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This article is organised as follows:

  • Part 01: Introduction to PLA Rocket Force Special Operations Forces.
  • Part 02: Hierarchy of PLA Rocket Force Special Operations Forces.
  • Part 03: Organisation of PLA Rocket Force Special Operations Forces.
  • Part 04: Recruitment, Selection and Training of PLA Rocket Force Special Operations Forces.
  • Part 05: Training Establishments.
  • Part 06: Miscellaneous.

1.0     Introduction

“Although it appears that China’s special forces are still in the early stages of their development, it would be a mistake to dismiss their capabilities.” (Henderson, 2006, p.33).

This article is about the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Rocket Force Special Operations Forces (SOF).

The PLA Rocket Force (or PLARF), originally known as The Second Artillery (Tao, 2016), is one of seven (7) organisations that make up the Chinese Armed Forces (China Military, 2017) and has approximately 100,000 personnel. The PLARF consisting of conventional, nuclear ballistic and cruise missile units.

The PLA Rocket Force SOF unit comprise the rocket component of the PLA’s SOF community. In contrast to its US counterparts, the PLA does not have a unified SOF Command, with operational and administrative control devolved to the branches of military service and Theatre Commands (TCs).

The PLA is commanded through the Central Military Commission, with PLA Navy combat units distributed among five TCs (Eastern, Southern, Western, Northern and Central).

Although the PLA’s primary role is to defend China from external threats, by law, it has a secondary role of supporting domestic security operations.

Many defence analysts categorise Chinese SOF as similar to US Rangers in their capabilities although closer inspection of their analysis, and a tradition of misinformation by the Chinese, suggests that Chinese SOF capabilities may be greater than perception suggests. Further, many defence analysts compare Chinese SOF against the codified US model of SOF, which is merely one among many.

For those who apply for PLA Rocket Force SOF, approximately [? out of every 100] volunteers will be dropped/failed during the initial training programme.

This article will provide the reader with an outline of the PLA Rocket Force’s SOF, providing a brief history and their role and purpose. It will then provide an outline of the hierarchy and organisation of PLA Rocket Force SOF before moving on to describe the selection and training process. Finally, the article will discuss some of the training establishments which deliver training to Chinese PLA Rocket Force SOF candidates before providing some useful links, publications and references.

1.1     Brief History of PLA Rocket Force SOF

There is not much known regarding the history of the PLARF SOF, other than they were established after 2004 (Yang, 2014).

“…the Rocket Force, identified as China’s “core strategic deterrence power,” was upgraded to a full service (军种) from its former status of “an independent branch treated as a service,” (兵种). Later the PLA Daily indicated Rocket Force units would be the same as the former Second Artillery Force (PLASAF) (http://www.81.cn/jmywyl/2016-01/10/content_6851000.htm), January 10). As a service, the Rocket Force eventually could be expected to have its own distinctive uniform.” (Allen et al., 2016).

Chinese SOF now consist of PLA Army SF, PLA Army aviation units, PLA Rocket Force, PLA Navy Marine Corps, PLA Air Force Airborne troops and the People’s Armed Police force units.

1.2     General Duties of Special Operations Forces

SOF personnel are required to infiltrate and exfiltrate to and from operational areas dismounted, carrying heavy loads and manipulating personal and support weapons systems and other heavy equipment. SOF personnel perform insertions and assaults on targets by:

  • Parachuting onto ground or into water;
  • Climbing ladders and cliffs;
  • Rappelling;
  • Conducting close-quarters battle (CQB); and
  • Battle drills in varying types of terrain and climatic conditions day or night.

SOF personnel are also required to board ocean vessels while they are underway from another floating or airborne platform in all sea states day or night, and where speed and stealth are imperative. These duties are performed while wearing heavy rucksack and body armour. SOF personnel perform individual CQB and detainee handling which may require the individual to:

  • Combat and detain another person using blocking strikes;
  • Disarming;
  • Lifting;
  • Pulling;
  • Ground fighting;
  • Grappling; and
  • Moving a non-compliant person.

There is no tolerance for a lapse in attention when conducting CQB and other assaults while wearing night vision goggles as well as Special Operations Insertion and Extraction (SOIE) techniques. Accurate discrimination of non-combatants and precision engagement of enemy combatants requires extreme concentration.

Similarly, high-risk roped and un-roped insertions with no redundant safety systems require constant attention. SOF personnel require the ability for continuous analysis of the situation, environment, mission aims and unique foreign societal complexities during operations.

1.3     Role and Purpose of PLA Rocket Force SOF

The primary role and purpose of the PLARF is (Yang, 2014):

  • Missile launch protection;
  • Protection from enemy attacks;
  • Special reconnaissance; and
  • Other pertinent tasks.

“They are strategic level of deterrence.” (Yang, 2014).

2.0     Hierarchy of PLA Rocket Force SOF

This section provides an outline of the civilian and military personalities and organisations that have some form of control, impact, or direction over the PLARF’s SOF.

2.1     President of the People’s Republic of China

The President of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), a civilian, has three main roles:

  • President of the PRC;
  • General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party; and
  • Chairman of the Central Military Commission.

2.2     Premier of the People’s Republic of China

The Premier of the PRC, a civilian, is the head of the Chinese Government’s State Council, which leads three important ministries (State Council, 2014):

  • The Ministry of Public Security;
  • The Ministry of State Security; and
  • The Ministry of National Defense.

2.3     Ministry of National Defense

The Ministry of National Defense (MND) is headed by the Minister of National Defense, generally known as the Defence Minister.

The MND was established in 1954 after a decision by the 1st Session of the 1st National People’s Congress. In contrast to western convention, the MND does not exercise command authority over the PLA, which is instead subordinate to the Central Military Commission (CMC). The MND principally serves as a liaison body representing the CMC and PLA when dealing with foreign militaries in military exchange and cooperation.

Its official responsibilities had been to exercise unified administration over the development of the Chinese Armed Forces such as recruitment, organisation, equipment, training, scientific military research of the PLA, and the ranking and remuneration of the officers and enlisted personnel. However, in reality, these responsibilities are carried out by the fifteen (15) agencies (previously four General Headquarters) of the PLA, which are under the control of the CMC.

Although the MND itself does not exercise much authority, the role of the Defence Minister has always been viewed as one of the most important positions in China’s political system. The Minister is always an active military officer (OF-9 level), a State Councillor and a member of the Communist Party’s Central Committee and member (sometimes a Vice Chairman) of the CMC, enabling the post holder to take part in the decision making process in the PLA, the Government and the Chinese Communist Party.

2.4     Central Military Commission

The Central Military Commission (CMC), chaired by the President of the PRC, exerts command and control of the PLA through fifteen (15) agencies: general office; joint staff department; political work department; logistical support department; equipment development department; training department; national defence mobilisation department; discipline inspection commission; politics and law commission; science and technology commission; administration; auditing; international cooperation; reform and organisational structure; and strategic planning (Zhaohui, 2016).

The Joint Staff Department has a number of responsibilities including military operational planning, command and control, studying and formulating military strategies, and assessing operational capacity (Zhaohui, 2016).

Reforms in early 2016, initiated by the then President of the PRC, witnessed a reorganisation from four departments to the fifteen agencies noted above.

2.5     Director General SOF

“Officially, the PLA does not have a unified command like the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) for special operations, but the Intelligence Department (2nd Department) of the PLA General Staff Department may serve as a general director for SOF and special forces warfare doctrines development. The SOF units are also believed to be closely associated with the intelligence department[s] of the seven MRHQs.” (Global Defence, 2008).

There is currently (as of May 2017) no public information available discussing the post of general director of SOF after the 2016 reforms.

2.6     Commander PLA Rocket Force SOF

No information available.

3.0     Organisation of PLA Rocket Force SOF

The PLA Rocket Force has established a SOF unit at either group or regiment size (Blasko, 2015a).

4.0     Selection and Training

This section of the article provides a very brief overview of the publicly available information regarding the selection and training of PLA Rocket Force SOF candidates.

4.1     Selection and Screening

As part of the selection process candidates must complete a five (5) kilometre off-road route, carrying twenty (20) kilograms, in a time limit of twenty five (25) minutes (Yang, 2014).

Candidates must also complete a variety of mentally and physically gruelling individual and team-based events. By the end of the selection process Yang (2014) reports that only twenty (20) candidates are left (although doesn’t note how many start).

4.2     SOF Training

Like their PLA Army, Navy and Air Force colleagues, PLARF candidates conduct tribiphious training – sea, air and land – reported to have commenced in May 2009 (Yang, 2014).

4.3     Graduation

No information available.

5.0     Training Establishments

There are several training establishments involved in the delivery of training to candidates during their basic SOF and advanced SOF training. Some of these training establishments are outlined below.

5.1     PLA Special Operations Academy

The PLA Special Operations Academy (解放军特种作战学院), sometimes translated as the Academy of Special Operations, was established in 2012 in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province (Blasko, 2015b).

The original purpose of the academy was to prepare junior officers for assignments in SOF units.

5.2     PLA Physical Culture Academy

“The recent emphasis on building Special Operations Forces has resulted in the establishment of a unique course within the Physical Culture Academy in Guangzhou that includes anti-terrorist, peacekeeping, and information technology operations.” (Blasko, 2006, p.61).

The Physical Culture Academy was previously part of the General Staff Department (Blasko, 2006).

6.0     Miscellaneous

6.1     Useful Links

6.2     Useful Publications

  • Books:
    • Bo, J.Q. (2015) Chinese Special Forces: Real Man. Chinese Edition. Jiangsu: Jiangsu Phoenix Art Publishing House.
    • Kamphausen, R. & Lai, D. (eds) (2015) The Chinese People’s Liberation Army in 2025. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Strategic Studies Institute and United States Army War College Press. Available from World Wide Web: https://fas.org/nuke/guide/china/pla-2025.pdf. [Accessed: 25 April, 2017].
    • Lee, N. (1983) The Chinese People’s Liberation Army 1980-82: Modernisation, Strategy and Politics. Canberra: Strategic and Defence Studies Centre. Available from World Wide Web: http://sdsc.bellschool.anu.edu.au/sites/default/files/publications/attachments/2016-03/sdsc-lee.pdf. [Accessed: 25 April, 2017].
    • Pollpeter, K. & Allen, K.W. (eds) (0000) The PLA as Organization v2.0. PLACE: Defence Group Inc. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.pla-org.com/downloads/. [Accessed: 25 April, 2017].
  • Research:
    • Wortzel, L.M. (2016) Taking the Fight to the Enemy: Chinese Thinking about Long-distance and Expeditionary Operations. Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute and U.S. Army War College Press. Available from World Wide Web: https://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/pdffiles/PUB1322.pdf. [Accessed: 05 June, 2017].
    • Rinehart, I.E. (2016) The Chinese Military: Overview and Issues for Congress. Congressional Research Service Report 7-5700. Available from World Wide Web: https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R44196.pdf. [Accessed: 05 June, 2017].
    • Lavender, D.J. (2013) China’s Special Operations Forces Modernization, Professionalization and Regional Implications. Master’s Thesis. United States Army War College. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.dtic.mil/get-tr-doc/pdf?AD=ADA589222. [Accessed: 17 April, 2017].
    • Yang, A.N.D. & Liao, M, W-C. (1998) Chapter 4: PLA Rapid Reaction Forces: Concept, Training, and Preliminary Assessment. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/conf_proceedings/CF145/CF145.chap4.pdf. [Accessed: 17 April, 2017].
    • Magazines:
      Henderson, S.J. (2006) In the Shadow: Chinese Special Forces Build a 21st-Century Fighting Force. Special Warfare: The Professional Bulletin of US Army Special Operations. July-August 2006. 19(4), pp.30-35.
    • Cheng, D. (2012) The Chinese People’s Liberation Army and Special Operations. Special Warfare: The Professional Bulletin of US Army Special Operations. July-September 2012. 25(3), pp.24-27.
    • Andrew, M. (2015) The Origins of Chinese Special Forces, 1922-1935. Special Operations Journal. 1(1), pp.37-43.

6.3     References

Allen, K., Blasko, D.J. & Corbett, J.F. (2016) The PLA’s New Organizational Structure: What is Known, Unknown and Speculation (Part 1). Available from World Wide Web: https://jamestown.org/program/the-plas-new-organizational-structure-what-is-known-unknown-and-speculation-part-1/. [Accessed: 12 June, 2017].

Blasko, D.J. (2006) The Chinese Army Today: Tradition and Transformation for the 21st Century. Oxon: Routledge.

Blasko, D.J. (2015a) Chinese Special Operations forces: Not Like “Back at Bragg”. Available from World Wide Web: https://warontherocks.com/2015/01/chinese-special-operations-forces-not-like-back-at-bragg/. [Accessed: 17 April, 2017].

Blasko, D.J. (2015b) PLA Special Operations Forces: Organizations, Missions and Training. Available from World Wide Web: https://jamestown.org/program/pla-special-operations-forces-organizations-missions-and-training/. [Accessed: 17 April, 2017].

China Military (2017) Armed Forces. Available from World Wide Web: http://english.chinamil.com.cn/armed-forces/index.htm. [Accessed: 25 April, 2017].

Global Defence (2008) PLA Special Operations Forces. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.globaldefence.net/archiv/artikelanalysen/asien/chinaplaspecialoperationsforcesenglishversion/. [Accessed: 25 April, 2017].

Henderson, S.J. (2006) In the Shadow: Chinese Special Forces Build a 21st-Century Fighting Force. Special Warfare: The Professional Bulletin of US Army Special Operations. July-August 2006. 19(4), pp.30-35.

State Council (2014) State Council Organization Chart. Available from World Wide Web: http://english.gov.cn/state_council/2014/09/03/content_281474985533579.htm. [Accessed: 19 May, 2017].

Tao, Z. (ed) (2016a) PLA holds Symposium to Mark Missile Force Anniversary. Available from World Wide Web: http://english.chinamil.com.cn/view/2016-06/28/content_7220910.htm. [Accessed: 25 April, 2017].

Yang, Y. (2014) Visit the Second Artillery Special Forces Hardly Been Seen in the Public Eye. (In Chinese). Available from World Wide Web: http://photo.chinamil.com.cn/jrfc/2014-02/12/content_5767601.htm. [Accessed: 12 June, 2017].

Zhaohui, D. (ed) (2016) China Reshuffles Military Headquarters. Available from World Wide Web: http://english.chinamil.com.cn/view/2016-01/11/content_7160596.htm. [Accessed: 25 April, 2017].