The People's Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF) (中国人民解放军陆军) is the land-based service branch of the People's Liberation Army, and deploys over 8,000 tanks, 4,000 armored vehicles, and 25,000 artillery pieces. With its 1,6 million personnel, it is the largest army in the world. Although it is currently equipped with large numbers of antiquated Soviet era weaponry, the PLA Ground Forces are undergoing major upgrades and re-structuring to deal with future land warfare.
Under the old system, a field army consisted of three partially motorized infantry divisions and two regiments of artillery and anti-aircraft artillery. Each field army division had over 12,000 personnel in three infantry regiments, one artillery regiment, one armored regiment, and one anti-aircraft artillery battalion. Organization was flexible, the higher echelons being free to tailor forces for combat around any number of infantry divisions. At least theoretically, each division had its own armor and artillery — actual equipment levels were not revealed and probably varied — and the assets at army level and within the independent units could be apportioned as needed.
The new, main-force group armies typically included 46,300 soldiers in up to four divisions, believed to include infantry, armor, artillery, air defense, airborne, and air support elements. Although the new group armies were supposed to reflect a move to combined-arms operations, because of a lack of mechanization they continued to consist of infantry supported by armor, artillery, and other units. The 13 armored divisions each had 3 regiments and 240 main battle tanks (MBT) but lacked adequate mechanized infantry support. There was little evidence of the use of armored personnel carriers during the Sino-Vietnamese border conflict in 1979, and tanks were used as mobile artillery and as support for dismounted infantry. Artillery forces emphasized towed guns, howitzers, and truck-mounted multiple rocket launchers. In the 1980s some self-propelled artillery entered service, but the PLA also produced rocket launchers as a cheaper but not totally effective alternative to self-propelled guns. There was a variety of construction equipment, mobile bridging, trucks, and prime movers. A new multiple rocket launcher for scattering antitank mines appeared in 1979, but mine-laying and mine-clearing equipment remained scarce.
Regional forces consisted of full-time PLA troops organized as independent divisions for garrison missions. Garrison divisions were static, artillery-heavy units deployed along the coastline and borders in areas of likely attack. Regional forces were armed less heavily than their main-force counterparts, and they were involved in training the militia. They were the PLA units commonly used to restore order during the Cultural Revolution.
In 1987 the PLA ground forces, which relied upon obsolescent but serviceable equipment, were most anxious to improve defenses against armored vehicles and aircraft. Most equipment was produced from Soviet designs of the 1950s, but weapons were being incrementally upgraded, some with Western technology. One example of upgraded, Soviet-design equipment was the Type 69 MBT, an improved version of the Type 59 MBT, itself based on the Soviet T-54. The Type 69 had improved armor, a gun stabilizer, a fire control system including a laser rangefinder, infrared searchlights, and a 105mm smooth-bore gun. In 1987 the existence of a new, Type 80 MBT was revealed in the Western press. The tank had a new chassis, a 105mm gun, and a fire control system. Production of the Type 80 had not yet begun. The PLA was believed to have atomic demolition munitions, and there were unconfirmed reports that it also had tactical nuclear weapons. In any case, nuclear bombs and missiles in the Chinese inventory could be used in a theater role. The PLA had a scarcity of antitank guided missiles, tactical surface-to-air missiles, and electronics to improve communications, fire control, and sensors. China began production of the Soviet Sagger antitank missile in 1979 but lacked a more powerful, longer range, semiautomatic antitank guided missile. The PLA required a mobile surface-to-air missile and an infantry shoulder-fired missile for use against helicopters and certain other aircraft.
The PLA has 18 group armies (corps size), divided among the seven military regions - Shenyang, Beijing, Lanzhou, Jinan, Nanjing, Guangzhou, and Chengdu - and are currently downsizing some of their divisions into brigades.
The IISS currently attributes the PLA Ground Force with 9 active tank divisions consisting of a number of armoured brigades. Dennis Blasko wrote in 2000 that the traditional structure of PLA divisions consisted roughly of three regiments - tuan - of the main arm, each of three battalions plus support units, a fourth regiment of infantry (in an armoured division) or armour (in an infantry division), an artillery regiment, an anti-aircraft regiment or battalion, and signals, engineer, reconnaissance, and chemical defence battalions or companies, plus combat service support units.
A typical PLA armoured brigade has 4 tank battalions (124 main battle tanks)- each tank battalion has 3 tank companies (30 + 1 tank for the battalion commander), 1 mechanised infantry battalion (40 armoured personnel carriers), 1 artillery battalion (18 self-propelled howitzers) - 3 batteries of 6 guns each and 1 anti-aircraft battalion (18 self-propelled howitzers) - 3 batteries of 6 guns each.
There are 8 active artillery divisions consisting of a number of artillery brigades. A typical PLA artillery brigade has 4 artillery battalions each with 18 guns in 3 batteries and 1 self-propelled anti-tank gun battalion (18 vehicles).
Brigades are a relatively new formation for the PLA. Introduced in the 1990s, the PLA plans to expand the number and rid itself of the massive, rigid formations of Soviet model. As a step towards modernizing its army, this new system allows for smaller, cross-service arm battle groups of battalion size within a brigade to operate independently, increasing the PLA's ability to respond to a rapidly changing battle situation. The PLA has yet to fully take advantage of this new formation, but has been taking steps to successfully integrate it in its force structure.
! style="text-align: left; background: #aacccc;"|Aircraft ! style="text-align: left; background: #aacccc;"|Origin ! style="text-align: left; background: #aacccc;"|Type ! style="text-align: left; background: #aacccc;"|Versions ! style="text-align: left; background: #aacccc;"|In service ! style="text-align: left; background: #aacccc;"|Notes |----- | CAIC WZ-10 | | attack helicopter | | | |- | Harbin WZ-9 | | multi-role attack helicopter | | | |- | Mil Mi-17Hip-H | | multi-role helicopter | | | |- | Mil Mi-8 Hip | | transport helicopter | | | |- | Mil Mi-6 Hook | | transport helicopters | | | |- | Sikorsky S-70C Black Hawk | | transport helicopter | | | |- | Eurocopter AS 332L Super Puma | | | | | |- | Changhe Z-8A | | utility helicopter | | | |- | Harbin Z-9 | | multi-role light helicopter | | | |- | Aérospatiale SA 318 Alouette III | | utility helicopter | | | |- | Aérospatiale SA 341 Gazelle | | attack helicopter | | | |}