Leadership: December 6, 2004

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The Chinese army is reported to be reforming itself. But based on a closer look at what the Chinese are actually doing, and the translations of the original Chinese reports, it appears that the army is doing what could best be described as reorganizing. For decades, the organization of Chinese army units was not standardized. This custom went back to the 1950s, when the Chinese Communist Peoples Liberation Army was organized along traditional triangular lines (three battalions in a regiment, three regiments in a division). But after the Korean war ended in 1953, army commanders in different parts of the country were allowed to do as they wish, and experiment. As a result, infantry divisions might have only a few battalions of infantry (some with only a few hundred, or fewer, men), or several regiments, each with from two to four, or more, infantry battalions. Support units were added to the division as they became available. It wasnt until the end of the century that the army got serious about standardization.

The current reorganization appears to be settling on a system that mixes infantry and tanks in the same battalion. That is; mechanized infantry battalions have two companies of infantry and one of ten tanks, while tank battalions have just the opposite. Moreover, each infantry regiment has a battalion of towed artillery, while each tank regiment has a battalion of self-propelled artillery. Regiments also have a company of engineers, although its a battalion in mech infantry and tank regiments, as well as independent brigades. 

Motorized infantry divisions (which includes reserve units) are being standardized according to a different system. Each division has two regiments of three battalions of infantry. But each battalion is all infantry (three companies). A third regiment has three infantry battalions, each with two companies of infantry and one of ten older Type 59 tanks. 

Divisions do not have a battalion of engineers (all the engineers are assigned to the combat regiments), but do have an artillery regiment (often with as many as six battalions), a recon battalion and other support units (signal, transportation, medical.) Independent brigades are basically regiments with a few hundred extra troops to provide support services and enable the unit to operate independently. Sometimes there are independent infantry battalions, and these are often called regiments. The artillery in the regiments belongs to the regiment, while the divisional artillery regiment is under the control of the divisional commander. 

At the moment, there is more variety in special infantry regiments (airborne, airmobile, marine). These sometimes have four or five infantry battalions. This may change, but at the moment most of the effort is going into the 42 infantry, seven mechanized infantry and perhaps five tank divisions. There are also about three dozen independent infantry and tank brigades. There has been a trend towards breaking up the tank divisions and creating more independent tank brigades. This is the one area where experimentation is still encouraged, particularly because of the There are also over 120 infantry regiments (some organized into 13 divisions) of border guards that are not yet being reorganized. 

 


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