The Marine Corps of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy had the first trans-Theater Command (TC) realistic exercise in 2016 that involved nearly 6,000km of long-distance maneuver and power projection. Foreign media estimated that the PLA Marine Corps may shift to be an elite force that is able to carry out long-distance missions overseas.
The Diplomat magazine of Japan reported on January 27 that the Chinese Marine Corps and a reinforced company of the PLA Army held realistic exercises in the Gobi Desert, during which the former was the final winner for its better flexibility and stronger firepower.
The Chinese Marine Corps has been known as an amphibious force that integrates various arms and can carry out fast landing, coast and island defense or support missions, but this force has undergone changes now.
According to the military expert Yin Zhuo, in addition to amphibious combat, the Marine Corps is also a “blade force” that can implement anti-terrorism and overseas missions.
Long-distance maneuver across Theater Commands (TC) to be new normal
This is a force projection by air in the history of Chinese Marine Corps that features the longest distance, longest time and widest span.
According to Qiu Tao, commanding officer of the force projection of the winter training in Xinjiang and head the Military Transportation Bureau of the Logistics Department of the PLA Navy’s South China Sea Fleet, “we adopted joint 3D force projection for the first time that included naval transport and civilian transport.” In early 2014, the PLA Marine Corps maneuvered thousands of kilometers for the first time from Zhanjiang, the southernmost end of the Chinese mainland, to a training base in Inner Mongolia, sounding the clarion call of its full spectrum operations.
In January 2015, the Marine Corps went to a training base in Taonan in northeast China’s Jilin province and completed a number of realistic training subjects in severe environment with the average temperature of more than ten degrees below zero. In the rain season of August 2015, the Marine Corps held actual-troop and live-fire exercises in the forests on the Yungui plateau.
During the training held by the Marine Corps in the past few years, long-distance maneuver across TCs has become a new normal, but why do the Marine Corps carry out training in cold regions, forests and desert far from the ocean while working hard to hone their amphibious combat capability?
While the foreign media have made all kinds of conjectures that the PLA Marine Corps may shift to be an elite force that is able to carry out long-distance missions in regions outside China, China actually has given a response in January 2015.
At that time, the Chinese Marine Corps was having realistic winter training at a training base in the former Shenyang Military Area Command (MAC). Li Xiaoyan, commanding officer of the “winter training-2015” and deputy chief of staff of the South China Sea Fleet, said that the Marines need to be capable of full spectrum operations in all seasons and locations. Winter training doesn’t target any specific hotspot issue or region, but is a normalized training model.
Tempering quick response capability in full spectrum operations
Exercises and training conducted by the Chinese Marine Corps over recent years indicate that while continuously enhancing its amphibious combat capability, it has also kept expanding the scope of activities, and has participated in the escort mission in the waters off the Gulf of Aden, overseas military competitions, joint exercises, among others.
During the exercise in 2016, the incessant “enemy scenarios” didn’t give the Marines, who had just finished a long-distance maneuver of about 6,000km, any chance to take a rest. As soon as they arrived in Korla, northwest China arXinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the soldiers immediately started realistic test training without even time to put on thick winter clothes.
Training without adaptation honed the troop’s quick response capability to the largest extent and improved the full spectrum combat capability of the Marine Corps.
During this winter training, the troop’s camps could not be seen on the vast snow land of the desert. They were completely hidden under the snow and merged with it via military camouflage, and everything that might expose the troops was concealed.
According to Li Xiaoyan, commander of the winter training in Xinjiang and deputy chief of staff of the South China Sea Fleet, compared with previous winter trainings, the training this time included some targeted subjects to enhance the troop’s capability of coping with long-distance maneuver, strange terrains, complicated enemy and social situations and extremely cold weather conditions.
Military expert Yin Zhuo pointed out that the PLA Marine Corps may participate in overseas military operations under the UN framework in the future.
The training in Xinjiang included scenarios in cold and mountainous areas, which the Marine Corps is likely to encounter when carrying out future operations, so it has to be prepared for operational missions in all kinds of geographical environment.
Participating in international cooperation
In reference to the development trajectory of the U.S. Marine Corps, foreign media linked the PLA Marine Corps’ winter training with the Anti-Terrorism Law of the People’s Republic of China implemented on January 1, 2016, and implied that as the PLA’s amphibious force is able to reach the South China Sea, the Chinese Marine Corps will become an up-and-coming expeditionary force and carry out anti-terrorism operations overseas.
As a force with a high level of war preparedness, the U.S. Marine Corps always assigns 1/3 of its service members to waters close to regions with potential crisis.
Military expert Yin Zhou didn’t agree. He held that an expeditionary force refers to overseas intervention force of western countries, such as the U.S. Marine Corps, which is a reflection of hegemony.
As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China participates in peacekeeping and stability-maintaining missions under the UN framework, and the Chinese military will make its contributions if the UN is in need.
As a matter of fact, the Chinese Marine Corps has successively assigned troops to a range of international missions since December 2008, including the Gulf of Aden escort mission along with naval vessels, subsequent foreign visits and exchanges, joint escort for the sea transport of Syria’s chemical weapon, and the evacuation of Chinese people during crisis overseas.
It is known to all that China is actively building its domestic aircraft carrier and may build more in the future. A complete aircraft carrier taskforce is likely to carry many Marines to implement tasks on the sea, thus forming the strongest combat capability.
With the constant rise of China’s international standing and the improvement of its national strength, China will play a more active part in UN peacekeeping missions, and the Marine Corps, as an important component of the PLA, will also play a more important role in the future.