLSF oversees the procurement, storage, and distribution of essential supplies, including fuel, ammunition, food, and medical supplies. The JLSF manages fleets of trucks, trains, ships, and aircraft, and coordinates with civilian transportation networks for transportation of troops, equipment, and supplies. The JLSF manages maintenance and repair facilities for military equipment and vehicles. Another key function of the JLSF is to provide comprehensive medical support by operating field hospitals, medical evacuation units, and ensuring the availability of medical supplies to support combat operations.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is poised to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2027. It is a significant milestone for China, as it aligns with President Xi Jinping’s ambitious goals for military modernisation and reform. The PLA’s 100th anniversary is a pivotal moment for China to showcase its military prowess and assert its influence on the global stage

PLA 100th anniversary in 2027

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is poised to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2027. It is a significant milestone for China, both symbolically and strategically, as it aligns with President Xi Jinping’s ambitious goals for military modernisation and reform. The PLA’s centenary marks a critical juncture for assessing the achievements and future trajectory of China’s armed forces.

The PLA’s 100th anniversary in 2027 represents not only a historic milestone but also a pivotal moment for China to showcase its military prowess and ambitions to enhance its national security and assert its influence on the global stage.

PLA’s growing influence – implications for India

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) modernisation and 100th anniversary goals have significant implications for India due to several reasons:

Military Capabilities

PLA modernisation, especially its advancements in technology, equipment, and training, could enhance its military capabilities, potentially impacting the regional balance of power and India’s strategic calculations.

Border Disputes

India and China have longstanding border disputes, and any enhancement in PLA’s capabilities could affect the dynamics of these disputes and India’s border security concerns.

Strategic Influence

China’s military modernisation is not limited to its immediate borders but extends to its broader geopolitical ambitions, including its presence in the Indian Ocean region, which could be of concern to India.

Regional Stability

A more modernised and assertive PLA could impact regional stability, potentially affecting India’s security environment and its relationships with other countries in the region.

Diplomatic Relations

India’s response to PLA modernisation and its 100th anniversary would likely be a factor in its overall diplomatic relations with China and other countries in the region, potentially influencing its strategic partnerships and alliances.

What India needs to do to counter China?

To counter China’s growing influence and military capabilities, India could consider the following options:

  • Improving training and modernising of Indian armed forces, to strengthen their deterrence capabilities
  • Develop infrastructure along the border to effectively improve India’s border management, mobility of troops, and ability to respond to Chinese encroachments.
  • Strengthen diplomatic ties with countries facing the brunt of Chinese aggression to counter Chinese influence in the region.
  • Diversify trade and reduce economic dependence on China to counter Chinese arm-twisting
  • Strengthening partnerships with countries in the Indo-Pacific region through initiatives like the Quad (India, US, Japan, Australia) to enhance India’s national security and counterbalance China’s influence in the region.
  • Improve cybersecurity and information warfare capabilities to counter Chinese propaganda and disinformation campaigns.
  • Strengthen defence and security partnerships with countries like the US, Japan, Australia, and ASEAN nations to raise concerns and build consensus on issues of mutual concern.
  • Maintain a balanced approach in relations with China, engaging when necessary but also being prepared to push back against aggression.

It’s important for India to pursue these strategies carefully, considering its own capabilities, the evolving geopolitical landscape, and the need to maintain stability in the region. By pursuing these strategies, India can better position itself to protect its interests and maintain stability in the region amidst China’s rising influence.