China is also the only member of the UN’s “Big Five” never to have built and operated an aircraft carrier. While it launched a refurbished Ukrainian built carrier amidst much fanfare in September 2012 – then-President Hu Jintao and all the top brass showed up – soon afterward the big ship had to return to the docks for extensive overhauls because of suspected engine failure; not the most auspicious of starts for China’s fledgling “blue water” navy, and not the least example of a modernizing military that has yet to master last century’s technology.
Indeed, today the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) still conducts long-distance maneuver training at speeds measured by how fast the next available cargo train can transport its tanks and guns forward. And if mobilizing and moving armies around on railway tracks sounds a bit antiquated in an era of global airlift, it should – that was how it was done in the First World War.
Not to be outdone by the conventional army, China’s powerful strategic rocket troops, the Second Artillery Force, still uses cavalry units to patrol its sprawling missile bases deep within China’s vast interior. Why? Because it doesn’t have any helicopters. Equally scarce in China are modern fixed-wing military aircraft. So the Air Force continues to use a 1950s Soviet designed airframe, the Tupolev Tu-16, as a bomber (its original intended mission), a battlefield reconnaissance aircraft, an electronic warfare aircraft, a target spotting aircraft, and an aerial refueling tanker. Likewise, the PLA uses the Soviet designed Antonov An-12 military cargo aircraft for ELINT (electronic intelligence) missions, ASW (anti-submarine warfare) missions, geological survey missions, and airborne early warning missions. It also has an An-12 variant specially modified for transporting livestock, allowing sheep and goats access to remote seasonal pastures.
But if China’s lack of decent hardware is somewhat surprising given all the hype surrounding Beijing’s massive military modernization program, the state of “software” (military training and readiness) is truly astounding. At one military exercise in the summer of 2012, a strategic PLA unit, stressed out by the hard work of handling warheads in an underground bunker complex, actually had to take time out of a 15-day wartime simulation for movie nights and karaoke parties. In fact, by day nine of the exercise, a “cultural performance troupe” (common PLA euphemism for song-and-dance girls) had to be brought into the otherwise sealed facility to entertain the homesick soldiers.
31 January 2014
China's military is clearly not all that and a bag of chips. Is our 'pivot' really that necessary?
Posted by Brant at 16:10