Junior Leader PME in the PLA: Implications for the Future

By Snakenberg, Mark K. | Joint Force Quarterly, July 2011 | Go to article overview

Junior Leader PME in the PLA: Implications for the Future


Snakenberg, Mark K., Joint Force Quarterly


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Armies develop leaders for certain purposes, to operate under a common doctrinal approach. (1) Thus, an outside observer can learn much about an army by analyzing its professional military education (PME) and the desired characteristics of the people it produces. Careful analysis of the education and training of an army's junior officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) is particularly insightful. The substance of these leaders' instruction indicates the likely development of a foreign army's tactical conduct for the next 5 to 10 years and reveals much about its expectations for warfare at the tactical level during that period. It is therefore a useful tool in conducting predictive analysis of how that army will fight in the near term. However, there is a secondary benefit to studying junior officer PME that is of equal significance. Because it takes 15 to 20 years for junior officers to become senior leaders, military establishments must anticipate two decades in advance what characteristics will be required of its senior leaders and inculcate them into junior leader PME so those personnel are fully prepared to operate under the expected conditions. Thus, study of current junior officer PME may provide a glimpse into a nation's long-term goals and vision of its geopolitical situation.

This article explores the junior leader PME of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in an effort to achieve this insight. Far from a comprehensive examination, this work is intended to provide predictive analysis of Chinese expectations and conduct of tactical operations during the next 5 to 10 years and strategic expectations during the next 15 to 20 years, based on an evaluation of the ongoing development of company-grade officers and NCOs in the army component. Although a number of factors, such as domestic and foreign political considerations, the economy, and social developments, will ultimately determine China's course, this approach is useful in establishing what China wants militarily under ideal conditions, and what problems Beijing expects its military leaders to be able to resolve in the year 2025.

Junior Leader PME and PLA Reform

Historically, the development of all PME within the Chinese army has been nonlinear. That is especially true of junior officers and NCOs.2 Tied to internal political requirements as much as global military developments, (3) junior leader development evolved erratically since the founding of the PLA in 1927 and has varied in intensity from virtually no education during the Cultural Revolution to today's stated goal of higher education for all officers and NCOs. The current Chinese system must therefore be viewed not as the product of 80 years of uninterrupted development (as in Western armies), but as a manifestation of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP's) current military goals.

Building upon the limited reforms and dramatic downsizing of the PLA initiated under Deng Xiaoping, in 1995 President Jiang Zemin announced the Two Transformations that underpin the current Chinese strategy of Active Defense. (4) Initially based on observations of U.S. military conduct during the 1991 Persian Gulf War against Iraq--and reinforced by lessons from the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis, the 1999 Kosovo campaign, and Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom--these transformations directed the military to prepare for wars under modern, high-tech conditions, and to form an army based on quality, not quantity. (5) Both of these transformations represent significant shifts from the historical PLA doctrine and force structure that relied on mass armies of relatively uneducated peasants operating under the concept of "People's War."

Central to the Two Transformations and Chinese leaders' vision of future warfare is the concept of informatization, which is the linchpin of PLA reform and the major evaluation criterion for all operations. …

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