Tuesday, May 30, 2017

PLA Reforms?

Shi Lang!

People’s Liberation Army has not officially released a new generation of operational regulations (作战条令)—which are believed to be roughly equivalent to doctrine—since its fourth generation of them in 1999. The protracted process for their revision has apparently become a “bottleneck” for the PLA’s advances in joint operations and training.

Evidently, its attempts to update these doctrinal documents in response to new strategic challenges have lagged behind its intended progression towards jointness, while failing to keep pace with changes in the form of warfare.

Since the early 2000s, the PLA has been engaged in an extensive process of revision of its fourth-generation operational regulations. Although the actual contents of the PLA’s operational regulations have never been released, an understanding of the underlying process and those involved is nonetheless informative. The Academy of Military Science Operational Theories and Regulations Research Department has traditionally played a leading role in this process.

The apparent centrality of the Operational Theories and Regulations Research Department to the formulation of the PLA’s doctrine renders the writings of its leadership and researchers of particular importance to those seeking to understand the evolution of the PLA’s doctrinal approach to warfare. For instance, its series of lectures (教程) released in 2012—including “Lectures on the Science of Joint Campaigns” and “Lectures on Joint Campaign Command” may be closely linked to the revision of the operational regulations themselves.

Although the PLA’s operational regulations may remain opaque, a new “revolution in doctrinal affairs” appears to have been gradually occurring, as the PLA prepares to confront the challenges of future warfare. The apparent lengthiness of the revision process—and unexpected, unprecedented delay in the issuance of fifth-generation operational regulations—could indicate substantive impediments to progress that are only just starting to be overcome, under the leadership of Xi Jinping. Within the foreseeable future, the new generation of operational regulations will likely include revised campaign guidelines for each of PLA’s services—the Army, Navy, Air Force and Rocket Force—as well as the new Strategic Support Force, along with force-wide guidelines for joint operations and joint operations command. To date, the PLA seemingly does not have official campaign guidelines that address operations in the space and cyber domains.

Potentially, this fifth generation will establish the PLA’s first operational regulations for space and cyber operations, which are considered critical strategic frontiers for the PLA that are integral to joint operations. Indeed, Maj. Gen. An Weiping deputy chief of staff of the Northern Theater Command, recently called for the introduction of “military cyberspace operations regulations and statutes.” The contents of this fifth generation of operational regulations, while not publically released, will presumably take into account recent changes to the PLA’s military strategic guidelines, reflecting its evolving missions and advancing capabilities. Looking forward, their release could be officially announced as a critical component of the PLA’s new stage of “below the neck”  reforms, which seek to enact deeper changes than the initial “above the neck”  stage of high-level, organizational changes.