How Many Personnel In The Chinese Army

Though not officially disclosed by China, according to a Pentagon report, the manpower in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is estimated to be up to 2 million. The PLA Ground Force alone makes up the majority of Chinese military with 1.6 million personnel. Analysts state that given China’s huge population and rapid economic growth, the manpower can be increased to reach up to 3 million if needed.

The People’s Republic Army formed in 1927, is the armed force of the People’s Republic of China and is the accredited outcome of decades of military development. It previously called the Chinese Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army, is the collective armed forces of the country, run by the Central Military Commission, with People’s Liberation Army General Staff leading the functioning.

The Chinese army combat forces include an array of active and reserve personnel, such as the PLA Ground Forces, Navy, Air Force, Rocket Force, and Strategic Support Force. Apart from these primary forces, the Chinese Armed Forces retain the People’s Armed Police Force. It is also responsible for managing military information and cyber security of the nation.

The PLA Navy has the world’s largest active battle fleet, with 250 submarines and aircraft carriers, carries out a variety of missions, including naval surface combat operations, nuclear deterrence, maritime law enforcement operations, sea-based missile defence, HADR (Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief) operations, and search and rescue.

Similarly, the PLA Air Force is a service branch within the PLA and is the world’s largest air force. It operates a wide variety of modern foreign and domestic combat aircraft components, weapons and surveillance missions, delivering a formidable presence to maintain regional and global military stability.

In recent years, the Chinese Army also demonstrated its unstoppable power by detonating new types of nuclear weapons. According to the US Department of Defense, the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in the Chinese land-based nuclear arsenal has reached the “dozen” mark. This puts Beijing in possession of the largest number of operational missiles out of itself, Russia and the US.

The Chinese Army also prioritises modernisation of its existing military arsenal. Through its “Military Revolution with Chinese Characteristics” project, it is emphasising the development of artificial intelligence, smart drones, and modernised naval vessels and aircraft. Such advancements are reflective of the nation’s technological sophistication and ambition.

Era of Militarisation

In the new era of militarisation, the number of personnel in the Chinesearmy continues to grow. Many advanced weapons, aircraft and nuclear weapons are added to their arsenal. The majority of the groundwork for the modernisation of the Chinese army was laid down during the Golden Age i.e. the past 30 years, during which the size of the PLA has grown from a few hundred thousand to more than 2 million.

China’s aggresive territorial grabs and their response to public protests indicates how their military strength is used as a tool of deterrence. According to a research done by the US India Strategy and Policy Institute, the PLA possesses 336,000 special operations personnel, backed by an additional 121,000 support staff and logistics personnel.

A study shows that China’s impressive military strength is founded on an abundant domestic population, job market and preferred government prioritisation. China has emerged as an important financial and military provider, partnering with many African countries, as well as North Korea, Pakistan and Russia. A 50% hike in military expenditure between 2019 and 2020 makes China a part of the world’s “No Bullying” zone.

Military Conscription

China utilises the age-old method of conscription, in which citizens are mandated to join the military, to ensure the timely mobilisation of large numbers of personnel in emergency situations. The selection criteria for mandatory service depend on military needs, economic status, and educational qualifications.

The process for military selection generally starts in grade 10 of middle school and is open for both men and women. Conscripts are brought up to the training standard required in over a year long period. Despite strict eligibility criteria, China’s army is bolstered through a constant influx of reservists who constitute2/3rds of the total force.

This is attributed to the nations’ Legal Reserve Force (LRF), which has proven to be beneficial in times of unpredictable violence. The concept enables the mobilisation of civilian personnel to complement the military personnel in times of emergency. The LRF comprises individuals with both military and civilian background, which enables quick comprehensive deployment.

The Chinese Army’s Global Reach

The Chinese Army has come a long way and the availability of equipment, training and a competent support system has enabled it to become a major player in regional and global matters. The force is now recognised for its increasing military abilities, economic investments and regional presence. With China involved in negotiations, peace-keeping activities and nation building, it is no surprise that the nation holds the position of a superpower.

Chinese forces are also deployed in international waters and the East China Sea. Meanwhile, the African Union has collaborated with China in a “Peace and Security Initiative” for improving defense collaboration in the region. In dispute regions, China also continues to play a pivotal role in brokering ceasefires, supplying humanitarian aid, and offering armed forces personnel for peacekeeping operations.

Though the estimate of personnel power in the Chinese Army was reported to be around 2 million in the Pentagon report of 2020, the recent developments from China have not been disclosed by the Central Military Commission. As China plans to open a new nuclear power plant in 2022 and invests in more sophisticated stealth fighters and ballistic missiles, their military strength continues to remain unpredictable.

Technological Advancements

As technology constantly evolves, so does the Chinese army. Chinese scientists are researching and developing life-extending, superhuman powers, as well as underwater drones, ‘smart’ artillery and robots. The Artificial Intelligence (AI) Weapons Underwater Platform (AWUP) offers an entirely autonomous underwater intelligence platform that utilises robotic technology.

The ground battle commanders would soon be able to integrate with the unmanned combat drones, allowing them to automatically deal with battlefield threats. Similarly, an unmanned combat vehicle equipped with an AI system is being developed to assist the PLA in reconnaissance, communication and firing operations.

China also has strategic plans to use time, speed and space dimensions to gain an advantage over opponents in future battles. This will be made possible with the help of the PLA’s ‘Three Shadow’ aerial weaponry, as well as the space-based satellites that will be used for early warning and battlefield monitoring purposes.

Moreover, China has also deployed its own indigenous navigation satellites, BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, which can provide the military with a more accurate power grid. The largest experiment of BeiDou’s global capabilities will be launched in 2920, offering a total of 35 navigation and positioning satellites.

Hypersonic Missiles

The Chinese Army is also increasingly investing in hypersonic missiles. Hypersonic missiles possess great accuracy and can travel at five times the speed of sound. China has already tested over 20 different hypersonic missiles and is planning to develop the Dongfeng-17, which can reach speeds up to 10 times the speed of sound. Furthermore, China is also experimenting with the launch of satellite-guided hypersonic cruise missiles to threaten maritime targets.

The latest developments in China’s hypersonic missile arsenal can be leveraged for both offensive and defensive tactics. A single hypersonic missile can be outfitted with multiple warheads, enabling it to reach several targets at once with remarkable speed.

China is coordinating with the US military on hypersonic technologies, yet its ambitious military advances remain a concern for global peace. The Chinese military is rapidly advancing on several fronts and its advanced military arsenal is a sign of its rising might.

Military Innovations

The Chinese army is also experimenting with innovative technologies such as invisibility cloaks and devices that detect electromagnetic radiation. Invisibility cloaks are being developed to conceal warplanes and ships from the enemy’s radar, cameras and other detection devices. Similarly, the development of electromagnetic detectors will allow the military to detect the movement of potential targets, such as aircraft and submarines.

The usage of brain wave technology, AI-driven command and control systems, quantum-based weapons and unmanned surveillance systems are also expected to become integrated with the Chinese army in the near future. Such technologies will enable the Chinese military to identify and detect threats within seconds.

The usage of fuel cell technology is also being explored to improve the efficiency of overall aerial operations. Fuel cells are considered more efficient than conventional batteries and could potentially be a source of power for hybrid-electric military aircraft.

The Chinese military is also developing ‘see-through’ materials for future aircraft, which can be used for stealth and infrared applications. These materials, in combination with innovative designs, will provide the Chinese military with increased stealth capabilities.

Gender Equality in the Military

Apart from technological advancements, the PLA is also taking steps to improve gender equality. Women are no longer only assigned with administrative roles but now also serve as combat personnel and as commanders in the Chinese army. Women officers are being trained and promoted to higher ranks, becoming part of the frontline personnel.

Moreover, the Chinese armed forces are now more focused on gender sensitisation and actively include female troops in their field exercises and military drills. Women now play an important role in maintaining regional stability and protecting local residents from threats such as terrorism.

The Chinese military continues to strengthen its resolve to maintain balance between their threat posture and their operational efficiency. Thus, there has been an exponential growth in the personnel of the Chinese army, both in terms of technology and gender equality.

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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