China Strengthening People's Liberation Army Navy Marine Corps at Expense of the Army
China plans to downsize the People's Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF) while boosting the strength of the badly undermanned and underfunded People's Liberation Army Navy Marine Corps (PLAMC) as part of moves deemphasizing the importance of the PLAGF.
Beijing announced plans to increase the manpower of the PLAMC by 400 percent to project infantry fighting power overseas the same way as the United States Marine Corps. The PLAGF, which is trained for conventional ground combat, will have little or no role to play in any ground combat over the manmade islands built by China or those seized by China from other nations such as the Philippines and Vietnam.
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With a strength of 1.6 million men and women, the PLAGF is the largest standing army in the world. It can't fight outside mainland China, however, because China is bereft of the military and civilian ships to transport army sized units overseas.
On the other hand, the PLAMC only has 12,000 men on its rolls. These men belong to two brigades -- the 1st Marine Brigade and 164th Marine Brigade -- with a third brigade (the 77th Motorized Infantry Brigade from the PLAGF) in the process of organization.
These men are based at the city of Zhanjiang in southern Guangdong province bordering the South China Sea and off Hainan Island.
The marines operate main battle tanks (Type 59); light amphibious tanks (Type 63 and ZBD200); infantry fighting vehicles (ZBD05) and armored personnel carriers of various makes.
The men and their machines are deployed to their objectives by naval transport ships such as the Type 071 (Yuzhao class), of which only four are in service and two building.
A 400 percent increase to the current strength of 18,000 men means China plans to fund and equip an additional 72,000 men, bringing the PLAMC to about 100,000 men. This build-up will be funded by a $147 billion increase in military spending for the next year.
"The PLA marines will be increased to 100,000, consisting of six brigades in the coming future [to] fulfill new missions of our country," said sources in the People's Liberation Army (PLA), as quoted by Chinese media.
In addition, the increased funding will also go to the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), to which the PLAMC belongs, and will allow PLAN to boost its strength to 270,000 personnel from the existing 235,000.
Chinese military pundits also said the boost to both the PLAN and the PLAMC will add muscle to China's foreign policy.
"Besides its original missions of a possible war with Taiwan, maritime defense in the East and South China seas, it's also foreseeable that the PLA Navy's mission will expand overseas, including protection of China's national security in the Korean peninsula, the country's maritime lifelines, as well as offshore supply depots like in Djibouti and Gwadar port in Pakistan," said Admiral Li Jie with the Naval Military Academic Research Institute.