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

CONCLUSION

The ROA has not yet fundamentally transformed the basic structure of the PLA's operational art, with its special emphasis on initiatives, offense, the three- in-one system, and societal support; and which is always deceptive, offensive, infantry-oriented, and society-centered. The inability to develop a cast-iron, comprehensive operational art comparable to Soviet deep operations and the American air/land battle doctrine to fight combined services and arms operations derives from traditional perceptions, forces structures, and technological inferiority.

First, the traditional perceptions of human resources-oriented, ground-centered, total war operations cast a dark shadow over high-tech-oriented, combined services and arms, limited war operations. The irreconcilable contradictions between combat assessment standards, value criteria for judging operations, and relations among strategy, operational art, and tactics apparently are barriers to any formulation of a cast-iron, comprehensive operational art, unless China admits the bankruptcy of people's war under contemporary conditions. The ROA, however, would then become a political and ideological, rather than operational, issue that would go far beyond the soldiers' capability.

Second, the armed forces structures, like their civilian counterparts--"feuding hierarchies" and "territorial units"--jeopardize service and arms interests in developing a joint, unified, and comprehensive operational art, since the air force, the navy, and the second artillery are largely independent of the military regions (war zones) and vice versa. As a result, the armed forces structures contribute to divergent service and arm operational arts focused on fighting independent operations. No matter what efforts the PLA makes to reunify the "family," namely, organizing symbolic interservice, interarm, and transregional war games at the group army level once a year, or once every couple of years, conflicts of operational arts and command structures between vertical hierarchies and horizontal regions substantially weaken the quality of "combined services and arms operations."

Third, the embarrassment of technological inferiority continues to lead the PLA in the direction of building skills-oriented armed forces. In the meantime, however, the PLA still believes that it can beat stealthy technology, precision weapons, and information systems with available obsolete weapons and poorly educated soldiers. Yet even though such euphoric, and highly premature claims may, to some extent, help improve combat skills, skillful soldiers remain significantly short of countermeasures against "invisible," "untouchable," and "indestructible" technologies.

The PLA faces a critical dilemma. It lacks the political, institutional, and technological resources to implement the ROA. Without such a thorough revolution, however, its glorious tradition may not solve the operational issues that it will face during the twenty-first century.


NOTE

The author wishes to thank June Teufel Dreyer, Thierry Gongora, Fen O. Hampson, Carl G. Jacobsen, Michael Ying-mao Kau, Jack Masson, Michelle Peng, and Harald von Riekhoff for their helpful comments.

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