Leadership: China's Neglected Weakness


October 25, 2005: With much fanfare, China and Russia recently held, forthe first time in about a generation, "combined" military exercises, in the Amur region. The exercise was more for the publicity, than the military, value. So journalists were allowed a lot of access to the operation, especially in headquarters. This is unusual, especially for the secretive (especially on military matters) Chinese. The maneuvers were hardly "combined," as there was no unified command. Chinese and Russian troops operated cooperatively, but never actually interacted very much. Russian observers with the Chinese reported that the PLA has little "joint" capability. Chinese ground and air forces operated largely without coordination. This was not unexpected, despite all the articles published in Chinese military journals about the need to emulate the Americans. The Chinese know that combined operations are more effective. Nearly everyone in the Chinese military agrees with that. But each of the services jealously guards their independence. This is not a uniquely Chinese problem, it's a quite common one. It is difficult to get the three services to work closely together. The Russians came up with some clever solutions, like making "tactical aviation" (the ground attack aircraft that directly support ground troops), part of the army. But few nations can accomplish even that, because the pilots tend to make a persuasive argument that things go better when all the pilots can operate together. The British Royal Air Force was so persuasive that they even got control of the aircraft and pilots operating on navy aircraft carriers. That didn't really help matters, but it was not a huge disaster either.

What this all shows is that the Chinese have a way to go before they possess a world class military. The hyped up headlines in the media (and Pentagon budget requests) represent a future threat that is not here yet, and may take a long, long time in arriving.


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