China reduces army by half but increases size of navy, air force

The 2-million strong PLA, China's army, has cut the size of its ground forces by about 50 per cent but significantly boosted its navy and air force as part of an "unprecedented" strategic shift designed to transform the People's Liberation Army (PLA) into a comprehensive modern force, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported quoting a state-run Xinhua report. Shanghai-based military analyst Ni Lexiong said the overhaul marked a significant strategic shift from having a homeland-based defensive force to one with the capacity to allow Beijing to flex its muscles beyond its national borders and to protect its interests overseas.

China reduces army by half but increases size of navy air force
PLA ground forces taking part to Vostok 2018 exercise (Picture source: CGTN)

In a feature report highlighting the "transformational changes" made by the PLA, Xinhua on 20 January said "this new data is unprecedented in the history of the PLA – the army now accounts for less than 50 per cent of the total number of PLA troops; almost half of our non-combatant units have been made redundant, and the number of officers in the PLA has been reduced by 30 per cent." In the old set-up, the PLA had too many officers. In this overhaul, all these officers must find new positions and adapt or they will be made redundant.

In the last few years, the PLA has downsized its military by retrenching 300,000 troops under the military reforms initiated by President Xi Jinping. But it still remained the world's largest army with two million personnel in the ranks.

The statement indicated that the four other branches of the PLA – the navy, air force, rocket force and strategic support force, which is responsible for areas such as cyberwarfare - now together make up more than half of the Chinese military, overtaking the army, which has traditionally been the dominant unit of the PLA.

The expansion of the navy in the past few years was massive as China now has one aircraft carrier, another undergoing trial and a third in making. Official media reports said China plans to have about five to six aircraft carriers. The PLA had no navy or air force until 1949 and the PLA Rocket Force, first known as 'the Second Artillery Corps', was founded in 1966. In 2013, the PLA had a total of 2.3-million servicemen, with only 235,000 in the navy and 398,000 in the air force, according to a 2013 defence white paper.


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