Sentinel Project: PLA Ground Force

The Ground Force (PLAGF) has been the main land branch of the People's Liberation Army since 1948. The PLAGF currently has 900,000 active-duty personnel divided between its combat, command, and support units. Composed of 13 Army Groups, 78 Combined-Arms Brigades, 15 Artillery Brigades, 13 Air Assault/Aviation Brigades, and one Mechanized Infantry Division, the GF is a force to be reckoned with.

​ Over the years, this branch has proven extremely proficient in adapting and reorienting to new operational realities. Although its stated mission is external defense and national security, the organization has been effectively used to preserve internal order and conduct disaster relief operations.

Unit Classifications

Infantry Units


The infantry soldier is the backbone of any army, and this reality is no different for the People’s Republic of China. It is the responsibility of the infantry too close with and engage the enemy. Today’s Ground Force infantrymen are equipped with a wide range of legacy, restored, or modern gear. Recent PLA reforms have attempted to standardize Ground Force equipment, but due to the sheer size of the force, will require time. Ground Force infantry units are mainly mechanized or motorized, and thus highly mobile. Some theater commands, however, maintain immobile garrison units for specific missions.


Armor Units


The PLA Ground Force Armored Corps is made up of a mix of older, obsolete tanks and several modern, advanced tanks. Perhaps the greatest worry for land based opponents of the PRC is the Type 99, a 3rd generation Main Battle Tank comparable with the MBTs of most western powers. The PLA has aggressively pursued a modernization campaign, updating older tanks with updated armor packages, larger-caliber cannons, improved fire-control systems, and advanced electronics, while simultaneously  procuring new tanks for future conflict.


Artillery Units


The PLA Ground Force’s Artillery Corps regularly supports the ground missions of other units. However, this does not mean that it subservient or less important than its peers. A 2017 Defense Intelligence Agency report indicated that artillery units account for more than one-third of the Ground Forces operational unit strength. The PLAGF swiftly modernized its artillery platforms, and the Corps now comparable to those of most western powers. Today’s PLA artillery platforms emphasize mobile warfare and long-range deployment, thus making artillery units highly agile.


Electronic Countermeasure Units


Electronic countermeasure (ECM) units of the PLA Ground Force are equipped with a wide ranger of highly effective electronic warfare systems. By utilizing UAV-borne jamming systems, HF/VHF/UHF, and radar, ECM units can support maneuver forces or several disrupt enemy operations.


Air Defense Units


The air defense units of the People’s Liberation Army Ground Force are divided between active and reserve units. Reserve units are responsible for the defense of the People’s Republic of China’s urban areas and critical economic infrastructure. Active units provide the air defense for mobile forces and military installations of high importance. Equipped with a wide variety of modern antiaircraft missile systems, antiaircraft gun systems, and antiaircraft man-portable missile systems, these units can effectively deny air superiority to any hostile force.


Army Aviation Units


Since 2009, the PLA Ground Force has put an immense amount of time and effort into the development of a strong and versatile Aviation Corps. Today it serves not only a transport role, but a combat one as well. New and lethal helicopters combined with structural and operational changes in other parts of the Ground Force mean that the new Army Aviation units will be ready to fight any place, at any time. 


Special Operation Forces


Special Operation Forces are largely seen as the premier formations in the PLA Ground Force. However, SOF units are very different from their western counterparts. Due to their name, many assume they conduct missions such as unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, civil affairs, counterterrorism, and military information support operations. Such a notion would be inaccurate. Composed of 30,000 personnel, the majority of SOF soldiers are two-year conscripts and lieutenants on their first assignments. Although this force is prioritized for modern equipment procurement, it does not have the special mission aircraft or support staff found in the US Special Operations community and as such operates alongside conventional formations. These is little reliable open source intelligence (OSINT) indicating that Chinese SOF would be used in highly complex or unconventional warfare operations. Furthermore, SOF units do not have any publicly known experience in overseas foreign internal defense activities. If anything, the SOF units are similar to the US Army’s Ranger Regiments, and thus are more prone to operate in larger groups ​ According to PLA Ground Force doctrine, the main objective of SOF units is special reconnaissance, sabotage, and harassment of conventional hostile units. They are also able to deploy quickly, and thus can effectively engage in border conflicts or unexpected events near the homeland. ​

Logistical Units


The Ground Force’s logistical units support formations with supplies and maintenance, as well as medical and technical expertise. Due to the sheer size of the force, the PLAGF has regularly called upon the civilian sector to supplement military logistical units. As such, it is not uncommon to find civilian rations, fuel, transport vehicles, vessels, and aircraft being used by a PLA command. 


Equipment

Weapons


Designed to suppress enemy positions, protect friendly troops during movement, neutralize distant targets, and destroy armored targets, the weapons of the PLAGF are not to be underestimated.



Norinco QBZ-95 Assault Rifle


The QBZ-95 Assault Rifle is a bullpup design by Norinco, a state owned defense company. First issued to PLAGF troops in 1995, it is now common to see the weapon in the hands of state security forces. The rifle was developed around the 5.8x42mm round and has an effective range of up to 600 meters. Known for its awkward ergonomics, the Ground Force is now seeking to replace the QBZ-95 with the QBZ-191 Next Generation Assault Rifle.



QBZ-191 Assault Rifle


The QBZ-191 is the PLA’s newest assault rifle. While official details and specifications about the firearm remain scant, it appears as though it is a traditional gas-operated assault rifle chambered in the standard 5.8x42mm caliber. With an estimated range of up to 400 meters, the weapon will be a significant improvement from the QBZ-95, a flawed designed notoriously disliked by soldiers and the general staff.


Airframes


From unmanned aerial vehicles that conduct ISR, to transport helicopters that move troops across disputed borders, and attack helicopters that bring the fight to the enemy, the PLAGF has come to rely on a variety of airframes for success in the field.



Harbin Z-20 Medium-lift Utility Helicopter


The Harbin Z-20 medium-lift utility helicopter is current in service with the PLAGF. Strikingly similar to the US Army’s UH-60 Black Hawk, the Z-20 is believed to have incorporated technologies from the wreckage of an American Ghost Hawk downed during Operation Neptune Spear.  Powered by two WZ-10 turboshaft engines, the helicopter is capable of carrying more than 11 troops internally and five tons of cargo as a sling load. The Z-20 is also able to be equipped with missiles and machine guns on external pylons.


Artillery


The PLAGF has come to understand the importance of artillery in modern conflict. Artillery has been one of the primary weapons of war since before the Napoleonic Era, and that is no different today.



PLZ-05 155MM Howitzer


The PLZ-05, otherwise known as the Type 05, is a 155MM self-propelled howitzer currently in use with the PLAGF. With a 52 caliber barrel and 800 HP Diesel engine, the 05 is capable of shooting and shifting positions in a relatively fast manner. Its shell, a WS-35, is able to hit a target within 40 meters and has a max range of 62 KM.

The armor of the PLZ-05 is capable of standing up to small arms weaponry and artillery shell splinters. The vehicle is also fitted with NBC protection and fire suppression systems


Heavy Armor


When boots are needed on the ground, the PLAGF backs them up with treads. Heavy armor plays a key role in modern conflict. With powerful engines, agile suspension systems, and the ability to both take and dish out fire, heavy armor can punch deep through enemy lines and bring the fight to a hostile’s rear. Heavy armor rarely operates alone, and is often supported by ISR or ground-attack airframes.



Type 99A


The Type 99A is the most advanced main battle tank in the PLAGF's arsenal. With Hunter Killer software, Explosive Reactive Armor, and a new generation of thermal sighting equipment, the 99A can take a great amount of punishment. However, with a ZPT98 125MM smoothbore main gun capable of firing the 9M119M Refleks Anti-Tank Guided Missile, it is also able to dish it out. The main gun is fed by an autoloader, reducing the crew to just three. Secondary weapons include a 7.62MM coaxial machine gun and a 12.7MM machine gun mounted on the Commander’s gun turret. The vehicle appears to be fitted with smoke grenade launchers, an NBC system, and fire suppression system.


Light Armor


Light armor is capable of transporting troops, driving in rugged terrain, and providing support to infantry while simultaneously engaging the enemy.



ZBL-08


The ZBL-08, otherwise known at the Type 08, is an Infantry Fighting Vehicle in service with the People’s Liberation Army. Although the vehicle is commonly mounted with a 30mm auto-cannon, variants of the ZBL-08 have also been mounted with a PLZ-09 Self-Propelled Gun or without a main weapons platform. Powered by a German 440hp Deutz BF6M1015CP Diesel engine, the IFV is able to achieve speeds of up to 100 km/h on paved roads. In off-road situations, its 8x8 suspension system allows the vehicle to reach 40 km/h on average. The ZBL-08 also offers it occupants protection from hostile fires, thus allowing the troop transport to support foot soldiers in an unfriendly situation. Although believed to be able to withstand 23MM armor piercing rounds at 1000 meters and 12.7mm armor piercing bullets at 100 meters, the vehicle also carries an automatic fire suppression system, smoke grenade launchers, and a NBC system in case of emergencies.


Support Vehicles


The support vehicles of the PLAGF include electronic warfare, transport, and heavy lifting platforms. Without these vital instruments, the PLA would have no future.



CSK-131


The Dongfeng CSK-131 is a 4x4 off-road vehicle utilized by the PLAGF. Fitted with an armored hull capable of withstanding small arms fire, it serves as one of the main means of transport for Chinese ground troops. Usually mounted with a 12.7MM heavy machine gun or 35MM automatic grenade launcher, the CSK-131 is able to deliver its drive and five passengers into denied territory if so required. Powered by an ISDe 200-41 Diesel engine, it is believed the vehicle can reach up to 135 km/h on paved roads with a cruising range of 500 km. The 131 has also been rumored to carry a computer, satellite suite, and night vision equipment.



CSK-141


The Dongfeng CSK-141 is an off-road vehicle utilized by the PLAGF. Although somewhat similar to the CSK-131, the 141 has a much longer body and thus can transport more troops or cargo. Most versions of the CSK-141 are equipped with a remote-controlled turret that can be mounted with an anti-tank missile launcher, 12.7MM heavy machine gun, or 35MM automatic grenade launcher. The CSK-141 has been confirmed to carry a computer system, satellite suite, and night vision equipment.


Last updated on Friday, July 3, 2020.
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