ANNEX B: Peoples Liberation Army Training


Policy governing the training of the PLA has been altered more often as the result of internal ideological conflict than by external crisis. The ideological conflict is the result of the contradiction between the policies of "salient politics" and "military first." On one side have been supporters of Chairman Mao's theory that ideology is more important than weapons. They maintain that the thoroughly indoctrinated soldier will always be more important than the weapons he employs. This soldier is China's "Spiritual atomic bomb." Opposing those who hold these views have been some professional soldiers who have argued for more military training and modern equipment. They underlined the need for "practical training" claiming that "it will not do to rely solely on ideological lectures." Each side recognizes the value of both weapons and ideology. The issue has been one of priorities. By way of illustration PLA training has been broken down into four stages.

During Stage One (1949-1953) training was oriented toward the "military first" point of view. The PLA had expanded into an armed force with all services and arms. The introduction of large quantities of modern Soviet equipment forced the Chinese to pay more attention to their military training. Soviet advisors were pushing Soviet doctrine and tactics which added to the emphasis being placed on military training. Chinese entry into the Korean War created an even greater emphasis on military training. This was caused by the shift from an unconventional guerrilla warfare strategy to one of positional warfare and from unit operations to the joint operations of services and arms. The Korean War proved to be the turning point between their old and new military training, and gave the Chinese their first actual experience in the conduct of a modern war.

Stage Two, (1953-1959), saw the Chinese trying to correct the deficiencies which surfaced during the Korean War. It was a period of "modernization and regularization" in order to implement the concepts of unified command, unified equipment, and unified training. The Ministry of National Defense was created in 1954 and under it the Training Supervision Department insured the unified direction of the education and training of the various arms of the army, and provided policy guidance for the education and training of the naval and air forces. During this stage the Chinese began to move away from extensive studying of Russian doctrine and experiences and gave more consideration to their own conditions. Peng Teh-huai, the Minister of National Defense, placed military techniques foremost in training and denied that political thought was the most important factor in Chinese Communist combat effectiveness. For this stand and because of his close association with the leaders of the Soviet Union, Peng was purged in 1959 and the emphasis in training changed accordingly. Although the Taiwan crisis occurred during this stage it appears that it had no great effect on Chinese Communist training.

Stage Three, (1959-1967), saw Lin Piao succeed Peng Teh-huai as Minister of National Defense. Lin instituted the "Revolutionized" military, requiring the Chinese Communist forces to develop the "glorious tradition." Emphasis was now on ideological training and required a minimum of 50% of the time be assigned daily for studying Mao's writings. The remaining hours were used for the work of the masses and part time agricultural production. This left little time for actual military training. Lo Jui-ch'ing, Chief of General Staff under Lin, felt this emphasis was detrimental to national defense. Without Lin's approval Lo shifted the emphasis back to military training. For his efforts Lo, like Peng Teh-huai, was purged on the charge of treason against the armed forces. It became obvious that stressing military training over political training was unsafe.

Military training during this period emphasized basic training within the company, especially on the individual soldier, team, squad and platoon levels. After a good foundation had been laid by company-level units, the military regions could arrange joint training for a few battalions, regiments, and divisions, as required. The India/PRC conflict, Sino/Soviet split, and the Gulf of Tonkin incident all took place during this time period, however, none of them seemed to affect the training doctrine.

During Stage Five which began in 1967 and has lasted to the present, two events occurred which greatly effected the course of PLA training. The Cultural Revolution brought most large-scale military training to a standstill. What training that did take place had the following characteristics:

a. Short training periods -- courses which usually lasted several years were now given in a few months;
b. Emphasis was placed on experience and not theories;
c. Mutual teaching and learning between students;
d. Inferior quality of students as a result of emphasis placed on family background and political outlook;
e. Simplicity -- lack of training facilities, equipment, and instructors necessitated keeping training very basic.

The 1969 border conflict with the Soviet Union awoke the Chinese to the need for effective military training. Although ideological training remains number one in priority, military training has been upgraded to prepare for combat. Combat readiness exercises are emphasized as well as bivouac training, live ammunition firing, sea-air, and land-air joint exercises, and long-distance marches. Since 1969 the largest and probably the best field and command post exercises ever conducted by the Chinese have taken place and this type of training is continuing.

Ground Forces

Reporting on training activity in 1968 dealt primarily with communication exercises until midway through the year. Initial indications of more substantive types of training were noted in late May, when a radio conversation referenced an exercise in Fukien involving armored vehicles.

Armored training was referenced again later in the year as Peking Military Region (MR) voice communications between 11 and 22 November reflected a field exercise involving the 4th Armored Division. This exercise consisted of three phases: Preparation and road march, combat training, and assembly and instruction. Between 26 and 28 November, two of the armored units were involved in live-fire exercises in the vicinity of Shang An, Hopeh Province. The Peking MR activity seemed to be a normal part of the armored training cycle as reflected in COMINT. In previous years, armored training went through a yearly cycle with small-unit and individual training emphasized from January to July, and company-size exercises during the second half of the year. Larger-unit exercises normally seemed to peak in November.

The year 1969 was marked by increasing COMINT references to armored training and field exercises, as well as indications of chemical-biological-nuclear (CBN) drills, amphibious training, and combined-arms exercises. Miniature range firing activity occurred at Nankou, Peking MR, and Ssuping, Shenyang MR, with basic driver training also being conducted in the latter site. Other tank training included location of a firing range at Tsinan, Tsinan MR, and driving exercises at Tang Shui, Nanching MR. Tanks deployed in a field exercise, probably accompanied by rocket launchers, were observed in September near Yu-kuan-chen, Peking MR.

CBN training was noted in July and August, and the first known COMINT reference to amphibious training appeared in September.

Throughout 1970, indications of training built a picture of more sophisticated, large-unit exercises. Units have trained in simulated nuclear- and chemical-warfare situations and in antiairborne defense. Moreover, COMINT and PHOTINT acquired evidence of artillery, armor, and infantry training in a variety of combinations. Fall and winter 1970-1971 saw some of the most extensive exercise activity ever reflected in COMINT. Every military region participated to some degree, and nearly every tactical unit was at some time involved. In Kuangchou MR, the MR HQ, Kuangtung, Kwangsi and Hunan Military Districts, 41st, 42d, and 55th Armies along with virtually every ground force unit in the region took part in a major exercise. Air Force participation was noted as IL-28/BEAGLE jet light bombers and 13th Air Division transports were noted in probable related activity.

Extensive training exercises continued through spring and summer. Elements of two armored divisions in Peking MR maneuvered in the same time period as an air ground exercise in northeast China. While neither interregional play nor direct involvement of the Ministry of National Defense has been apparent, the simultaneous and widespread nature of the activity strongly suggests more sophisticated planning at the national level. It is likely that these exercises provided an evaluative vehicle for national defense measures taken in response to the 28 August 1969 directive to "defend the motherland."

Overhead photographs from 30 January to 4 February 1971 provided evidence of some of the COMINT detected activity. The first photography of a major combined-arms exercise in Wuhan MR revealed elements of an unidentified tank regiment and probably the 2d Artillery Division training near Chueh-shan (Honan) on 2 February 1971. Dispersed in a training area were eight tanks, five assault guns, 18 rocket launchers and 32 field artillery pieces. On 31 January, 17 tank/ assault guns and 18 antiaircraft weapons were deployed in the Huai-an area of Peking MR, and on 4 February 29 tanks and 15 assault guns were training in the Tang-shui area of Nanching MR.

Active exercise areas that have been newly established near Taopuchi, Inner Mongolia, Taiyuan, Shansi, Kucheng, Tanghsien, Houlu and Changhsintien, Hopeh, provide hundreds of square miles for the training of 2,000-20,000 troops each. Located, identified training areas can support as many as a quarter million troops at a time.

The preponderance of evidence since mid-1968 indicates that the tempo of PRCA training has increased considerably and that army representatives continue to participate in "support-the-left" and production activities. The lack of training activity detected in COMINT during the first half of 1968 most likely reflected the final months of the cultural revolution (CR), when many troops were engaged full time in maintaining order. Because the Chinese army has had a history of close involvement in civil affairs, these nonmilitary activities will no doubt continue, but will affect only an insignificant percentage of combat troops and will have negligible impact on levels of training.

Many CR activities during civil disturbances, however, had training-related benefits. For example, signal, medical and transportation units were frequently able to exercise their specialties, and the army as a whole gained vital experience in projecting units over long distances. No less important, many of the production and propaganda duties of the PRCA, especially during the CR, helped to heighten the political consciousness of the "fighter." Since Chinese military doctrine places the highest priority on political and ideological indoctrination, the CR was for the entire Peoples Liberation Army a period of maximum exposure to this most important aspect of training. The army has always lived with substantial demands on resources that otherwise could have been devoted to the sharpening of combat skills, and during the CR, training restrictions were undoubtedly tightened. In the aftermath of the CR, however, military training has been on the upswing and has taken on added urgency through a campaign of "war preparations" intensified by Sino-Soviet tensions.

The upsurge in military training since 1969 has stressed basic military skills as well as communication and field operations. Additionally, the functional orientation of army wide training has undoubtedly had the normally expected beneficial effect on morale. The improved state of training has raised the mission effectiveness of Chinese ground units to a level unequaled in peacetime. The net result of this immense nationwide effort has been to increase readiness and enhance materially overall operational capability.


To date, naval exercises conducted by the respective fleets have not demonstrated any capability to conduct offensive nuclear operations. The entire spectrum of exercises appear to emphasize coastal defense techniques against an inferior naval power. Attached appendix indicates monthly naval vessel activity from 1966-1970. It is evident that there was no Chinese naval reaction to the US naval presence in the Gulf of Tonkin (1966-1970); however, it would appear that the navy responded as did the other elements of the Peoples Liberation Army to the need for emphasis on realistic military training following the Sino-Soviet confrontation in 1969.

Although concentrating on developing an expertise in coastal defense procedures, the Chinese are undoubtedly cognizant of the basic essentials of nuclear defense at sea. It is apparent that individual ships conduct decontaminating drills as well as practicing damage control procedures. However, again this type of activity suggests an aim of survival.

Air Force

Staffing of the 4th Independent Regiment was probably accomplished by transferring pilots and crews from already existing air units. Evidence points to the TU-2-equipped 10th Division, Nanching, as the source of at least 11 crews in early 1953. Pilots assigned to the 4th Independent Regiment probably had received their training at the 1st and 2nd Air Schools in the Shenyang Air Districts.

Following the transfer of the 10 TU-4s to China, in February 1953, pilots of the 4th Independent Regiment commenced transitional training at Shihchianchuang. This phase of training was apparently under the control of Soviet advisors and continued for some five months. No reference to Soviet training advisors was noted after September 1953.

After September 1953, independent training under Chinese supervision included round-robin flights (up to 600/700 miles) These reflected an advanced stage of training involving tow-targets, GCI, and possibly limited over-water flights. Night operations were first noted in March 1954 and,by 1 June of that year, 96 such flights had occurred.

The Headquarters of the 4th Independent Regiment moved to Peiching on 9 March 1954 and to Wukung the following February. Long-range flights involving eight to 10 aircraft followed. Flights of 1,400 miles, of six to eight hours duration, and including as many as 10 aircraft were noted in May 1954. These flights had been extended to greater ranges in 1957. Retrofit flights from Wukung to the USSR, via Shenyang Air District, were believed to have occurred in 1958.

The period April/August 1958 witnessed the extension of operational training flights of the strategic bomber force to Koerhmu and Lasa. It is possible that this unit was employed against the Tibetan guerrillas at that time. Late 1958, 1959, and early 1960 found increasing flights to Northwest China -- four to possibly Koerhmu or beyond in April 1960 and, one to Shuangchengtzu the following June.

At least five TU-4s were along the Chinese coastal area as airborne bases for shadow operations against intruding P2Vs over a period extending to August 1963. As many as 15 reactions were counted, several involving two and three TU-4s.

TU-16 flight training with the 4th Independent Regiment was first noted in July and December of 1962 when aircraft were observed in round-robin flights from Wukung. Throughout 1964 and 1965, both TU-4s and TU-16s were reflected in flights to Northwest China, activities probably associated with preparations for the series of nuclear shots that began in October 1964. TU-16s have also been employed to act as intruders in operations along the coastal areas to make more realistic the training of AC & W units in tracking and communications techniques.

Bomber navigators are trained at the 16th Air School, Hsian, where a three-year (including one-year preparatory) course is offered. It is believed that most graduates are assigned to IL-28 units for operational training. Only a select few are assigned to the strategic unit. Communications personnel are also trained at the 16th Air School, while ground crew personnel are trained at the 8th and 9th Air Schools, (Shenyang and Changchun respectively). Weapons technicians are believed to be trained at the 8th and 10th Air Schools, the latter at Taiyuan.

Unit proficiency of the 4th Independent Regiment is probably as high as can be found in the CCAF and the TU-4/TU-16 pilots are probably considered the elite of the air force.

Missile Forces

In October 1966, a training base was identified at Wuwei for personnel in surface-to-surface missile systems. However, after late 1966, missile-related activity at the facility ceased to be observed and the area showed few signs of use and through mid-1968 there was no evidence of crew training or firings. In 1968, Wuwei appeared to be getting ready for new activity with the construction of new buildings. Possibly as early as August 1968, CSS-1 troop training could have begun at the Shuangchengtzu Launch Complex. On several occasions during the remainder of the year support equipment was visible at the launch complex. Since August 1958, there have been 14 confirmed crew training firings, the CSS-1 and several more firings could have occurred without being detected.

A training site was identified in September 1970 20 nautical miles south of Wuwei near Shuangta. Here crews became familiar with setting the missile up and conducting a launch sequence. Actual launches are not conducted from Wuwei or the Shuangta training site.

The first photographic evidence of troop training with the IRBM CSS-2 was obtained in coverage of Wuwei in November 1970. CSS-2 equipment at this training facility has been observed throughout 1971 and so far in 1972.

The troops are apparently first brought to Wuwei for classroom and missile handling instructions. After completing classroom instructions, CSS-1 trainees probably move to Shuangta for field exercises. The CSS-2 crews receive missile and equipment familiarization training at Wuwei. After this phase of training is completed, CSS-1 crews move to Shuangchengtzu and CSS-2 crews to Wuchai for conducting practice launches. When these practice launches are completed,the crews apparently depart to a deployed site.