The People’s Liberation Army’s Evolving Close Air Support Capability (Kevin McCauley) (January 2024)

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This monograph examines PLA close air firepower support based on authoritative PLA sources including internal publications, as well as PRC aviation industry research. The PLA Air Force (PLAAF), Army Aviation, and unmanned aerial vehicle close air firepower support, command and control, and the firepower support process are examined.

People’s Liberation Army Promoting Battlefield Commander’s Initiative

Diagram outlining PLA Command and Control Network

Diagram outlining PLA Command and Control Network

“Mission command advocates fully leveraging the initiative of frontline commanders in a battlefield full of uncertainty and chaos to gain decision-making advantages.”

People’s Liberation Army (PLA) battlefield commanders have historically been constrained by the PLA’s preference for centralized over decentralized command authority.[i] However, a recent article from the PLA Daily, the official newspaper of the PLA, addresses the need to move from centralized to mission command to allow for greater initiative by operational and tactical commanders. Doing so would provide the PLA with greater flexibility and adaptability to address rapidly changing battlefield situations and opportunities. The articles argues that the PLA must “learn from the relevant concepts of mission command, optimize and improve the original command mode, and build a command mode suitable for future information-based and intelligent warfare.”

The article describes that mission command—a concept employed by the U.S. military—leverages frontline commanders’ initiative on uncertain and chaotic battlefields due to their more realistic awareness of on-the-ground realities.[ii] Mission command preserves the superior commander’s operational intent, guidance, tasks, and resources while allowing flexibility to the frontline commander to accomplish the mission. As it notes, “it is necessary to create an open architecture to enhance the system’s ability to flexibly assemble and adapt to changes.” Advancements in command-and-control systems and intelligent decision-making technologies will improve the ability of frontline commanders to make informed decisions. Allowing subordinate commanders to Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA) will not only facilitate rapid decision-making but provide for more resilient command if communications with the superior headquarters are disrupted. The author states that mission command provides for greater decentralization of decision-making creating a stronger and more ubiquitous command-and-control system.


Fie Paiguo, “从集中式指挥转向任务式指挥——美空军大力推动任务式指挥透视 (From Centralized Command to Mission Command – The U.S. Air Force Vigorously Promotes the Mission Command Perspective),” PLA Daily (official newspaper of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army), 24 August 2023.

Learn from relevant operational concepts to optimize and improve the command-and-control organizational model. Under the conditions of modern warfare, it is not easy to organize large-scale, long-term, and high-intensity air operations. If the combat command ability cannot be improved, everything is out of the question. Judging from the development practice of foreign militaries, the contradiction of being constrained by two aspects has become increasingly obvious. First, the operational command and control process is not perfect enough, and the hierarchical command mode is not perfect enough. The second is that the control-based command and control method cannot adapt to modern high-intensity air confrontation. So, facing future wars, how to optimize and improve the command-and-control mode? The effective way is to fully consider the confrontation environments of different intensities, learn from the relevant concepts of mission command, optimize and improve the original command mode, and build a command mode suitable for future information-based and intelligent warfare.Build an open system architecture to lay a solid foundation for the flexible restructuring of the command-and-control system. To achieve mission command, it is necessary to upgrade the command-and-control capabilities of the entire system. On the one hand, it is necessary to create an open architecture to enhance the system’s ability to flexibly assemble and adapt to changes. On the other hand, it is necessary to promote node element transformation and promote the reorganization of digital space combat resources. Realizing the node element of operational entities is to digitize, network, serve, and standardize them, making them easier and more convenient to be called by other platforms.”


[i] For further information on PLA modernization efforts see: Kevin McCauley, “PLA Army Efforts Integrate New Technology and Equipment Into Units,” OE Watch, 08-2022.

[ii] Authoritative PLA publications indicate the need to promote more initiative by commanders, particularly at the tactical level. PLA authors believe this is necessary due to the dynamic and fast pace of modern combat operations as well as the need to take advantage of fleeting, unforeseen battlefield opportunities.

Image Information:

Image: Diagram outlining PLA Command and Control Network.
Source: Liu Xiaoming et al, Battlefield Information Management (战场信息管理), (Beijing: National Defense University Press, 2012), 36

People’s Liberation Army Discusses Low-Altitude Air Control

Soldier from Ukrainian 25th Air Assault Brigade employing Small bomb carrying UAV.

“Low altitude is the “junction” connecting airspace and land. With the rapid development and large-scale application of low-altitude combat equipment such as helicopters, small and medium-sized unmanned aerial vehicles, and cruise missiles, the low-altitude battlefield has become increasingly important, and low-altitude control has become one of the comprehensive dominances that must be seized in future land warfare.”

A recent PLA Daily article discusses the importance of low-altitude air control for ground operations and its difference from traditional concepts of air dominance.[i] The article appears to be influenced by recent conflicts such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Seizing low-altitude air control requires an integrated air defense and distributed, networked, system of systems integrating ground and low-altitude air systems with modular, mobile, multi-domain capabilities.  The importance of seizing low-altitude air control[ii] is based on the large-scale use of small and medium unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), helicopters, and cruise missiles. Traditional air dominance[iii] cannot guarantee low-altitude air control due to the sundry of small arms and short-range systems that threaten low flying airframes. The author argues that traditional air dominance operations are generally more centralized, while low-altitude air control is an ongoing, independent, and decentralized tactical operation that seizes control in a certain location for a limited time. Decentralized low-altitude air defense operations to seize control require accurate intelligence with the capability to distinguish between friend and foe, coordinated communications, and timely warning of air threats.

Achieving the capability to control the low-altitude air space even for short periods will threaten an adversary’s ability to employ UAVs and fixed and rotary winged aviation. The author urges the PLA to accelerate the development of intelligent air control UAVs with swarming capabilities, loitering munitions, detection systems to identify low, slow, micro-targets, and innovative tactics to seize low-altitude air control in the critical place and time to influence ground combat. . The capability to control the low-altitude air space would give the PLA a significant advantage protecting its forces and critical infrastructure.


夺取未来陆战低空制权 (Seize the low-altitude dominance of future land warfare),” PLA Daily (official PRC military newspaper), 23 May 2023.

“Low-altitude control is a relatively independent and decentralized tactical-level space control. Low altitude control cannot be achieved and controlled through a single operation or a stage of centralized air control operations. Seizing low altitude control power will run through the entire process of combat, displaying a “distributed, discrete” form with strong tactical, regional, mobile, and full process characteristics. Even without the guarantee of traditional air supremacy, through active actions, it is possible to seize low-altitude supremacy in a certain area and within a certain time limit, forming a low-altitude combat advantage.

To seize low altitude dominance, we should focus on the characteristics of the struggle for low altitude control, establish the concept of “relying on ground control, dynamic control, precise control, and flexible use of air”, and follow the basic principle of “whoever uses it seizes it, seizes it as needed, and manages it as needed”. By seizing it in combat, maneuvering, and using it, we can respectively seize low-altitude control power in the task area through relatively independent and dispersed low-altitude combat and low-altitude air defense operations. At the same time, it is necessary to dynamically implement low altitude airspace monitoring and management, establish a low altitude multi-means and multi-mode monitoring system, fully grasp low altitude situations, strengthen collaborative communication, accurately distinguish between enemy and friendly platforms, timely warning, quickly strike and destroy enemy air combat equipment and air control equipment, accurately handle our air conflicts, and ensure effective control of low altitude and ultra-low altitude airspace.

The low-altitude power struggle in future intelligent warfare will become more intense. The Army’s field air defense system should continuously improve the comprehensive combat effectiveness of the low-altitude airspace, attach great importance to the construction of a distributed low-altitude operational system of systems based on the network, and rely on the network to build air-ground integration, the combination of detection, attack and defense, and mobility, modular low-altitude operational system of systems. Focus on strengthening the research and development of low-altitude detection and monitoring platforms to achieve rapid network deployment and low-altitude ultra-low-altitude high-sensitivity dynamic monitoring, and improve the ability to detect “low, slow and small” aircraft; accelerate the development of intelligent air-controlling UAVs, loitering missiles, and “swarms” to enrich the air-to-ground and multi-mode guidance, multi-mechanism killing, and multi-domain attack capabilities; Continue to improve the ability to detect and attack low-altitude small and micro targets, accelerate the development of new mechanism combat equipment, and form a low-altitude combat capability that covers multiple levels of campaigns, tactics, and operational units.


[i] For additional information and perspective, see: Thomas Shrimpton, “Chinese Perspective on Manned-Unmanned Coordinated Operations on the Modern Battlefield,” OE Watch, 06-2023.

[ii] The ability to neutralize enemy air defenses and other weapons systems that could attack low flying aircraft, helicopters, UAVs, and cruise missiles would appear difficult to achieve since these weapons would include small arms and short-range gun and missiles systems.

[iii] The PLA defines air dominance or “command of the air” as the Air Force and other services controlling the battlespace for a period of time. Presumably this encompasses offensive and defensive operations, including electronic and information warfare, to neutralize the enemy’s air defense capabilities. The reference to “a period of time” likely indicates the difficulty of sustaining command of the air.

Image Information:

Image: Soldier from Ukrainian 25th Air Assault Brigade employing Small bomb carrying UAV.
Attribution: CC By 4.0

People’s Liberation Army Focusing on Treating Internal Psychological Issues

Chinese soldiers on parade in 2015.

“Psychological service work is a regular basic task in the military, and the psychological health of officers and soldiers directly affects the combat effectiveness of the troops.”

There has been an increase in attention to psychological issues within the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in recent years. It is not clear if this is an indication of increased psychological problems among the troops or simply increased reporting. Some issues involve recruits born as late as 1995 having trouble adjusting to the regimentation of the military, difficult training conditions, and isolated garrison locations.

The military’s approach to psychological problems within its ranks is discussed in a recent PLA Daily article. A brigade in the 74th Group Army in the Southern Theater has an embedded Psychological Service Team, which is a recent development. The counselors, apparently also found at the battalion and company level, seek to identify and help personnel with possible psychological problems.

The chief of the brigade’s combat service planning section reported that all personnel in the unit were psychologically screened. The brigade’s party committee conducted investigations at the battalion and company level to ensure that the psychological counseling was achieving results. The investigation concluded that there was a general lack of attention to mental health, and that problems remained. In response to the investigation, the brigade created a psychological work supervisory mechanism office led by a psychologist and military doctor to provide professional support for the psychological services for the brigade. Psychological issues within the PLA are not isolated to the one brigade. The article recounts similar stories in other units, and psychological stations established in new medical buildings. These efforts have reportedly significantly reduced the rate of mental illness among officers and soldiers. The PLA is concerned that psychological issues in the force during a future high-intensity conflict will adversely affect combat capabilities and contribute to noncombat attrition of the units.


“一个心理服务队的“心力量 (The ‘Heart Power’ of a Psychological Service Team),” PLA Daily (Official PRC Military Newspaper), 31 May 2023.

“…Under the new situation and new tasks, we must raise awareness, improve work guidance, change “passive defense” into “active force”, and effectively improve the psychological immunity of officers and soldiers against negative emotions and mental illness.

The psychological response to wartime stress has a significant impact on non-combat attrition. According to the annual education plan, it is necessary to strengthen the popularization of psychological health knowledge among all officers and soldiers, educate and guide them to face psychological problems, overcome the “disease shame” of turning pale when talking about psychological issues, be good at discovering their psychological problems, actively seek external help, and effectively build a strong psychological defense line; By combining major combat readiness, training, exercises, stationed training, and other tasks, we aim to build a dedicated combat environment, promote advanced models of military training and preparation, strengthen the cultivation of officers and soldiers’ combat spirit, and forge a solid spiritual core.The future war will be a high-end war with high force, high intensity, high confrontation, and high intelligence. The strength of the psychological qualities of officers and soldiers directly affects the success or failure of combat operations. At all levels, it is necessary to actively carry out psychological adjustment and motivation training for personnel at different levels, task situations, and regional environments, under the guidance of a professional psychological backbone, using real-life construction, VR simulation, and other technical means. It is also necessary to rely on facilities and equipment such as psychological behavior training fields to regularly organize military physical fitness and skills coherent training and assessment. At the same time, it is also necessary to combine the execution of major tasks, strictly temper officers and soldiers under similar actual combat conditions, and cultivate their strong psychological endurance.”

Image Information:

Image: Chinese soldiers on parade in 2015.
Attribution: Creative Commons Int

People’s Liberation Army Advancing Expertise in Combat Medical Support

The hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19), top, and the People’s Liberation Army Navy hospital ship Peace Ark (T-AH 866) transit the Pacific Ocean July 22, 2014, during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) in 2014.

“Recently, a practical medical service drill organized by the 961st Hospital of the Joint Logistics Support Force was launched at a field comprehensive training ground.”

Beijing’s ability to successfully treat wounded soldiers and sailors would likely be a factor when deciding to enter into most conflicts. A People’s Liberation Army (PLA) source has stated that China could expect 120,000 casualties in an amphibious invasion of Taiwan. Even such a large projected number of casualties is unlikely to deter the PLA from entering into a conflict when it involves the core issue of Taiwan. As such, the PLA is showing a focus on care for the wounded. Authoritative PLA publications provide detailed information on planned battlefield medical support and evacuation of wounded from the company level back to field hospitals and fixed PLA hospitals.[i]

The 961st Hospital of the Shenyang Joint Logistic Support Center in the Northern Theater Command recently held a battlefield medical drill, according to the first excerpted article from the official PRC military newspaper PLA Daily. Casualties were reported at a frontline unit and a field medical team sent a triage team forward. The triage team used a drone to locate three soldiers with minor injuries and a seriously wounded soldier. Three nurses were sent to the slightly wounded troops, and a doctor, nurse, health worker, and driver were sent to evacuate the seriously injured soldier. The seriously wounded soldier was transported to a field medical aid post, likely at battalion or brigade level, where a serious injury treatment team provided a blood transfusion. The team matched and drew blood for transfusion to the injured at the site when the on-hand supply was depleted.

The second excerpted PLA article, published on the Ministry of Defense website, described the Naval Medical University providing training for maritime medical support. The university sent a medical team to a naval unit in the Eastern Theater Command to research maritime medical support requirements and explore new support methods. The team submitted a report to the university proposing solutions. The university report recommended to regularize sending teams to fleets, increase training, and more timely medical support and delivery of medicines. The university strengthened its links with surface ships, submarines, and naval aviation units to track medical requirements and improve military medical education.

The PLA is serious about treating and evacuating sick and wounded personnel from the battlefield as well as providing maritime medical support.[ii] The PLA is also incorporating unmanned aerial vehicles into medical units to locate wounded on the battlefield. PLA medical universities are working with Naval and tactical units to determine requirements and problem areas in medical support to find solutions. Naval medical support is a key area where the PLA publication cited above notes weaknesses in medical treatment at sea.


“联勤保障部队第961医院组织实战化卫勤演练 (The 961st Hospital of the Joint Logistics Support Force Organizes a Practical Medical Service Drill),” PLA Daily (Official PRC Military Newspaper), 22 May 2023.

 “Saving lives is the core task of the field medical team, “Zhu Siqiang told reporters. During the peacekeeping mission, he encountered multiple times when a blood bank was in urgent need. In such a crisis, on-site blood sampling and emergency treatment were used to save the lives of his comrades. In this drill, they set up a training program for difficult and dangerous situations, which is to strengthen the battlefield awareness and emergency response ability of officers and soldiers and ensure that medical personnel can go, be saved, and be cured at critical moments.

“海军军医大学:学用结合,锤炼海上卫勤保障精兵 (Naval Medical University: Combining Learning with Practice, Training Elite Soldiers in Maritime Medical Support),” Ministry of Defense website, 22 May 2023.

“In recent days, a group of members from the Party Committee of the Naval Medical University led a medical team to research medical support needs at the grassroots level in conjunction with the “Delivery of Health to Sea” activity, such as going to high mountains and islands, boarding ship positions, and visiting hospital departments…We need to closely monitor the new challenges and requirements posed by the transformation and development of the Navy for medical support, ensuring that wherever ships navigate, our medical support follows suit; wherever Navy forces are deployed, our medical support follows suit. In the theme of education, the leadership of the school’s party committee and government officials read the original text to understand the principles, follow up on the spirit of Chairman Xi Jinping’s latest important speech, and guide officers and soldiers to love the navy’s construction and dedicating oneself to the navy, promoting the high-quality development of naval medical support work in the new era, and ensuring solid results in theme education.”


[i] 全军后勤学术研究中心 (All Army Logistics Academic Research Center), 作战后勤保障 (Operational Logistics Support), (no publishing data), February 2017, this is an internal publication to inform the leadership.

[ii] For more on planned battlefield medical support, see: Kevin McCauley, China Maritime Report No. 22: Logistics Support for a Cross-Strait Invasion: The View from Beijing, US Naval War College China Maritime Studies Institute, July 2022.

Image Information:

Image: The hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19), top, and the People’s Liberation Army Navy hospital ship Peace Ark (T-AH 866) transit the Pacific Ocean July 22, 2014, during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) in 2014.
Attribution: Public Domain, U.S. Department of Defense

People’s Liberation Army Continues To Integrate Intelligent Technology Into Training

“This exercise applies the intelligent training and examination system throughout the entire process, which is a measure taken by the brigade to improve the quality and effectiveness of training and preparation by utilizing technological achievements.”

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is trying to improve training to overcome a lack of combat experience by incorporating advanced technologies to enhance combat drills. The recent article from the PLA Daily, excerpted below, details the incorporation of intelligent technologies into simulated confrontation training as well as the use of equipment simulators by a brigade from the 80th Group Army, Northern Theater Command. The intelligent training and examination system quantifies and evaluates the quality of training by the unit and standardizes assessments for a uniform comparison of training between units. The system conducts monitoring throughout the exercise and provides automatic scoring and a video recording to reduce data errors typical of manual recording. It also generates a training trend chart to identify shortcomings and weaknesses.

The PLA is reforming training to provide realistic training and enhance combat capabilities within the force.[i] The incorporation of intelligent technologies to standardize assessments and provide accurate historical databases to compare training for comparison of unit training and to provide uniform training and assessments of unit capabilities. The employment of weapons and equipment simulators provides efficient and economical training for personnel. The unit’s man-portable surface-to-air missile simulation training room used a smart sensor helmet to track, lock, and strike to target. The “intelligent examiner” records the firing and updates the training database. The system provides an evaluation of the training.


“第八十集团军某旅 – “智能考官”助力精准施训 (A Brigade in the 80th Group Army – The “Intelligent Examiner” Facilitates Precision Training),” PLA Daily (Official PRC Military Newspaper), 8 May 2023.

“The intelligent training and examination system is equivalent to an ‘intelligent examiner’, which can quantitatively evaluate the level of training. It is not only intelligent and efficient but also enhances the normalization and standardization of assessments. According to the commander of the brigade, this system can achieve full monitoring, automatic scoring, and video retention, reducing data errors caused by manual recording, and is conducive to improving the quality and efficiency of officers and soldiers’ training and examination.”

It is understood that at the beginning of this year, the brigade used an intelligent training and examination system to collect training data for officers and soldiers, and conducted a comprehensive analysis to establish training files for each officer and soldier. After each training session, the system can automatically generate training trend maps ….. The commander can identify weaknesses and provide data support for precise training by analyzing targeting gaps, fluctuations, and other factors.

The reporter walked into the portable ground-to-air missile simulation training room and saw a soldier wearing an intelligent sensing helmet, carrying a missile simulation launcher on his shoulder, tracking, locking, and striking the target. The ‘intelligent examiner’ records the shooting process in real-time and updates the training database. The scoring team restores the on-site situation based on 3D imaging technology, and presents the shooter’s performance evaluation analysis in a three-dimensional manner.It is understood that in the next step, they will further optimize the training and assessment plan, adjust the program parameters of the intelligent training and examination system, and accelerate the transformation of scientific and technological achievements.


[i] See Kevin McCauley “China’s PLA Explores ‘Battlefield Metaverse’ Training Base to Simulate Future Warfare,” OE Watch, 05-2022.

Image Information:

Image: PLA Group Armies
Source: Peter Wood
Attribution: Peter Wood

People’s Liberation Army Transitioning From “Informationized” to Intelligent Warfare Concepts

Intelligent Warfare: Human-Machine Interface

Compared with traditional informationized operational system of systems, intelligent operational system of systems exhibit new characteristics such as autonomy, multi-dimensional, resilience, and other features to counter vulnerabilities greatly improving their robustness.”

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) considers an evolution from the  current focus on “informationized” warfare concepts, such as the theory of system of systems operational capability, to intelligent warfare concepts, according to an article in the PLA Daily. PLA researchers have developed a system of systems operational capability theory that advocates an integrated C4ISR foundation for their move towards a joint operations capability.[i] The individual systems are basic warfighting functions—command, joint fires, logistics—integrated into a larger complex system. System of systems operations using advanced information technologies integrate weapons, equipment, and units to create a synergistic effect described by the PLA as 1 + 1 > 2. This capability enables the creation of modular, recombinant task forces at the strategic, campaign or operational, and tactical levels which the PLA calls “operational system of systems.” This theoretical development has brought about the concept of warfare that the PLA describes as “system of systems confrontation,” where the main characteristic of warfare is the confrontation and destruction of competing operational systems of systems. The author also proposes the development of intelligent operational system of systems.

The evolution of the PLA’s informationized warfare to concepts to one based on emerging intelligent technologies is described in the attached article in the PLA Daily. The author makes a transition to an intelligent operational system of systems to describe a task-organized force and warfare based on intelligent confrontation. This updates the current PLA view of system of systems confrontation based on information-based systems to a warfare system based on intelligent technologies. The author views the intelligent operational system of systems as a task force similar to the information-based operational system of systems composed of the required force modules—for example, command, maneuver, joint fires, and reconnaissance—but more resilient, autonomous, robust, and multidimensional.

However, the author highlights vulnerabilities that could be exploited. The intelligent operational system of systems will be heavily reliant on data to support an intelligent decision-making model. The author believes such a model has weak adaptability based on algorithm construction and parametric establishment. The intelligent decision-making model is only as good as its construction by humans, and unforeseen situations could cause errors leading to disaster on the battlefield. System security could also cause risks. Control of the intelligent operational system of systems will be difficult as its modular forces are dispersed across the physical domain, connected by the information domain, and compete in the cognitive domain. Data distortion and information damage can occur during combat as data, signals, commands, and information are transmitted across domains undergoing multiple interactions with humans and machines. Multiple and complex interactions in the command system across multiple domains can result in corruption of information. The author notes that the intelligent operational system of systems will be more autonomous, but many critical actions will still require humans to be in the loop. The contention that, as important as technology is, humans are decisive for victory in wars is a common theme in PLA articles on artificial intelligence. This belief questions the degree of human control the PLA is willing to cede to autonomous systems.


“脆弱性:智能化作战体系“阿喀琉斯之踵 (Vu“nerability: t”e “Achilles Heel” of the Intelligent Operational System of Systems),” PLA Daily (Official PRC Military Newspaper), 6 May 2023.

“The inexplicable nature of algorithms can lead to risks. As a special adversarial activity, the decision-making process of military intelligent sys“ems should have ”interpretability”, which means that people can understand the logical process and results of intelligent algorithm decision-making. However, the current artificial intelligence system algo“ithms exh”bit a “black box” feature, making it difficult for humans to understand and master its decision-making process. Minor changes and adjustments to simple parameters such as initial conditions and weights may result in complex results. This means that intelligent systems have structural vulnerabilities, unpredictable decision-making risks, and are highly likely to produce erroneous or even dangerous decisions. At the same time, this also leads to hidden backdoors or vulnerabilities in the data, algorithms, models, etc. of military intelligence systems, making it impossible to predict system security risk.It is difficult to completely trust the human-machine system. In the intelligent operational system of systems, command agencies at all levels collaborate with humans and machines, and the human brain and machine brain jointly constitute the command subject. During the combat process, in addition to human brain commands, all levels also need to implement the instructions issued by the computer brain. Due to the limitations of artificial intelligence“technolog”, the “black box” decision-making process, and human subjective consciousness, it is difficult for humans to unconditionally trust and accept machine decision results. This sense of distrust can be reduced through long-term human-machine collaborative training, but it cannot be absolutely eliminated. At a critical moment in the development of the battlefield situation, if there is a disagreement between the decision-making results of humans and machines, it will inevitably affect the speed and quality of decision-making.”


[i] See Kevin McCauley, “PLA System of Systems Operations: Enabling Joint Operations,” Jamestown Foundation, 30 January 2017.

Image Information:

Image: Intelligent Warfare: Human-Machine Interface
Attribution: CCDC Army Research Laboratory (Public Domain)

People’s Liberation Army Changing Mission of Civilian Personnel

Emblem of People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force.

Emblem of People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force.

“Civilian personnel can not only provide support for forward combat operations but also independently undertake non-contact operational tasks. They play an irreplaceable and important role in preparing for war and are a new support for combat effectiveness.”

Civilian personnel have previously served in China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) primarily in administrative and support roles. However, the regulations on the management of civilian personnel within the Chinese military[i] were revised in January 2023 to improve recruitment, career development, incentives, and retirement. The revision is another effort to increase the quality of talent within the PLA[ii] but also indicates an expansion of the missions that civilian personnel will be tasked to conduct. A recent article in China’s official military newspaper, PLA Daily, discusses the roles civilians play in the world’s militaries and describes the importance of civilian personnel to operational support missions in China’s own Strategic Support Force.[iii] The article reiterates the need to improve talent to prepare for war and take on more mission responsibilities. Civilian personnel are a resource to increase scientific and technological innovation in the military, which the PLA currently views as insufficient. The article notes that as modern warfare becomes more intelligent, unmanned, and non-contact, the PLA should deeply integrate civilian personnel into the operational support system to play a key role in winning future wars. This indicates that within the Strategic Support Force civilian personnel will conduct non-contact combat operations possibly including intelligence, electronic warfare, and information warfare function.


“发挥文职人员在作战支援保障任务中的重要作用 (Give Full Play to the Important Role of Civilian Personnel in Operational Support Missions),” PLA Daily (Official PRC Military Newspaper), 20 January 2023.

A clarion call that civilian personnel are indispensable in preparing for war. With the deepening development of the world’s new military revolution and profound changes in forms of war and combat styles, developed countries generally allocate and use civilian personnel as an important operational support force, and civilian personnel has become an important human resource for modern armies. At present, China is facing extremely severe and complex security challenges, and it is necessary to accelerate the preparation for military struggle and comprehensively improve the quality and level of preparation for war. This requires keeping up with the trend of military development, building a modern military force system, integrating civilian personnel into all aspects and the entire process of military training and preparation, allowing the vitality of all combat effectiveness elements to erupt and fully flowing the source of military modernization construction.”


[i] PLA civilian personnel wear military-style uniforms with emblems to distinguish them from military personnel.

[ii] For additional information, see: “构建新时代中国特色军队文职人员制度体系(Building a Civilian Personnel System of Systems in the Military with Chinese Characteristics in the New Era), “PLA Daily, 7 January 2023.; also see Kevin McCauley, PLA Education Reforms: Problems Remain After More Than Twenty Years, OE Watch, 10-2022 file:///C:/Users/knpmc/OneDrive/Kevin/Pictures/a%20Twitter/OE%20Watch,%20Vol%2012,%20Issue%2010,%202022.pdf

[iii] China’s Strategic Support Force is responsible for strategic missions such as space-based intelligence, reconnaissance, and electronic countermeasures, signals intelligence, information warfare, and communications.

Image Information:

Image: Emblem of People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force.
Attribution: Public Domain

Cultivating Joint Talent: PLA Education and Training Reforms (Kevin McCauley)(February 2023)

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  • Cultivating joint command talent and promoting realistic and complex joint training at
    the campaign and tactical levels is critical to the successful implementation of integrated
    joint operations, transformation efforts, and enhancing the People’s Liberation Army’s
    [PLA] overall combat capabilities. The PLA is implementing a “Triad” military education
    program to address problems with joint talent and training.

  • The implications for the PLA of successful implementation of joint talent cultivation and
    improving joint training are significant for reaching its goal of an advanced military. While
    the PLA’s transformation will likely be a lengthy process, the PLA can still present a lethal
    opponent with its precision long-range strike and information warfare capabilities.

  • The PLA’s modernization effort faces the complex task of integrating mechanized warfare,
    informationized warfare, and intelligent warfare systems and operational methods into the
    force concurrently. Reported difficulties educating officers and staff for informationized
    warfare raise questions about the PLA’s ability to integrate fully intelligent warfare
    technologies and operational methods into the force.

People’s Liberation Army: Army Campaign Doctrine in Transition (Kevin McCauley) (January 2023)

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  • The PLA develops generic offensive, defensive, and special conditions campaign models
    to support planning and training for operational scenarios it believes are relevant to
    potential conflicts. These generic campaigns provide planning factors, force organization,
    and operational methods for combat.

  • The choice of campaigns reveals that Taiwan and Indian conflict scenarios are the key
    scenarios for which the PLA is planning and training.

  • Some of the campaigns do not appear to represent operational situations the PLA is likely
    to face in the near to mid-term.

  • PLA doctrinal change is evolutionary, and in the past slow. The available PLA sources on
    Army doctrine appear to show incremental change to date due to developing technologies
    such as artificial intelligence or research on operational methods exhibited in recent foreign
    conflicts such as the United States military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.