Toward a Revolution in Military Affairs? Defense and Security at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century

By Thierry Gongora; Harald Von Riekhoff | Go to book overview

7

The PLA's Revolution in Operational Art: Retrospects and Prospects

Jianxiang Bi

The revolution in military affairs (RMA) sought by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is designed to build armed forces for the twenty-first century, based on an optimal combination of "innovative operational theories," "reasonable forces structures," and "advanced military technologies." To achieve this strategic objective, the PLA has conducted research on each of those interacting elements (i.e., theories, structures, and technologies), rather than on the RMA as a whole. The PLA's revolution in operational art (ROA) aims to develop an "adversaries- doctrines-surpassing" [chaoyue duishou] and "Chinese-tradition-falsifying" [chaoyue ziwo] theory in an effort to respond to different policy agendas, threat perceptions, and conventional warfare ( Chen 1997; Cheng, J. 1996, 214-15; Zhang, X. 1997). As a result the PLA is determined to produce a cast-iron, comprehensive operational art based on high-tech, combined-services and combined-arms warfare, and limited war operations. This requires a transformation of its traditional operational art based on human resources, ground forces, and total war operations in order to make it more flexible, less dogmatic, and more suitable to contemporary operations while using obsolete weapons.

The contradiction between a "cast-iron" operational framework and "flexible" approaches led senior commanders and military scholars to constantly debate issues related to revolution and tradition, limited and total war, and weapons and soldiers throughout the military modernization period. This contradiction confounded the military's efforts to narrow the gap between the contemporary and the traditional, to make distinctions between limited and total war, or to work out the relationship between technological and human factors. Western scholars were equally frustrated, finding it difficult to understand how the PLA could be victorious in contemporary high-tech limited wars using obsolete weapons and traditional operational art. Their frustrations are reflected in the literature that focuses on China's strategy. Nevertheless, few, if any, scholars have examined the PLA's finely tuned ROA,

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