Special Operations: July 15, 2004


: At least three branches of the PLA (Peoples Liberation Army) have special operations units that are publicly known. In addition, the former Army Ground Forces Unit 722 has been transferred to the para-military Peoples Armed Police (PAP), where it was renamed The PAP Special Police School. In addition to training officers for regional and municipal SWAT teams, it has two national military units called the Special Police Unit and the Special Recon Unit. Unlike other PAP special operations units (which are something akin to gigantic SWAT teams), these to units have wartime military missions.

The Army Ground Forces have about eight special forces units, which are the size of large companies or small battalions (about 300 men). There is one for each of the seven Military Regions (stationed with or near each MR headquarters) and a national unit (stationed in Beijing). The national unit is required to have a small group of troops available 24/7, and this "ready group" is capable of being airborne within two minutes of the arrival of an activation order. If the government needs some well trained commandos, quickly, these are the men who will go.

The army special operations units (called dadu) are similar to US Special Forces Groups, and may have more than 1,000 men each. They are subdivided into 8 to 12 battalions which fall into two classes: assault units for direct action (raids with on the order of a hundred men) and recon units composed of smaller sub-units, often recon teams as small as small as two men. Each battalion also has a support unit and a headquarters unit. Recon units also operate UAVs. The most common UAV used is  the 14.3 pound ASN-15, which has a range of 10 kilometers and a flight duration of 60 minutes. Two of these dadu assigned to the Guangzhou Military Region and the Shanghai Shi Military Region are described as SEAL type units trained for amphibious operations using one of the several PLAN Marine operated training schools. These units are well equipped and candidates initial training lasts three years (and is considered college education). 

Army special forces units specialize in gathering information on the enemy, on the weather and on targets behind enemy lines (in addition to raids). They attempt to identify and locate enemy command posts, reserves, weapons of mass destruction, other key weapons, logistics assets and river crossing units. They also specialize in forward control of precision strike weapons used by other military forces. These units have names rather than numbers. For example, the one in the Nanjing Military Region is called the Brave Tigers Unit. And the one at Chengdu is the Hunting Leopard Unit.

The PLAN Marines have four or five smaller dadu. Most, or all, of these are assigned to the two Marine Brigades. There are two types: a recon unit and a frogman unit. The recon unit (200 to 300 men) is similar to American Force Recon marines, and it lands on a beach, under cover of darkness, one hour before the first assault. Its mission is to neutralize key defense positions and remove obstacles. The frogman unit is only a platoon and it conducts operations from submarines and stealth boats. In the First Marine Brigade, these units are entirely female.

The air force (PLAAF) has its own special operations dadu. Its exact size is unclear, but it has several battalions which, in PLA special forces terms, usually means 400-500 men (when you include support and headquarters elements). These forces specialize in seizing an airfield and attacking enemy headquarters by air assault. They also use the PPC powered parachute, which has a range of up to 70 km. The PPC is capable of taking off under its own power, light enough to carry a soldier with full equipment, and simple enough that the trooper needs no assistance to assemble it. This dadu is an asset of the 15th airborne corps and is considered the elite of the airborne: a sharp knife against enemy HQ. 


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