How the world's largest military force is modernising
Published 06/01/2011 | 12:51
With around 2.3 million members, and a further 510,000 reserves, China's People's Liberation Army is the world's largest military force, and one that is in the process of rapid modernisation.
Over the next few years, China aims to shrink the PLA to 1.5 million standing members – roughly matching the United States and Russia – and turn the force which was once described by the country's leaders as "bloated, lax, conceited, extravagant and inert" into a world-class army.
The catalyst for the transformation came after the first Gulf War when China's leaders realised that modern warfare does not depend on sheer weight of numbers. A further prod came in 1996 when China was forced to back down over Taiwan when Bill Clinton ordered two aircraft carriers to sail into the region. In the last few years, as China has grown rich, the PLA's budget has seen double-digit growth.
The spending has not been spread throughout the forces, however.
Instead, China has concentrated on boosting its technology – especially in ballistic missiles, anti-satellite weapons, submarines and, now, the J-20 stealth jet fighter.
At the same time, China has dramatically increased its cyberespionage, and perhaps even its cyberwarfare, capabilities. In the past few years, Chinese hackers are thought to have been behind a series of attacks and viruses that have collected information from diplomatic embassies and government offices across the world.
In the coming years, as the PLA continues to grow, the US has been forced to consider its supremacy in the Pacific, including how close American ships can approach the Chinese coast. And as US influence in the region wanes, China's ability to threaten its neighbours will grow.