Logistics: China Abandons Medieval Practices

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May 30, 2007: The Chinese army (the PLA, or Peoples Liberation Army) is undergoing a major upgrade of its logistics. This is the first real change in over half a century. For example, in the last few years, army units have begun to receive truck mounted field kitchens, which allow four cooks to prepare hot (but simple) food for 300 troops within an hour. The kitchens contain the same commercial kitchen equipment designed and built for Chinese restaurants over the last few decades. This is a big change. Four years ago, Chinese soldiers were still sharing the same mess kit (one per squad).

Until quite recently, local militia units were responsible for supplying food to army combat units moving into the area. This was an ancient practice. It was obvious to Chinese commanders that these traditional logistics methods would not work for modern combat operations. So, in a radical move, China is outsourcing much of the procurement and transportation of supplies, including fuel, spare parts, as well as food and medical supplies, to civilian firms. This makes sense when you realize that civilian companies themselves are still adapting foreign logistics and inventory management techniques. The entire economy has been transformed in the last two decades, and there are many Chinese firms that specialize in providing outsourced logistics services. The PLA is just another big customer to go after. If the typical corruption doesn't get in the way, competitive bidding will even provide good value for the money. That remains to be seen.

This radical new logistics initiative comes at the same time that the PLA is reorganizing. In a move similar to what is happening in the United States, the brigade has become the principal combat unit. A Chinese army (called a Corps in the West) now has 5-10 brigades attached, and logistics has to be able to service all those individual brigades. In effect, the Chinese are eliminating the combat division, which used to be the smallest unit with extensive logistics and supply capabilities.

This year and next, the new logistical systems are getting a workout in exercises and simulations.

 


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