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News | April 5, 2016

China's Goldwater-Nichols? Assessing PLA Organizational Reforms

By Phillip C. Saunders and Joel Wuthnow Strategic Forum 294


Key Points

  • The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is undertaking its most significant restructuring since 1949, including changes to all of the PLA’s main organizational pillars—the Central Military Commission, services, and theaters.
  • The reforms are modeled partly on the U.S. military structure, where combatant commanders lead operations and the services train and equip troops. However, the PLA remains a Leninist military responsible for defending Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rule.
  • The reforms aim to tighten CCP supervision over a force seen as corrupt and unaccountable and to enhance the PLA’s ability to conduct joint operations across multiple domains. 
  • Theater commanders will be able to develop force packages drawn from all the services, and a new Strategic Support Force will provide C4ISR support.
  • The reforms will create a shortterm organizational disruption, but may enable more effective joint warfighting over the long term. The PLA will have to overcome significant obstacles such as continued ground force dominance and inter-service rivalry to make the reforms succeed.