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What a Difference 10 Years Makes for the PLA

by John Reed on May 4, 2011

In all the excitement over the death of Osama bin Laden this week, we’ve chilled on our coverage of a perennial favorite topic here at DT; China’s military modernization.

Some great images over at China Defense Blog show the progression of the PLA from a mid-Cold War-looking army in the late 1990s to the 21st Century force that’s emerging today. No, the PLA can’t yet compare to the United States military but it’s damned impressive to see the progress it’s made in the last decade. Apply this to the PLAAF with its prototype J-20 stealth fighter and the PLAN which is about to field its first operational aircraft carrier; factor in China’s growing wealth and knowledge base and then guess where the Asian giant will be in another ten years.

The shot above is an image of the PLA’s new battlefield kit. The images posted below the jump are from an exercise just over ten years ago. Note how the soldiers are carrying Kalashnikovs and rocking very old-school uniforms. Soon, they may be carrying these and wearing these.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Lance May 4, 2011 at 3:02 pm

The Chinese are mostly just modernizing the elite units in the PLA there are still many units armed like those pics you show above this section. There are still reserve and militias who have Type 56 rifles and carbines as primary weapons. I did notice the Type 54 pistol in the new holster on the top picture very cool.


Chimp May 5, 2011 at 4:19 am

Yes, that is true. However, most / many of the reserve formations are being disbanded.

To be honest, I think this pictorial rather understates the degree of change. 15 years ago I could (and did) visit PLA bases and play with the toys. The soldiers were basically entrepreneurs in green.

Different story now. I attended a display put on by the Hong Kong garrison last weekend. Admittedly, an elite unit, and admittedly, highly scripted. However, the gear on display was up to the minute and obviously well used.


Lance May 5, 2011 at 2:59 pm

True But there still are many military reserve and they have Militias that are not to be disbanded since they control remote areas of China. Im still amazed they ares using stick grenades in those pouches.


John Johnson May 4, 2011 at 3:09 pm

i agree with Lance.


Guest May 4, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Your troops look good Colonel, but can they fight…


Morty May 4, 2011 at 4:12 pm

I agree with the guest if you got new tech and don’t know how to do it then it dosen’t matter in the first place.


Matt May 4, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Even if this gear was equal to American gear (its not) I'd still say PLA isnt on par with the US. Why? No matter how much training these guys do that still cant match the experiences commanders get from being at war for about a decade… Similar to what Morty ^^^ said


BombsOverRabdad May 4, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Everyone needs someone to push them. After the USSR fell apart the US armed forces stalled a bit. Having China modernise its forces rapidly can only help the US in the coming years. If it wasnt for PLANavy puffing up in size and strength I dont think the US would even be considering replacing its older harpoons with weapons like the LRASM.
Military tech is at the cutting edge and it always trickles down to the masses so a little cold war never hurt anyone.
Aside from some island grabbing (something small like paracel and spratley not anything major like Taiwan) I cant see a major rumble with China coming anytime soon…. maybe a sub slinging a torpedo at a warship in water they consider there own or a few fighters trading shots.


head&heart May 5, 2011 at 7:56 am

In many ways China has already won the first battle in modern warfare…economics. We sold our birthright for 10 dollars crappy jeans at Walmart. We are all to blame for wanting too much and paying too little. As for your enemy? Never under estimate them. The Chinese are not stupid. We (Americans) are also not that smart. Force on force we are still the Alpha dog in the world. China will not go to war with us in the traditional way, but will start flexing that new military muscle and equipment throughout the world. How about Africa? Its a QUICKLY changing world. I preach to my children that its not value that determines price, but supply and demand. We (America) had better start thinking like Israel. Now they know how to survive and thrive when everyone wants them gone. I respect their intelligence and heart.


head&heart May 5, 2011 at 8:24 am

I also preach to my boys. "Be part of the solution, not part of the problem. No one will continue to pay you for bad work habits or a bad attitude." China might be upgrading, but no one but Americans could do what we did with such a horrible Airborne drop during Normandy. Individuals thinking for themselves. Small groups banding together and becoming effective fighting units. NCO's who think for themselves and don't wait for an Officer to give them orders. The greatest innovation America has ever introduced to modern warfare was our professional NCO Core. They are the backbone of our military and the envy of every other military in the world!


elizzar May 5, 2011 at 8:38 am

without wishing to denigrate the commitment and sacrifice of american forces on d-dya and beyond, i would point out that there were 2 us and 1 british airborne divisions, and on the landings themselves more british and canadian forces were landed (3 beaches vs. the 2 us ones) – without suffering omaha conditions of course. i would suggest your comment is applicable to most western / nato modern militaries that emphasise initiative and well trained nco / officers able to take lead at vital points. as someone mentions above, the falklands war is a pretty good example of this, where on the ground british officers were able to change the outcome of encounters / battles, sometimes at the cost of their own lives, vs. the ill-led, mostly conscript argentian forces. from my limited understanding, the gulf war of 1991 was a real eye-opener for the chinese hierarchy and they have been rushing to modernise both in equipment and doctrine. let's hope we never have to find out how well they have done!


Tom May 5, 2011 at 10:00 am

"The shot above is an image of the PLA’s new battlefield kit."

I'll admit that I'm not an expert on standard 'battlefield kit', but it sure looks like there are two holstered pistols in the picture, which would lead me to believe that what is pictured does not represent a standard 'battlefield kit'.


head&heart May 5, 2011 at 11:15 am

"Give a man a fish and feed him a meal. Teach him how to fish and you teach him to feed himself." Sorry for writing 3 comments, but China is NOT our friend and we (Americans) are not teaching our children how to fish for themselves. China and the American education system are my hot button emotional issues. With that is time to go give my work place a money making day for them and a positive attitude for all! Thank you for your patience on my rant.


paint shop June 30, 2012 at 1:13 am

Hi there! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick
shout out and tell you I truly enjoy reading through your posts.
Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that deal with the
same topics? Thanks!


Lee CH January 3, 2013 at 7:30 am

The PLA cannot do shit save to defend within their borders…. They do not have the ability to project force one cm beyond the borders let alone invade another country. What they have is a lot of jingoism and BS and they cannot do squat!


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BombsOverRabdad May 4, 2011 at 7:17 pm

Who has fought a major surface war though? Falklands? Earnest Will? Not too common these days because navys arent cheap and most of the badies only have a few Osa patrol boats with blown motors. China is really the first OPFOR navy the US has had since the cold war. The US still has the edge in naval air power and subs but I think Chinese and Indian surface ships are pretty close to USN warships.


Ed! May 5, 2011 at 9:09 am

I think he meant ground warfare not naval action. We are talking about the PLA not the PLA Navy. And to that end, we have fought a major ground engagement. Both in 1991 and in 2003. Desert Storm and the opening phases of OIF were high intensity force on force encounters.


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