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) have been converted into five Theater Commands (TC) Northern, Southern, Central, Eastern and Western. Space, Cyber and Electronic warfare has been consolidated under the Strategic Support Force. 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. 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.
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 very similar structure role, capability and equipment of Russian Brigade Tactical Groups (BTG) which have been deployed in Ukraine. Similarly, they have copied Russian move of downsizing too. Latter had removed 2 lakh posts from it’s officer corps and China removed 3 lakh, 1.7 lakh of which were officers. PLA has also invested heavily in it’s 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 modeled 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 Army. Three Airborne Divisions (43rd, 44th and 45th) have been reorganised into 15th Airborne Corps under PLA Air Force with regiments converted into brigades. Marine Corps is expected to increase five times to one lakh troops in six brigades from around twenty thousand troops in two brigades.
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 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.
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 Chinese president over the military and reducing the influence of powerful generals. Many senior officials have been removed and persecuted on corruption charges. How will Chinese manage all this in future remains to be seen. Chinese military structure now includes the following :
- Logistical Support: Overall logistics command
- Political Work: Political control through commissars.
- Joint Staff: Operational planning, logistics and strategy,
- Training & Administration: Training command.
- Equipment Development: Technological R&D, acquisition & maintenance.
- National Defence Mobilisation Development: Management & mobilisation of reserve forces.
- Politics & Law: Military law & governance.
- Science & technology: Development and liaising with civil scientific fields
- Discipline Inspection: Organisational cohesiveness.
- General Office
- International Cooperation
- Reform & Organisation Structure
- Strategic Planning
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.
CHINESE THEATER COMMANDS
1. WESTERN THEATER COMMAND
AREA OF OPERATIONS:
LAND: Sichuan, Chongqing and Tibet. India, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan borders.
MARITIME: None. Naval conflict would be handled through Southern?? TC’s Naval Fleet.
- Major focus on India. This seems to be the only TC which still retains some divisions. 2 to 2.35 lakh troops from border defence units and regular army.
- 5-6 CBAs deployed in Depsang, Galwan, Hot Spring, Pangong Tso, Demchok and Chumar sectors.
- Tibet Military Region (TMR) comes under PLA’s Ground Forces Command instead of Western TC
- 76th Group Army, Xining, Qinghai Province (Former 21st Group Army)
- 77th Group Army, Changzhou City, Sichuan. (Former 13th Group Army)
- 4th Motorised Infantry Division, Xinjiang MD
- 6th Highland Mechanised Infantry Division, Depsang
- 8th Motorised Infantry (Combined Arms??) Division, Xinjiang MD
- 11th Motorised Infantry Division, Xinjiang MD
- 16th Fighter Brigade,Yinchuan, Ningxia. Ürümqi Base
- 112th Fighter Brigade. Malan, Xinjiang. Ürümqi Base
- 178th UAV Brigade??
- 36th Bomber Division?? Wugong and Lintong Airbases
- 108th Air Regiment
- 4th Transport Division
- 10th Air Regiment,
- 11th Air Regiment,
- 12th Air Regiment,
2. SOUTHERN THEATER COMMAND.
AREA OF OPERATIONS:
LAND: Hunan, Guangxi, Hainan, Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau. Laos and Myanmar borders.
MARITIME: South China Sea
Rocket Force’s 61 Base (Formerly 51 Base) is one of biggest bases for conventional missiles, most or all of which will be assigned to Eastern TC. But control of nuclear missiles will remain under direct control of CMC. It will support Eastern TC in Taiwan theater
- 74th Group Army (Former 41st Group Army)
- 75th Group Army (Former 42nd Group Army)
NAVY: South Sea Fleet
- 4th Fighter Brigade, Foshan, Guangdong. Nanning Base.
- 5th Fighter Brigade, Guilin, Guanxi. Nanning Base.
- 6th Fighter Brigade, Suixi, Guangdong. Nanning Base.
- 23rd Bomber Brigade. Leiyang, Hunan??
- 25th Fighter Brigade, Shantou, Guangdong. Nanning Base.
- 26th Fighter Brigade, Huiyang, Guangdong. Nanning Base.
- 27th Fighter Brigade, Pulandian?Shantou, Guangdong. Nanning Base.
- 52nd Fighter Brigade, Wuhan, Hubei. Nanning Base.
- 54th Fighter Brigade, Changsha, Hunan. Nanning Base.
- 96th Fighter Brigade, Dazu, Chongqing. Nanning Base.
- 98th Fighter Brigade, Chongqing. Nanning Base.
- 99th Fighter Brigade, Chongqing . Nanning Base.
- 8th Bomber Division??
- 130th Fighter Brigade, Mengzi, Yunnan. Nanning Base.
- 131st Fighter Brigade, Luliang, Shanxi. Nanning Base.
- 13th Transport Division
- 20th Special Missions Division
- Unmanned Attack Brigade, Yangtang??
- Transport & SAR Brigade. Guangzhou
- Independent Helicopter Regiment. Hong Kong
- UAV Battalion
3. CENTRAL THEATER COMMAND.
AREA OF OPERATIONS:
LAND: Beijing, Hebei, Shanxi and Tianjin.
MARITIME: South China Sea
It has no naval fleet, but controls a few naval training and aviation bases.
- 81st Group Army (Former 65th Group Army)
- 82nd Group Army (Former 38th Group Army)
- 83rd Group Army (Former 54th Group Army)
- 3rd (I) Combined Arms Brigade (Former 3rd Motorised Infantry Brigade of 1st GA
- 112nd (I) Mechanised Infantry Division (Formerly with 1st GA, operates Type-99A tanks)
- Decommissioned: 20th and 27th Group Army
- 19th Fighter Brigade. Jining, Shandong. Datong base.
- 43rd Fighter Brigade. Datong, Shanzi. Datong base.
- 44th Fighter Brigade. Hohhot, Inner Mongolia. Datong base.
- 53rd Fighter Brigade. Hubei. Nanning base.
- 55th Fighter Brigade. Jining, Shandong. Wuhan base.
- 56th Fighter Brigade. Zhengzhou, Henan. Wuhan base.
- 70th Fighter Brigade. Zunhua, Hebei. Wuhan base.
- 71st Fighter Brigade. Xishan, Beijing. Wuhan base.
- 72nd Fighter Brigade. Tianjin. Wuhan base.
- 43rd Multirole Brigade
- 44th Multirole Brigade
4. NORTHERN THEATER COMMAND.
AREA OF OPERATIONS:
LAND: Jilin, Heilongjiang and Shenyang and Inner Mongolia.
MARITIME: Bay of Korea
- 78th Group Army (Former 16th Group Army)
- 79th Group Army (Former 39th Group Army)
- 80th Group Army (Former 26th Group Army)
NAVY: North Sea Fleet
- 1st Attack Brigade. Anshan, Liaoning. Dalian Base.
- 2nd Attack Brigade. Chifeng, Inner Mongolia. Dalian Base.
- 3rd Attack Brigade. Anshan, Liaoning. Dalian Base.
- 15th Attack Brigade. Weifang, Shandong. Jinan Base.
- 31st Attack Brigade. Siping, Jilin. Dalian Base.
- 32nd Attack Brigade. Dalian, Liaodong. Dalian Base.
- 34th Fighter Brigade. Gongzhuling, Jilin. Jinan Base.
- 35st Fighter Brigade. Qihe, Shandong. Jinan Base.
- 36th Fighter Brigade. Gaomi, Shandong. Jinan Base.
- 57th Fighter Brigade. Shanqiu, Henan. Jinan Base.
- 61st Fighter Brigade. Yanji, Jilin
- 63rd Fighter Brigade. Mudanjiang, Heilongjiang. Dalian Base.
- 16th Special Missions Division
5. EASTERN THEATER COMMAND.
AREA OF OPERATIONS:
LAND: Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui, Fujian and Jianxi
MARITIME: East China Sea and Taiwan.
- Rocket Force’s 61 Base (Formerly 51 Base) is one of biggest bases for conventional missiles, most or all of which will be assigned to Eastern TC. But control of nuclear missiles will remain under direct control of CMC.
- East Fleet Commander will serve as deputy theater commander and commander of all naval forces in Eastern TC.
- 71st Group Army (Former 12th Group Army)
- 72nd Group Army (Former 1st Group Army)
- 73rd Group Army (Former 31st Group Army)
NAVY: East Sea Fleet
- 10th Bomber Division.
- 7th Fighter Brigade. Wuhu, Anhui. Shanghai base.
- 8th Fighter Brigade. Changxing, Chejiang. Shanghai base.
- 9th Fighter Brigade. Wuhu, Anhui. Shanghai base.
- 40th Fighter Brigade. Nanchang, Jiangxi. Fuzhou base.
- 41st Fighter Brigade. Wuyishan, Fujian. Fuzhou base.
- 42nd Fighter Brigade. Zhangshu, Jiangxi. Fuzhou base.
- 26th Special Mission Division
- 83rd Attack Brigade. Hangzhou, Zhejiang. Shanghai base.
- 180th UAV?. Liangcheng, Fujiang. Fuzhou base.
Following Group Armies have been disbanded:
- 14th Group Army
- 20th Group Army
- 27th Group Army
- 40th Group Army
- 47th Group Army