Chinese Armed Forces ORBAT Part 1 :Reorganisation of Chinese Military

Updated: Oct 2022

All data plus some more in e-book format: Early access & some extras on Patreon.

 In September 2015, General Logistic Department (GLD), the General Staff Department, General Political Department, and General Armaments Department were reorganised into seven departments, three commissions and five affiliated bodies.  Chinese military structure now includes the following :

7 Departments:

  • Logistical Support:  
  • Political Work.
  • Joint Staff
  • Training & Administration
  • Equipment Development.
  • National Defence Mobilisation Development
  • General Office

3 Commissions

  • Politics & Law
  • Science & technology
  • Discipline Inspection 

6 Offices

  • General Office 
  • Administration 
  • Auditing 
  • International Cooperation 
  • Reform & Organisation Structure 
  • Strategic Planning 
New SectionMandateBadge
CMC General Office. Processes all CMC communications, meetings and conveys orders to other subordinate sections.
Joint Staff Department.It is meant for combat planning, control and support. It is responsible for formulating military strategy, joint training, capability assessment and general combat preparedness.
Political Work DepartmentIt is responsible for human resources, political education and organisational work related to CCP’s military control of PLA
Logistic Support DepartmentIt is responsible for all the logistics support required for military, policy study, standards setting, inspection and supervision.
Equipment Development DepartmentIt takes care of R&D, testing, procurement, management & construction of military equipment.
Training Management DepartmentMilitary training and troop management and deployment. 
National Defence Mobilisation Department.It is for managing provincial military assets and raising & mobilisation of reserve forces.
Discipline Inspection CommissionFor maintaining the dual command system of commissars.
Political and Law CommissionMilitary’s political and legal tasks including law enforcement.
Science and Technology CommissionDefence R&D and integrated development of civilian and military technology
Strategic Planning OfficeImproving strategic planning and coordinating reforms
Reform and Formation OfficePlanning and implementing defence reform measures
International Military Cooperation OfficeIt’s responsible for relations with foreign militaries and events such as military exchanges, exercises etc.
Audit OfficeMilitary audit and supervision, organising and guiding the audit of the whole military
General Affairs AdministrationManagement and support of CMC’s subordinate units

Chairman of CMC, who is also the President of China Xi Jinping now has direct command and leadership over the entirety of Chinese armed forces through this structure.Under the new structure, the Armies will have Combined Arms Brigades and a few support brigades. Each TC has ground and air forces under its command in addition to conventional missile units. Northern, Eastern and Southern commands also have naval units.

In 2017, 18 Group Armies (GA, similar to Corps in other militaries) were reorganised into 13 GAs. Air Force, Navy, Rocket forces are being included in these new GAs under new designations. Previously 7 Military Regions(MR) marked in map below, have been converted into five Theatre Commands (TC) Northern, Southern, Central, Eastern and Western. Space, Cyber and Electronic warfare have been consolidated under the new Strategic Support Force. 

Image: Older Chinese Military Regions
Image: Older Chinese Military Regions

Each new TC is supposed to have no more than 3000 staff. Northern TC includes the entirety of Shenyang MR and some parts of Beijing MR. Central TC includes the remaining Beijing and Jinan MRs. Additionally, around 60,000 officers have been retired from Jinan MR. Nanjing and Guangzhou MRs have been renamed Southern and Eastern TCs. The biggest TC is the Western which was formed by merging Lanzhou and Chengdu MRs. 

Image: Chinese Military Command Structure
Image: Chinese Military Command Structure

Divisions have been abolished and each TC Commander directly commands Combined Arms Brigades (CAB). Western MR is one exception which still has some divisions under its control in addition to CABs.

IMAGE:  Joint Operations Command for Theatres
IMAGE:  Joint Operations Command for Theatres

MRs were responsible for a wide range of combat and non-combat functions such as management, command, peacetime operations and force building. Additionally, in case of a war, command staff drawn from Beijing would be in command. New TCs are responsible for only training and joint operations. Rest of the functions have been given to other organisations. Among a few other things, this allows the Central Military Commission (CMC) to have direct authority over Chinese armed forces. Many of these reforms seem to be based on changing American and Russian war doctrines. Some of PLA’s CABs have a very similar structure, role, capability and equipment of Russian Brigade Tactical Groups (BTG) which have been deployed in Ukraine. Similarly, they have copied the Russian move of downsizing too. Latter had removed 2 lakh posts from its officer corps and China removed 3 lakh, 1.7 lakh of which were officers. PLA has also invested heavily in its Special Operations Force (PLASOF) which is perhaps based on Russian experience in Ukraine and Afghanistan and that of Americans in Iraq, Afghanistan and a few other places.  

Chinese have also modelled some of their CABs on American Brigade Combat Teams with lots of emphasis on mobile self-contained units capable of undertaking independent operations overseas. Major emphasis has been to increase the role of branches other than the Army. Three Airborne Divisions (43rd, 44th and 45th) have been reorganised into 15th Airborne Corps under the PLA Air Force with regiments converted into brigades. The Marine Corps is expected to increase five times to  one lakh troops in six brigades from around twenty thousand troops in two brigades.

IMAGE:   Chinese Theatre Command Geography
IMAGE:   Chinese Theatre Command Geography

PLA Rocket Force and Strategic Support Force (SSF) were raised  in December 2015. Former seems to be a renaming and reorganisation of 2nd Artillery with direct control of nuclear assets under the Central Military Commission headed by the President. It is likely that TC will have control of some conventional missiles. SSF’s roles include cyber, electronic and high technology warfare in addition to R&D and technical reconnaissance.

IMAGE:  Badges of PLA Army, Rocket Force and Strategic Support Force
IMAGE:  Badges of PLA Army, Rocket Force and Strategic Support Force

There have been some reports of unrest among Chinese veterans and serving personnel due to these reforms. Many of these reforms are political in nature meant to strengthen control of the Chinese president over the military and reduce the influence of powerful generals. Many senior officials have been removed and persecuted on corruption charges. How will the Chinese manage all this in future remains to be seen.

Military Unit Cover Designator

All PLA military and support units use a numbering system called Military Unit Cover Designator (MUCD, 部队代号) for identification purposes. Another system called True Unit Designator (TUD, 部队番号) is used internally.  There have been at least four changes in the numbering system since the 1950s and most units were assigned new MUCDs at each update.

Following MUCD system was used from 1975 to 2000:

  • 32/83xxx = Nanjing MR
    •  (32xxx = Fuzhou MR 1975-1985)
    •  (83xxx = Nanjing MR 1975-1985)
  • 34/53/54xxx = Guangzhou MR
    •  (33/34xxx = Wuhan MR 1975-1985)
  • 35/56xxx = Chengdu MR
    •  (351xx-355xx = Kunming MR 1975-1985)
  • 36/84xxx = Lanzhou MR
  • 37/38xxx = Navy
  • 39/86/87xxx = Air Force
  • 51/52xxx = Beijing MR
  • 546/55xxx = Jinan MR
  • 57/58/88xxx = General Staff Department
  • 59xxx = General Logistics Department
  • 80xxx = Second Artillery Force
  • 81/82xxx = Shenyang MR
  • 89xxx = General Armament Department

After downsizing and restructuring in  2000, following system stayed in use till 2017:

  • 61xxx = General Staff Department
  • 62xxx = General Logistics Department
  • 63xxx = General Armament Department
  • 65xxx = Shenyang MR
  • 66xxx = Beijing MR
  • 68/69xxx = Lanzhou MR
  • 71/72xxx = Jinan MR
  • 73xxx = Nanjing MR
  • 75/76xxx = Guangzhou MR
  • 77/78xxx = Chengdu MR
  • 91/92xxx = Navy
  • 93/94/95xxx = Air Force
  • 96xxx = Second Artillery Force

In this older system, MUCDs followed rule of 3. The MUCD of division was GA number multiplied by 3 and that of regiment by multiplying division number by 3.  For example, 55th Army controlled 163rd, 164th, 165th divisions and a few artillery regiments. 163rd Division controlled the 487th, 488th and 489th regiments. There seem to be some exceptions to the rule, but the system was followed for most part.

After 2017, a new MUCD system was put into use. New Group Armies were assigned numbers from 71 to 83. Yet many units still retain their old MUCDs. The new system is still opaque and will need some time to be deciphered.

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