China Builds Modern Marine Corps Force
Missions seem ambiguous, but preparations for opposed combat landings are not.
The People’s Republic of
A unique People’s Liberation Army (PLA) marine corps likely has existed for only 25 years, rather than the 40 or 50 years believed by some scholars. Although
But, eschewing the use of marines against
Estimates of the dates when
Later historical milestones offer a more credible picture of Chinese marine manning numbers. For example, some sources claim that the marine corps was disbanded in 1957 or even 1977 because of budget cuts and was re-established in 1980. No PLAN marine corps is shown in a declassified 1979 U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) handbook organization chart of Chinese forces. Several important Chinese marine milestones occurred in 1980, including the formal establishment of the 1st Marine Brigade in
Most revealing, the PLAN marine corps celebrated its 25th birthday in 2005. This is strong evidence that there was no real marine corps in
In addition to the 1980 Hainan brigade, a second marine brigade of 6,000 men was established in the
Criteria for identifying any nation’s marine corps should include unit emblems or badges and a unique marine uniform. All PLAN “marines” had worn navy jumpers, kapok life jackets and flat hats or PLA quilted uniforms and caps in all landings or other duties from 1950 up to the mid-1990s. A marine officer reportedly designed a unique marine camouflage pattern for marine personnel and equipment that appeared in 1994.
Also, the definition of “marines” means a force of officers and men who are full-time marines and not sailors or soldiers rotated or temporarily assigned as marines. It must be an independent organization with its own command chain.
The structure of today’s PLAN marine brigade has three levels. At the top is the brigade headquarters, which receives instructions on missions from a command center in
Many Westerners believe that PLAN marines’ main purpose is related to invading
Chinese amphibious landings on offshore Nationalist China islands in 1950 showed no signs of trained marines or equipment, although the PLAN had many U.S.-built landing craft that were left behind in 1949 by the fleeing Nationalist forces. PLA army soldiers in sampans and civilian small craft waded ashore and captured Kwangsi, Lingkao and Chou Shan islands.
The PLA 4th Field Army invaded
Chinese troops were repulsed with heavy losses from Matsu and
Chinese marines landed on uninhabited Da Lac coral reef in the
The recent highly publicized 2005 Russia-China joint amphibious landings used the number 1 and number 124 amphibious mechanized divisions from the 1st and 42nd Army groups. The existence of new PLA amphibious divisions is puzzling, and their use rather than marines in these high-visibility exercises is even more puzzling.
An examination of Chinese marine corps photograph opportunity pictures from 1950 up to 2005 shows a sharp contrast among “marines” disembarking from landing craft along with amphibious tanks. This also shows differences in how all actual combat landings were conducted during that period.
The first phase of PLAN amphibious craft from 1948 to 1961 consisted of foreign LCU, LCM, LSM and LST assets. The second phase featured PLAN building 30 Yuqin LCMs starting in 1962, followed later by 235 Yuchai and 23 Yunnan LCMs. These were all in the 30- to 65-ton range and mainly copies of World War II examples.
The third phase, which started in 1979, was the design and production of large amphibious craft, beginning with 4,100-ton Yukan LSTs. The following year,
The first hovercraft prototype was Dagu-A launched in 1979. A large 61-ton Jingsah II model appeared in 1994. Imagery of exercises since 1998 shows several small diesel-powered hovercraft exiting LSTs for the beaches with a dozen troops in each.
Marines worldwide desire naval shore bombardment units to cover their landing areas. Two recent PLAN vessels now serve this mission, and this shows a serious intent for opposed combat landings. One is the 053H FFG 516, which replaced a single-barrel 100-millimeter gun with two twin 100-millimeter mounts. It also features three general purpose, untrainable ballistic rocket launchers installed in place of two twin CSSN-2 surface-to-surface missile (SSM) launchers. The other ship is one of the four high-speed catamaran hulls 2208-2212 with four stealth shaped anti-ship SSM launchers. The four hulls were built at Quixin and
Chinese marines traditionally have not received new arms upgrades before the PLA. In 2005, marine missile air defense battalions and a few high-technology elite units received the newest shoulder-launched QW-1 surface-to-air missile (SAM), replacing the HY-5A SAMs used for several decades.
Marine brigades never have had heavy artillery in their inventory. This changed in 2005 when marine armor battalions were upgraded with 152-millimeter and 122-millimeter self-propelled artillery. PLA copies of Soviet BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles, called Type 86, also have been added to marine units. Type 92 infantry fighting vehicles with new laser rangefinders along with Type 63A amphibious tanks have been added as well. This means that marine brigades are equipped comparably to PLA heavy motorized army groups.
Marines need good communications systems, but photographs of PLAN marines in exercises show no manpack tactical radios being carried or in use. The only antennas seen are 10-foot whip antennas on their Type 63A amphibious tanks and Type 63/89 armored personnel carriers.
Many command and control links are based on equipment known to have been used by the PLA 20 years ago, which relied heavily on copied Soviet designs. Starting at the brigade level, the B-611 portable communication switchboard has 10 lines to link to the regiment and battalions. A version copied from the Soviet vehicle-mounted R-4011 very high frequency (VHF) radio relay equipment passes orders down to battalions. The armored regiment 3-megahertz (MHz) to 5-MHz high frequency (HF) A-222 transceiver links to its armored battalions, which in turn relay this information to lower levels.
A battalion uses 40-MHz to 50-MHz VHF Type 883 transceiver equipment. Many different frequencies and transceivers are assigned to generic battalion groups. Tank battalions use the A-220 in 20 MHz to 23 MHz, which is in the HF band. Artillery battalions use A-211 transceivers at 28 MHz to 35 MHz in both the HF and VHF bands. Infantry battalions use A-130B transceivers in the 35-MHz to 46-MHz VHF band. On the beach, 75-watt Type 601 radio transmitters use the 2-MHz to 12-MHz HF band, and vehicle Type 148 receivers cover the 1-MHz to 15-MHz band. Platoons use manpack Type 139 receivers to link to their battalions.
PLAN marines also are likely to use newer PLA communication equipment. HF manpack radios include a 20-watt BTC-20A model with 10 channels as well as the BT-DO3 5-watt frequency-hopping single sideband (SSB) transceiver. A VHF frequency hopping PRC-2188 backpack and 50-watt model PRC-189 tank and armored-personnel-carrier-mounted transceiver also are used. Most radios can be matched with different antennas to extend range, and they can be vehicle mounted or carried by marines. For example, the HF model XD-D9V transceiver has a 20-kilometer range with a 2.4-meter whip antenna, a 150-kilometer range with a 12-meter antenna, and a 300-kilometer range with a 44-meter antenna. Modern fixed ground-based/vehicle staff equipment includes the 400-watt JF-441 HF transmitter and several HF SSB transceivers for short, medium or long ranges.
It is very possible that modern, new broadband technology radios have been sold to
James C. Bussert is employed at the