Strengths and problems of the PLA

Parade crew of the Dongfeng-26 missile systems. The development of the PLA missile forces is most active. Photo

The People’s Liberation Army of China is one of the largest, most developed and powerful armed forces in the world. It has a number of important advantages over other armies – but not without its drawbacks. To get rid of pressing problems, various measures are being taken, the effect of which should fully manifest itself in the future.

Indicators and plans

In recent decades, China has been actively developing and building its army, which has led to well-known results. Currently, the PLA is considered one of the most powerful armies in the world. So, in the rating of the military potential of Global Firepower for many years in a row, China has consistently ranked third, behind only the United States and Russia.

Several years ago, the Chinese leadership launched a large and lengthy PLA modernization program, affecting all major aspects of military development. Work on this program will continue until the early thirties and is expected to lead to a significant increase in combat capability.

The main tank “Type 96B” is one of the current vehicles of the ground forces. Photo: Vitaly V. Kuzmin,

In the future, it is expected to launch a new similar program with an eye on several decades. By the middle of the XXI century. The PLA must take the lead in the world. So, already now, the country’s leadership is talking about the need to ensure parity with the US armed forces – in all areas, including the most complex and advanced ones.


The main advantage of the PLA is traditionally the highest number of personnel. The total number of military personnel is at the level of 2-2.2 million people. The theoretical reserve for mobilization is more than 600 million people. Thus, in terms of human resources, China has no equal. Only India can compete with him in this respect, but the indicators of its army are much lower.

Strategic nuclear forces make a decisive contribution to national security. To date, a nuclear triad has been created with a wide range of missile and aviation complexes of different classes. Using such weapons, the PLA can control most of the Asia-Pacific region and more distant regions. Among other things, the PLA’s strategic nuclear forces are responsible for key objects of the potential enemy – the United States and its allies.

“Light” tank “Type 15”, designed for operations in mountainous areas. Photo

The PLA has large and well-developed ground forces. They have more than 3200 tanks and approx. 35 thousand different armored vehicles of other classes. The total number of cannon and rocket artillery is at least 5.5 thousand units. High combat effectiveness is ensured not only by the number, but also by the equipment of the troops. Modern models are being created and put into service, which in their characteristics are close to the world’s leading developments. In addition, specialized samples are being developed to work in special conditions.

To date, the PLA’s naval forces have come out on top in the world in terms of numbers. They include approx. 350 pennants, incl. over 130-140 surface ships of the main classes. The construction of aircraft carriers is being mastered, and ships of other classes are being built in significant numbers with a shorter time frame. Due to this, it is possible to increase its presence in the nearest seas and make plans for full-fledged work in remote regions.

The PLA Air Force also has advantages in terms of numbers. They have more than 3200 aircraft of all classes. About half of this number are tactical aircraft. Armed with modern samples of its own and foreign development; deliveries of the latest 5th generation fighters have begun.

Project 094 strategic missile submarine. Photo

The re-equipment and modernization of the armed forces is provided by a developed defense industry. Over the past decades, on its own and with the help of friendly countries, China has been able to create a powerful defense-industrial complex, covering all major areas. The level of our own products is gradually increasing. At the same time, dependence on imports is decreasing, and its share on the international market is increasing.

Problems and solutions

Despite all the growth of recent decades, the PLA’s strategic nuclear forces still lag behind the nuclear forces of other developed countries in terms of quantitative and qualitative indicators. There is significant progress in the area of ​​ground-based missile systems, but other components of the nuclear triad cannot boast of similar successes.

Thus, the naval component of the strategic nuclear forces so far has only six Type 094 submarines with intercontinental ballistic missiles. The basis of the air component is still made up of bombers of the H-6 family. Despite all the modernizations, such an aircraft has long been outdated and cannot fully participate in the processes of nuclear deterrence.

Corvette “Hengshui” pr. “054A” is a typical representative of modern Chinese shipbuilding. Photo by US Navy

Measures are being taken to remedy this situation. The construction of modern Type 096 submarines, capable of carrying ICBMs, has already started. In addition, a fundamentally new strategic bomber H-20 is being developed with a number of important features. In parallel with this, the development of the ground component of the strategic nuclear forces continues, and new complexes of a number of classes are being put into service.

The main problems of the ground forces are connected with the fact that quantity cannot be converted into quality. The high number of troops imposes restrictions on their modernization and re-equipment. Because of this, in particular, a mass of long-obsolete tanks and other models remains in service. Over time, all this leads to disunification and increased costs for maintaining the state of the troops.

According to the known data, no radical solution to this problem is foreseen yet. The PLA orders a new material part to replace the obsolete one, but an equal number of re-equipment is no longer possible due to the high cost of modern samples.

Bomber H-6K, the newest modification of the obsolete vehicle. Photo Wikimedia Commons

The further development of the Navy is of particular importance in the current PLA modernization program. The fleet receives all the necessary resources, which allows getting rid of a lot of problems and getting record results. At the same time, such records have their own specifics. The main part of the increase in numbers comes from the construction of medium-sized and uncomplicated ships.

Thus, more than 60 Type 056 (A) corvettes have been commissioned, but they have a displacement of only 1,500 tons and carry a limited range of weapons. Larger and more powerful ships, such as Type 054A frigates or Type 052D destroyers, are built in much smaller series. However, the existing pace of construction and commissioning suits the PLA command, and the situation, most likely, will not change.

The PLA Air Force faces the same problems as the ground forces. With its large size and strength, this type of armed forces cannot boast of a high proportion of modern and advanced models. In addition, several types of aircraft of the same class with significant technical and operational differences are in service at the same time.

Fighters of the 5th generation J-20. Photo Wikimedia Commons

Nevertheless, the necessary measures are being taken. Thus, fighters of generations “4+” and “5” are being developed and built, new bombers, transport vehicles and a number of samples for other purposes are being created. In the future, they can have a significant impact on the potential of the Air Force. At the same time, it should be expected that the new models will not allow getting rid of the bloated nomenclature of types and maintaining the required size of the aircraft fleet.

On the eve of the future

The results of the PLA’s development in recent decades are obvious. China managed to build not only a large, but also a powerful army with all the necessary structures and capabilities. However, it should be noted that in its current state, the Chinese army has noticeable problems in many areas, limiting its development potential. They are being systematically fought against and getting positive results, although not everything will be able to be eliminated completely and in a timely manner.

The modern PLA is perfectly capable of performing strategic deterrence, repelling foreign aggression, or advancing China’s interests with military force. In the future, it is planned to increase this potential, up to achieving parity with the leading countries. Whether the Chinese army will be able to fulfill these plans on time is unknown. However, it is clear that every effort will be made to accomplish such tasks, and the list of benefits and challenges will gradually evolve.

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