How Large Is Chinese Army

Currently the world’s largest army, the Chinese army is a formidable force of 2.3 million active-duty personnel. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is the unified military organization of China, and is divided into the Ground Force, Navy, Air Force, Rocket Force, and Strategic Support Force. With its huge personnel base, the PLA is China’s principal tool of foreign policy and defense, and a key contributor to Chinese national security and social stability.

The PLA has an unparalleled reach, covering over 99% of Chinese citizens with its garrisons and forces dispatched across multiple cities, regions, islands, and countries. As the world’s most populous country, it is no surprise that Chinese military power is unparalleled. Most significant of all, most Chinese soldiers serve in the world’s largest standing military reserve: the People’s Liberation Army Reserve Force (PLARF). With an estimated 350,000 personnel, the standby army accounts for more than 15% of the nation’s total armed strength.

Organizational and technological improvements have bolstered the PLA’s combat power greatly in recent years. The Chinese military has advanced from a largely conscript-based force to a professionalized fighting force, one that boasts modern naval and air power capabilities and sophisticated weapons platforms for military capabilities and operations alike.

The PLA’s active involvement in global issues over the last few decades has made its presence felt in international circles, ranging from peacekeeping and humanitarian relief operations to active campaigns against terrorists and separatists. Its forces have taken part in a number of joint multinational exercises and regularly participates in war game scenarios and international training events with other armed forces.

The PLA has developed a range of advanced weapons and platforms, from ballistic missile submarines and formidable ground forces to aircraft carriers, supersonic MAVs, and other cutting-edge technologies. The Chinese military has been busy researching, developing, and deploying these weapons, and it’s clear that Beijing is willing to invest money and development in enhancing its military capabilities.

The PLA is driven by its mission of preserving the CPC’s rule and creating a secure environment for China, demonstrating extraordinary commitment in the process. Its armies maneuver across multiple domains, allowing the PLA to conduct functions in a joint and integrated manner — something that hinges on strong bonds between its personnel and the PLA’s die-hard commitment to maintaining its core purpose.

The Chinese Army is actively preparing for both defensive and offensive operations, making it one of the most formidable forces of the 21st century. China is prioritizing modernizing key components of its military, such as re-equipping its ground forces with advanced tanks, artillery, and other armaments, as well as building an ever larger navy. Given the nation’s large population and its impressive economic growth, the Chinese military will likely remain an intimidating force for years to come.

Specialized Training and Drills

The PLA’s commitment to training is unshakeable, with troops informed on a wide range of subjects from infantry tactics to geopolitical tactics. Specialized training and exercises further prepare them for situations that push the boundaries of their capabilities, such as air-land operations, non-permissive environments, counter-terrorism, and expeditionary warfare. The PLA also emphasizes live-fire drills and distributed battles, in which its forces depend on the fast movement of wave envelopes and efficient human interaction.

Its surveillance strategies are also advanced. The PLA draws upon the latest technologies and developments in fiber optics, radio frequency, microwave imaging, radio wave navigation, machine vision, and other features, often combined to form a comprehensive surveillance package.

In addition, the Chinese Army is committed to gathering intelligence on adversaries in the area, with ‘spy’ forces trained to collect intelligence from enemy territory. This information is then analyzed, analyzed and acted upon quickly in order for the Chinese Army to react to new conditions or incidents rapidly.

It is also worth noting that the PLA has trained to win in any conventional war, and to ensure that the Chinese military is able to protect the nation’s interests in any asymmetric conflict. These procedures are part of China’s overall military approach, and have been proven to be effective on the international stage.

Military Budget

The Chinese government’s military budget ranks second in the world, behind only the United States. In 2020, that budget was a cool $179.71 billion, a budget that is consistently rising year over year. These funds are used to purchase weapons and military hardware, finance the holding of joint exercises with other armed forces, and provide much-needed support to Chinese forces. This demonstrates the Chinese government’s commitment to the nation’s defenses.

Furthermore, the military budget is supplemented by other funds, such as those pertaining to ‘military construction’. These funds are used in the recruitment of personnel, the construction of infrastructure and facilities, and the development and maintenance of military bases and equipment. In 2020, approximately $44.4 billion was allocated for such activities, the largest portion going towards retrofitting and modernizing infrastructure.

In addition, the PLA also has access to a wide range of commercial and informal funding sources. For instance, funds from private-sector firms, philanthropic donations, and research subsidies can be funneled into the PLA’s coffers, to finance military modernization efforts.

The PLA’s Global Objectives

The Chinese Army seeks to achieve a number of objectives in the global arena. Namely, it looks to strengthen its presence in, and defend its borders against, potential enemies and geopolitical rivals, while closely monitoring the developments of other nations. It also seeks to expand its regional presence, assuming a leading role in regional military affairs, such as in ensuring regional security and deterring aggression.

Beijing is also investing heavily in its ability to project military power overseas, and it’s clear that this is intended to establish China’s presence in the South China Sea and other disputed waters, as well as regions in the Middle East and the Pacific. In this regard, the PLA boasts the world’s biggest and most capable amphibious forces, comprising of a range of landing ships, hovercraft, troop transports and landing craft supported by air power, submarines and minesweepers.

Also linked to the PLA’s aims of projecting power and reinforcing the PRC’s regional goals are its growing capabilities in space, cyber and information warfare. In fact, the PLA was one of the first militaries to recognize that space and cyber warfare will be increasingly integrated in coming years, and has made significant investments in acquiring knowledge, capability and equipment to ensure it can compete in both domains.

Peacekeeping and Counter Terrorism

Given its global reach, the Chinese Army has been involved in a variety of peacekeeping and counter-terrorism operations. The PLA has provided aid and personnel for UN and NATO missions, as well as participated in joint military exercises with other nations. Notably, it has provided aid for relief operations in countries such as Myanmar, Kenya, and Somalia.

In terms of counter-terrorism, the PLA has adopted more proactive measures and is increasing its engagement with global efforts. In 2013, the PLA participated in the UN-mandated counter-terrorism effort in Mali, and has sent Special Forces and unmanned drones to battle Islamic State forces in Iraq. It has also conducted extensive anti-terrorist operations in which members of the Chinese Army have worked in direct coordination with allied forces.

In addition, the PLA has continued to develop non-lethal weapons capabilities that can be integrated into counter-terrorism operations. This includes the development of non-explosive surge bombs and directed energy weapons, in an effort to reduce civilian casualties and collateral damage.

Modernization and International Engagement

The modernization of the PLA has been guided by its long-term development plans, which are intended to ensure its leadership in military affairs and maintain its strategic edge. These plans have been detailed in the PLA’s mission statement, which outlines key objectives for the effective and efficient maintenance of national security. These main goals emphasize the continued development of the PLA’s maritime capabilities, the development of a greater air force, and the expansion of the PLA’s space-security operations.

In addition, the PLA is utilizing international military technology in order to increase its operations capabilities and stand toe-to-toe with other world-class militaries. While a majroity of weapons systems remain domestically developed, China is also purchasing and licensing advanced armament from Russia and the US, two of the world’s leading military players.

On the regional level, China continues to maintain and modernize its peacekeeping operations, launching both joint and unilateral initiatives. Chinese forces have also been deployed to conflict zones, providing aid, advice and training to partner forces, as well as joint operations with others.

Finally, the PLA is also increasing and diversifying its international partnerships with other militaries, as well as boosting its profile in global and regional organizations. International military exchanges have played an integral role in the PLA’s development and modernization, allowing it to gain new knowledge, technologies, and strategies to become more capable and effective.

Letha Wimmer is a military expert with more than a decade of direct experience in the U.S. Army and National Guard. She specializes in researching and writing about the world's armies and their capabilities, equipment, capabilities, strategies, organizations, and operations. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Aviation from Middle Tennessee State University as well as an Aerial Firefighting Certificate and numerous other advanced aviation certifications. She also enjoys traveling to distant lands to gain firsthand knowledge about their military forces and has written extensively for various websites on the subject.

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