Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

The Revolution in Military Affairs and the Evolution of China's Strategic Thinking

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

The Revolution in Military Affairs and the Evolution of China's Strategic Thinking

Article excerpt

The revolution in military affairs has inspired the People's Liberation Army to formulate its long-term modernization guidelines. To the PLA, RMA is the world standard and future trend for a powerful military. The very fact that China has little capability to cope with an RMA-type of war prods the PLA to study RMA and to apply, where it can, its principles. China will continue to reform the PLA along the lines of RMA, gradually streamlining and digitizing its [C.sup.3]I systems, significantly trimming its force size and substantially restructuring its force components. Military research and development will give greater stress to new concept weapons. National defence strategy, campaign tactics, and combat principles will also be under constant review. In short, the PLA will become more open, flexible, forward-looking and, above all, more professional.


The revolution in military affairs (RMA) has become the biggest challenge to China's economic development and military modernization. To Chinese political and military leaders, RMA is not only a new military theory but it also promises to be a new type of war of mass destruction. The Chinese leadership has genuine reasons to be worried. The countries most vigorously advancing RMA and most capable of bringing the concept to reality are all China's potential adversaries. The United States, in particular, will be using RMA to consolidate its military superiority over all other countries in the decades to come. [1] Worse still, for a long time to come, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) will have few capabilities to deal with a war of mass destruction brought on by RMA, nor will it be able to achieve breakthroughs in military technology necessary to apply RMA to its own defence modernization. It is likely that China may be left further behind as RMA helps the United States to achieve a qualitative leap in its pow er projection capabilities in the new century. Because of the gravity of the issue to China's longterm national security, the Chinese military has shown much enthusiasm in learning, absorbing and applying RMA as part of its efforts to catch up. If China can successfully translate RMA concepts into its strategic guidelines, weapons programme and force restructuring, the PLA will in time take on a new look, with consequences for the whole of the Asia-Pacific region.

Embracing the Revolution in Military Affairs

The concept of RMA was first discussed within Soviet military circles in the 1970s. When U.S. defence analysts caught on to the Soviet term of "revolution in military technological affairs", they became nervous and thought that the USSR would attain some element of military superiority over the United States. Only later did they discover that the Soviet research effort was actually aimed at studying innovations in U.S. military thinking, which were stimulated by the great leap forward in high-technology. The systematic study of the linkage between technology and military affairs by the two superpowers at that time resulted in a prediction that the revolution in information technology would fundamentally transform the way warfare is conducted. [2]

RMA was brought to prominence over the past decade by Operation Desert Storm and the war in Kosovo, both of which revealed the new dimensions of battle-field combat. However, as the first group of eager learners, the Chinese studied the discussion of RMA in both the United States and the USSR as early as the start of the 1980s. Since then, they have published a large number of articles on RMA, anticipating that something revolutionary might soon happen in military science and armed conflict. Immediately after the official adoption of Deng Xiaoping's "people's war under modern conditions" in the early 1980s, the Chinese Military Commission (CMC) launched a nation-wide campaign to study how the PLA would fight at the turn of the century. In 1987, a strategist in the PLA Academy of Military Science stated that a qualitative change in military science was in the making. …

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