PLAA Operational-Level Organizations

Chinese Tactics > PART ONE: People’s Liberation Army Forces > Chapter 2: People’s Liberation Army Force Structure > PLAA Operational-Level Organizations

2-14. The group army is the PLAA’s basic operational-level organization. The group army structure is an evolution of the PLA’s corps-based structure that comprised most of its history; it appears the group army is an attempt to retain most of the capabilities of the traditional corps, but with greater flexibility and ability to task-organize. Group armies are assigned to TCs; TC command authority is passed through TC PLAA headquarters to the group army headquarters. Group armies use the same dual-command structure as most other PLA units, employing both a military commander and a political commissar. Compared to geographic headquarters (MDs and LCs), it is likely that a group army’s leadership is more heavily influenced by operational requirements, rather than local political relationships and responsibilities. 

2-15. Following a complete overhaul and reorganization in 2017, each group army now directly commands 12 brigade-size organizations: six combined-arms brigades and six support brigades of various types. Except for six legacy divisions, divisional headquarters have been eliminated, notionalized, or made strictly administrative. This overhaul seeks to eliminate excess command structure, reduce the number of general officers and associated staffs, and increase capabilities at tactical-level formations. The group army reorganization coincided with a massive drawdown in manpower across the PLA. This transition seeks to increase combined arms capability across the PLA through the application of improved technology and training, while simultaneously reducing PLA manpower and reducing quantities of obsolete equipment. A more standardized group army is a centerpiece of this effort.

2-16. The group army is likely not intended to be employed as an operational unit. Rather, it is the force pool from which operational systems are built as part of the wider system-warfare construct. Group army commanders facilitate the assembly of purpose-built operational systems, using their available force structure to create the command, maneuver, and support systems that execute operations in the group army’s combat area. As such, concerns about the group army’s large number of subordinate units—and the ability, or lack thereof, to control them—are not reflective of the PLAA’s approach to building forces.

2-17. The main combat power of the notional group army consists of its six combined arms brigades (CA-BDEs). These brigades are supported by one artillery brigade; one air defense brigade; an aviation brigade; an SOF brigade; an engineer and chemical defense brigade; and a service support brigade, consisting of logistics, transportation, medical, repair, ammunition, communications, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), and EW units. The 2017 reorganization placed a greater emphasis on system warfare capabilities at the group army level, providing a much more extensive suite of EW and cyber capabilities, long-range reconnaissance, and long-range fires under the direct control of group army commanders. Group army commanders can now support their assigned CA-BDEs with a significant suite of capabilities able to influence operations across all domains. (See figure 2-3 for a graphic depiction of the group army.)


Figure 2-3. Group army structure (doctrinal)
2-18. Group-army joint capabilities are limited, but they are expected to expand with ongoing reforms. TCs provide air, naval, and some SOF support, though group armies do typically contain an SOF brigade. The group army also appears to be largely dependent on higher commands—either the TC or PLAJLSF—for most of its logistics support. This emphasizes the lack of expeditionary capability throughout the PLA: sustainment within China’s borders may be sufficient to support high-intensity operations, but current sustainment capabilities likely cannot support major combat operations overseas.


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