PLA seeks to become nimbler and leaner

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 July, 2009, 12:00am

The People's Liberation Army, the largest fighting force in the world, will undergo its most significant restructuring in a decade as Beijing seeks to transform the massive military organisation into a nimble, knowledge-based fighting force.

At the heart of the restructuring is an increase in the number of specialists and non-commissioned officers. The number of ranks for NCOs would be increased from six to seven, the PLA Daily reported yesterday.

The report said the number of NCOs would be increased to 900,000, or nearly 40 per cent of the force. This restructuring will encompass the land, naval and air forces, as well as the armed police.

This means that the PLA will gradually move away from the Soviet-style traditional army built to win large, land-based military conflicts, towards a leaner and better-equipped force emphasising rapid response and high mobility.

Without reducing the overall number of servicemen, increasing the number of specialists and NCOs would allow the military to operate in smaller but more efficient units. This is in line with the leadership's strategic thinking on modernising the PLA.

Other elements of the restructuring include extending the service life of senior and high-calibre officers, recruiting more outstanding students from high schools, introducing a comprehensive assessment system, and adjusting salaries for qualified senior officers.

All qualified soldiers would be promoted or have their service extended by a new certificate system, while veterans who met retirement requirements would be demobilised.

The plan was approved by the Central Military Commission and heads of the four general PLA headquarters in a joint meeting in Beijing. President Hu Jintao, who is also the chairman of the commission, said restructuring the NCO system was the key mission of the year.

'All levels of officials in the army ... should stick to the rules when introducing the plan to grass-roots units,' the PLA's newspaper said. 'Everything should be handled with utmost transparency, and high- ranking cadres should go to the front lines and deal with difficulties themselves.'

Retired general Xu Guangyu said that the proportion of NCOs at the moment was no more than one-third.

'The restructuring plan aims to attract and retain more specialist talents, to make them the main force in our army,' the Beijing-based general said, adding that the plan was also aimed at clearing out some dead wood.

According to Xinhua, the PLA's most powerful and professional unit, the Second Artillery Headquarters, which commands the missile force, had a specialist and NCO percentage of more than 50 per cent.

Military schools have revamped their training courses, with at least 300,000 NCOs receiving qualifications so far.

Mr Xu said the restructuring would also help Mr Hu prevent corruption. 'More specialist officers in the army will mean we won't need so many military cadres, who have grabbed so much power,' he said.

However, a retired Shanghai-based senior colonel warned that the plan could increase the opportunities for graft and misuse of the PLA's 480.7 billion yuan (HK$546 billion) budget.

'I don't see any new monitoring system being introduced,' the senior colonel said. 'That has long been a root cause of military corruption.'