Planning and Organizing PLAA Operations

 Chinese Tactics > PART ONE: People’s Liberation Army Forces > Chapter 4: Tactical System Warfare > Planning and Organizing PLAA Operations

 4-5. The PLAA places great emphasis on planning. A meticulous approach to operations underpins the PLAA throughout its history, and this tradition remains in place today. Though the PLAA seeks to gradually move to an increasingly decentralized leadership philosophy, careful planning at all echelons will remain a basic principle. 

 4-6. Movement toward greater decentralization, modular combined arms units, widespread downsizing, and the creation of new headquarters at the national and theater command levels have significantly complicated the PLAA’s employment of command and support relationships. The PLAA was traditionally a strongly centralized and hierarchical force, relying on a mixture of discipline and obedience to overcome shortages in combat technology and firepower. The evolved PLAA recognizes that greater decentralization requires a more sophisticated understanding of command and support relationships; improved professional military education for commanders, staffs, and noncommissioned officers; continued PLAA doctrinal adjustments as new equipment and technologies enter the force; and a task-oriented approach that underpins the challenging requirement of building operational systems.


4-7. The PLAA planning process is broadly similar to the U.S. Army’s military decision-making process. The primary outputs of the planning process are the objectives and scheme of maneuver, along with the structure of the operational system being used to conduct the operation. The operational system may include multiple subordinate operational systems in addition to specialized supporting systems.

4-8. The PLAA planning process consists of five steps, each with distinct outputs. Subordinate units conduct planning in sequence with their higher echelon headquarters and adjust their plan according to inputs received from it. The planning process seeks to achieve unity of purpose throughout the operation, ensuring that all subordinate commanders know their role, mission, and place in the wider operation. Figure 4-1 on page 4-3 depicts the PLAA planning process.

 Step 1: Assess the Situation

4-9. During this step, the commander assesses four critical components of the upcoming confrontation: terrain, enemy forces, friendly forces, and other considerations, such as civilian presence and political elements. The outputs from this step include an early outline of the desired friendly operational systems, a comprehensive report on enemy strength and disposition enabled by reconnaissance and intelligence support, and a thorough analysis of all other factors in and around the battlefield that may influence operations for either side.

 Step 2: Make Decisions

4-10. This step requires commanders to make several key decisions that determine the direction of the rest of the planning process and the operation at large. Commanders must establish the purpose and objective of the operation, the general scheme of maneuver to be employed to achieve this purpose and objective, the basic structure of the operational systems under their command, and key offensive and defensive points of interest. The output of this step allows subordinate commanders to begin their own planning process, staffs to begin building operational systems, and command posts to deploy in order to establish command systems. Reconnaissance operations should also commence at this point in order to support the intelligence requirements for the wider operation.

Figure 4-1. PLAA planning process

 Step 3: Issue Orders 

 4-11. This step consists of two main phases. First, commanders conceptualize the battle to their staffs, accounting for enemy strengths and disposition, friendly forces, and the higher echelon commanders’ intent. The staff then creates an order that clearly lays out the commander’s concept in such a way that subordinate units can easily understand it. Second, the order is issued to subordinate units, either verbally or in writing. Orders are ideally issued to subordinate commanders in groups, allowing subordinates to ask questions and collaborate with one another prior to conducting their own planning process.

 Step 4: Organize Coordination 

4-12. This step refines the orders issued in step 3. Staffs conduct planning that synchronizes purpose between subordinate units, ensures that sister units’ schemes of maneuver are integrated, provides useful predictions about how the battle will be conducted, clarifies issues of confusion with subordinate commanders, and ensures that shared resources and enablers—such as communications and network support—are deconflicted.

 Step 5: Organize Support

4-13. This step organizes external capabilities that support the operation. Examples include combat support, logistics support, equipment support, and political support. Specific capabilities include firepower and artillery support, information warfare, sustainment, casualty evacuation, and medical support. This step requires staffs to interact with external enablers; higher echelon staffs may provide assistance in building this part of the plan. Commanders must account for available resources, mission requirements, and friendly forces when developing the support plan.


 4-14. The PLAA defines a command post as a temporary command structure formed around a commander and associated staff. Up to four command posts are established in support of an operational system: a base command post, an advance command post, a rear command post, and a reserve command post. Command posts are led by a commander and manned by various command groups. Certain command posts—most likely those more forward on the battlefield—may be designed as mobile command posts, able to conduct command post operations while rapidly emplacing and displacing, thus making it more challenging for the enemy to detect and target. The number and type of command posts are situationally dependent, not prescribed.

 Base Command Post

4-15. The base command post (also called the main command post) is the primary command structure for the operational system, and it is the center for executing combat command throughout the operational area. The base command post must be well protected, well concealed, and roughly central within the operational area. The base command post houses all command groups: command and communication, reconnaissance and intelligence, firepower coordination, electronic warfare (EW) and cyber warfare, engineering, battlefield management, and political work. The commander operates out of the base command post, along with the chief of staff and all primary staff officers.

 Advance Command Post

4-16. The advance command post (also called the forward command post) is a forward-based structure designed to enhance command and communication in a key direction of the battle. Ideally, it is situated near the main offensive or defensive effort, and it is well concealed and protected. The advance command post is typically led by the deputy commander and staff, and it houses a command and communication group, a reconnaissance and intelligence group, and a firepower coordination group.

 Rear Command Post

4-17. The rear command post (or alternate command post) is responsible for logistics and equipment support, along with rear area security. It consists of a combat support and service support group headquarters, a political work group, and security personnel. The commander of the combat support or service support group is likely the commander of the rear command post. The rear command post serves as the primary backup command post in case the base command post is destroyed, neutralized, or otherwise compromised. Depending on the situation, the deputy commander may choose to operate from the rear command post.

Reserve Command Post

4-18. The reserve command post is a backup structure in case one of the other three command posts is compromised, damaged, destroyed, or otherwise neutralized. It is necessarily a smaller and less-capable structure than the base command post, but it must be able to conduct all base command post operations. The reserve command post may also serve as an interim command post in case more forward command posts are temporarily unavailable due to movement or enemy action.


 4-19. The PLAA employs zones to define the combat area—a designated area assigned to a military, paramilitary, or security force in which combat or security operations occur—for both offensive and defensive actions. These are made up of several secondary zones or areas; each has specific characteristics and is designed to be occupied by one or more groups. Control measures are established for each echelon and are typically nested within the combat area for the higher echelon unit. Security zones are established throughout a zone any time security operations are conducted. Annihilation zones—specific geographic areas to which the enemy is to be lured or driven and then destroyed—may also be created in any of the secondary zones.

 Offensive Control Measures 

 4-20. The offensive zone typically consists of four secondary zones or areas: the deep area, the frontline zone, the reserve zone, and the garrison zone. These control measures are described in paragraphs 4-21 through 4-24. (See figure 4-2 on page 4-6 for an illustration of offensive control measures.)

Deep Area

 4-21. The deep area is the territory past which a unit’s organic sensors and weapons can operate. For a CA-BDE, this typically means the area past which its rocket artillery and targeting support can operate. Units operating in deep areas are usually more autonomous and can expect minimal support from their parent unit.

Frontline Zone

4-22. The frontline zone is the territory in which the main offensive action is to take place. Typically, first-line objectives and the enemy’s main defensive position are located in the frontline zone. The entire frontline zone should be within the range of the offensive group’s fire support. The frontline zone typically contains a security zone on its forward edge, where security, reconnaissance, and counterreconnaissance activities take place.

Reserve Zone

4-23. The reserve zone is the territory just to the rear of the frontline zone that typically houses depth attack groups, command groups, firepower groups, and forward logistics bases (For more information on PLAA groups, see paragraphs 4-32 through 4-60.) The reserve zone also serves as a defensive bastion against enemy counterattacks and as a secure location through which follow-on forces and supplies can move into frontline and deep areas.

Garrison Zone

4-24. The garrison zone consists of rear areas not actively occupied by the offensive group. Supporting capabilities such as logistics, EW, and long-range artillery reside here. Garrison zones typically contain one or more security zones that surround key positions such as bases, supply routes, or command posts. The People’s Armed Police (PAP) may take on much of the security load in garrison zones in order to free up PLAA forces for more-intense duties.

Figure 4-2. Offensive zone (conceptual)

Defensive Control Measures

 4-25. The defensive zone typically consists of five secondary zones or areas: the deep zone, the frontal blocking zone, the frontier defense zone, the depth defense zone, and the rear defense zone. These defensive control measures are described in paragraphs 4-25 through 4-29. (See figure 4-3 for an illustration of defensive control measures.).

Deep Area

4-26. The deep area is defined in the same way as the deep area in an offensive zone. Usually it is the area in which independent units conduct reconnaissance and disruption activities prior to heavy enemy contact.

Frontal Blocking Zone

 4-27. The frontal blocking zone is the forward-most area occupied by the defensive group. Screening, reconnaissance, and counterreconnaissance missions are the primary focus in this zone. Groups in the frontal blocking zone are usually used to disrupt, canalize, and slow down enemy assault forces in preparation for a future decisive counterattack.

Frontier Defense Zone

4-28. The frontier defense zone is the zone that typically contains the main line of defense, consisting primarily of the frontier defense group. The bulk of the defensive group is deployed here, making best use of terrain to slow, disrupt, and degrade enemy units as they conduct their attack. Most fortifications and other defensive engineering works are focused in the frontier defense zone. 

Depth Defense Zone

4-29. The depth defense zone is the zone that houses the depth defense group, and it may contain the firepower strike or coordination group or parts of the command group. The depth defense zone is designed to facilitate the commitment of the depth defense group to defeat the enemy’s main effort. (For more information on depth defense groups, see paragraph 4-49. Firepower strike groups are described in paragraph 4-51, and firepower coordination groups are described in 4-36.) 

Rear Defense Zone

4-30. The rear defense zone is the zone that houses the combat reserve group, long-range firepower, command posts, and forward logistics support. A secondary defensive line is often established in the rear defense zone as a fallback position in case forward zones are overrun. 

Figure 4-3. Defensive zone (conceptual)


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