The Chinese Way
Dr Manoj Joshi on
Extracted from his lecture given at the College of Air Warfare (CAW), Dr Manoj Joshi analyses the Chinese approach to ‘ Transformation and Jointness’ with the PLA’s shift from being a continental Army to an integrated joint force capable of operations within and without China’s borders. India’s experience with the A&N Command has certainly offered an opportunity to experiment in this realm.
Transformation and jointness are two concepts that need examination, the first obviously being a more expansive concept incorporating concepts, doctrines, equipment and organisation. Rightly understood, military transformation is less about emerging technologies, hardware and software, and far more about the mindset of military and civilian professionals dealing with defence.
The term ‘jointness’, means different things to different people; in the US Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, ‘joint’ is as in any activity, operation or organisation in which elements of two military departments participate. In this analysis the term is used to mean the effective integration of the combat capabilities of the three services. In the United States, the evolution of this ‘effective integration’, as well as the mind set among military officers who facilitate it, has progressed unevenly since the passage of the Goldwater Nichols Act of 1986.
America now fights wars almost solely under joint commands. Most recently and vividly, this was seen in the integration of combat effects in Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition, there were operations in the so-called global war on terrorism. What these operations revealed that from the top to the tactical level, there was a great deal of interoperability. I recall an example of an article I read which said that a captain seeking a strike against a particular target could expect his needs to be met through an air force jet flying overhead, an Army ATACMS missile or a cruise missile fired by a Navy ship or submarine.
There also have been less pronounced but consistent successes toward jointness made in peacetime—the steady evolution in joint doctrine and exercises, for one example. But it is also the case that jointness has failed to evolve in other areas in which it was anticipated and intended by the framers of the Goldwater-Nichols Act. There are still only few standing joint forces ready for joint deployment and employment and, rather, forces are, by and large, still assembled only at the time of deployment. Further, there has been only glacial movement toward such joint force.
The Goldwater Nichols perspective was to leverage the capabilities of individual services to meet the requirements of the joint force. While the challenge now is to move towards a joint interdependency where, as the Chinese see it, 1+1+1+1 will be greater than 4, or in other words, service capabilities are magnified through integration.
Integrated Joint Operations (IJO)
Combined arms operations have been taking place since WW II where the services broadly tended to fight their battles separately. Of course the value of ‘ coordinated joint operations’ was well understood and most of our military exercises have sought to practice these. The shift now is towards ‘integrated joint operations’. In the former, services conduct operations towards the same operational goals but with limited interactions at the lower echelons. But IJO is what countries like the US, and now China, believe is vital for winning wars. IJO is all about highly integrated and networked operations and joint force groupings down to the tactical levels.
Fielding an integrated C4ISR architecture is the key to IJO. This is not a simple step as it requires effective integration of systems and training of operators, as well as commanders at the campaign and tactical levels.
The application of IT to weapons and equipment– what the Chinese call informationisation– requires a change in all aspects of the military : strategy, operations, tactics, organisation, equipment, force structure, training and exercises.
The US and China believe that IJO are a more advanced form of Joint Operations where modular organisations can provide the ideal force mix from existing organisational divisions which can be integrated through joint command and a communications systems architecture.
The Goldwater Nichols Defence Reorganisation Act of 1986 focused a great deal of attention on joint officer management policies so as to focus on the quality and capabilities of officers serving on joint staffs and joint military operations. There is however a debate as to the extent to which jointness can be spread. In an influential article in 2003, Don Snider argued that there was need for further legislation to create a new joint warfare profession, a new joint doctrine and education command and a new joint personnel command. While Michael A Coss argued that the US already had a joint profession and the processes to develop and manage the body of joint knowledge, in his view, the process of diffusion of jointness has to be done with the view that future conflicts required decentralised operations where interdependent joint capabilities and associated forces would hold the key to victory.
In essence, there has to be an understanding that service identities must remain strong because they are the core of the expertise, which is required in ever greater measure in the modern battlefield but their perspective needs to be joint to not only meet the new warfighting challenges but to magnify the capabilities.
What is happening in China
The first Gulf war triggered the interest of the PLA on the RMA based on precision strike and IJO capability, beginning as an experiment and to exercise individual components of jointness. Finally, after many stumbles, China is moving towards a military transformation based on the PLA analysis of IT- driven revolution in military affairs. This has arisen because of the awareness that the many traditional strategic and operational concepts and practices must be revised as potential threats and economic imperatives that China confronts have changed. An important aspect of this was contained in the China Military Strategy document of 2015 which declared that “China is a major maritime as well as a land country.”
The other imperative has been the growth of technology : new missile, naval, air, as well as cyber and electronic warfare capabilities which demand integrated command and control. The reforms undertaken by Xi Jinping are aimed at accelerating the long- term military modernisation programmes that had been slowed down by inertia and widespread corruption.
This has involved new multi-service joint headquarter organisations at the national (strategic) level and the theatre (operational) level. The former is the new Central Military Commission which has folded the erstwhile General Departments into fifteen departments, institutions and commissions (three commissions on discipline inspection, politics and Law, S&T; five institutions on strategic planning, reform and organisational structure, international military cooperation, audit, agency for office administration; seven departments including general office, joint staff, political work, logistics support, equipment development, national defence mobilisation and training and administration).
This new ‘flatter’ command structure of the CMC provides greater political oversight over PLA affairs. These new headquarters will seek to build an Integrated Joint Operations (IJO) system and enhance the PLA’s ability, in the words of Xi Jinping, “to fight and win” an ‘informationised’ war.
The Theatre Commands which will, through the Joint Operations Command Centre, be directly commanded by Xi Jinping, are now responsible for the planning of joint operations in a particular zone, and have the responsibility for the joint training of the forces, keeping in mind the potential joint missions they could be entrusted with.
Each of the four service HQ—the new Army HQ, that of the Air Force, Navy and the PLA Rocket Force—will supervise their force development and training.
The reforms which have actually led to a reduction of the PLA strength by 300,000, also stresses the enhancement of the professional military education, joint training, of NCOs and so on. The current reforms are aimed at operationalising a joint operations doctrine through a joint command system. This involves enhancement of joint officer development and improving joint training, doctrines, tactics, logistics and standardisation and working out procedures in establishing joint command procedures to support the weapon and equipment modernisation. This cycle is expected to continue till 2020.
The three-stage phase actually involves a long and complex process that would go on till the middle of the 21st century. The PLA’s joint operations research and experimentation has revealed weakness in its military training institutes, joint proficiency of its officer cadre, joint training, doctrine and tactics and logistics, and command structures, all of which are being addressed in the current reform.
According to analyst Kevin McCauley, what the PLA is seeking to do is to successfully implement, what he says, is a system of systems operational capability which would synergise the combat effectiveness of the various component systems : weapons, equipment, units beyond their individual capabilities. In other words, this system of system operational capabilities based on information systems is viewed as the key enabler for IJOs.
The PLA is developing a theoretical basis for a new joint operations doctrine : integrated joint operations which is aimed at enhancing its capabilities to execute contingency operations in potential crises. Developing this capability is slowly but surely moving the PLA away from the Army-dominated system.
In essence, the development of such ‘ system of systems’ operations and IJO are vital for the PLA’s transformation. System of system operations are essentially system war fighting capability based on information systems. Success here requires the development of an integrated C4ISR system linking the services in a joint operations command system down to the tactical level, realistic training, battle labs and simulation centres for experimentation and innovation in joint operations and tactics, better military academic institutions,
optimisation of the force structure and the creation of new type of operational forces.
The PLA has been experimenting since 2009 with ‘Jointness’ in the erstwhile Jinan Military region which covers the north eastern part of the country and includes the Shandong peninsula. They have validated various ideas and concepts for implanting the IJO system. An important element of this is to train a new generation of joint operations commanders and staff officers and evolve mechanisms to select, train and appoint joint operation commanders. Simultaneously, the PLA educational systems and universities need to adapt their curriculum and student composition to prepare officers for the joint assignments.
By 2020, one will get a clearer idea of whether the PLA moves have been successful and the one indicator of this is the proportion of non-Army senior officers who get the new billets in the Theatre commands. Already the Southern Theatre Command has a naval commander, Vice Admiral Yuan Yubai and we may soon see an Air Force officer heading the Eastern Theatre which is oriented towards Taiwan and Japan.
The shift of the PLA from being a continental army to an integrated joint force capable of operations within and without China’s borders could take at least a generation. The senior military leadership understands the challenges, even though there is some unease among the younger officers as they confront a career which could be quite different from the one they envisaged.
In India the three services have their distinct cultures which go back a long time and all of them have tended to fight their fight separately. Not for nothing did the Army term its campaign in Kargil as Operation Vijay and the Air Force this as Operation Safed Sagar. But as the Karachi operations revealed in 1971, the battle space could get crowded with overlapping operations. Subsequently, this challenge has only grown and the Army and the Air Force, for example, learnt to coordinate their air and ground attacks so that there was no overlap.
Various exercises have also revealed that both services saw jointness as a means to an effective end. Where the US developed an entire doctrine, the Air Land Doctrine to take on the Soviets in Europe, in India the coordination came sans any doctrine since there was no institutional or legislative imperative to change. We have, of course, seen a joint doctrine emerge in 2016, but this appears to be severely flawed.
Not that there have been no efforts : various commissions have including the Arun Singh Committee which was set up in the specific context of the financial crisis of 1990-91. The idea of the Committee which was called the ‘ Committee on Defence Expenditure’, was to propose ways of managing India’s security challenges within the budgets available. In line with this, Arun Singh proposed major changes, including the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff and the move towards joint theatre
commands. However, this report never saw light of the day, leave alone move towards any kind of implementation.
The Group of Ministers proposals for reform in 2001 was led by the top-most ministers of the Union Cabinet, indeed, they were all members of the CCS. However, they were assisted by specialist task forces and the one on military issues was headed by Arun Singh. This, too, proposed the creation of a CDS as a starting point of a process of creating joint war fighting capabilities.
The Naresh Chandra Committee was an expert committee which also recommended a CDS-like appointment : a Permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee: He would be selected from the three chiefs and have chief of staff from another service; He would coordinate and prioritise the 15 year LTIPP, the 5-year Plan and the Annual acquisition plan of the three Services; He would administer the tri-service institutions; He would command the A&N Command, Special Operations forces and those forces for out-of-area contingencies (expeditionary forces); He would have administrative control over the SFC, and be an invitee to the NSC and CCS meetings; He would plan joint service exercises to lay the foundations for operational, logistics and command control of future operational contingencies.
Such exercises would serve as proving ground for the Integrated or Theatre Command concept, and he would also push the integration of common functions now performed by individual services such as logistics, training and administrative areas. He would be responsible for the preparation of the annual Defence Operations Status Report and the idea of joint logistics. Further, among the tasks of the CDS would be to begin experimentation for implementing the Theatre Command idea.
Experience of the A&N Command
The Andaman & Nicobar Command has certainly offered an opportunity to experiment, especially on issues like joint logistics, joint campaign formations, joint tactical formations, refining joint command and coordination procedures and fielding an integrated command system. Yet, the first such exercise took place only recently ! The ANC has suffered neglect, again because of turf wars, lack of resources and general bureaucratic apathy and the fact that it does not have an “owner”. However, there now seems to be a shift underway.
Implementation of an advanced integrated joint operations doctrine is the key to our ability to employ modern weapons and equipment, form and employ expeditionary forces at the campaign and tactical level to generate increased combat effectiveness to fight and win wars in South Asia and the IOR.
The deployment of integrated command, control, communications, computer, intelligence and surveillance and reconnaissance C4ISR will be foundation of the integrated joint operations capability (IJO).
Challenges towards creating an Integrated Joint Operations capability are of course manifest and require : Integrating operational theories of the different services. Standardising the joint operations orders and procedures which will also take into account the level of independence of the component services The establishment of a joint command structure with clearly defined authority. Creating an integrated C4ISR architecture going down to the tactical level. Above all, there is the need to integrate knowledge by having trained personnel at all levels of joint command and operations with extensive knowledge of the operations and capabilities of all services at all times.
New Flat Command Structure from PLA System of Systems Operations : Enabling Joint Operations (as per analyst Kevin McCauley)
The Chinese SH-5 amphibious maritime patrol aircraft has been developed by the Harbin Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation (HAMC) for maritime warfare, SAR and transportation of key stores to ships at sea
Indian Naval landing craft disgorging troops and exercises in the Andamans