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Vaibhav Vadera asked: How will China's War Zone Doctrine change in the light of the recently announced joint commands?

Prashant Kumar Singh replies: The recently announced joint commands mark the next stage of China’s evolving military joint-ness or integrated warfare strategy. It is very much a part of China’s ongoing quest for integrated employment of the various components, mainly the three services (army, air force and navy), of its military in warfare. China began striving for joint-ness in early 1980s in the backdrop of its pyrrhic victory in the third Indo-China or Sino-Vietnam War in 1979. In early 1980s, under its Local and Limited War doctrine, China came up with the concept of ‘Combined Arms Group Armies’, which was about infantry-led integrated use of various army branches such as artillery and armoured corps.

The concept of ‘’War Zone Campaign’ (WZC), based on ‘Limited War under High Technological Conditions’ doctrine, emerged sometime around mid-1990s. The WZC visualised a highly mobile war at the military region or war zone level. The national leadership was to be in-charge of the WZC, and the high-mobility war was not necessarily to be infantry-led. The main focus of the WZC was on employing “elite forces and sharp arms” with the support of ‘Trans-regional Support Operations’, aimed at conducting “in-depth strikes” for quick victories. With ‘Local Wars under Informationised Conditions’ or ‘Informationised Wars’ as the basic point in making preparation for military struggle, network centric warfare became China’s military doctrine in mid-2000s, leading to greater emphasis on integrated warfare.

China’s latest National Defence White Paper (published in May 2015), titled ‘China’s Military Strategy’, further emphasised ‘Informationised War’ by shifting to ‘Winning Local Wars under Informationised Conditions’ from ‘Local Wars under Informationised Conditions’. The recently created theatre commands are in keeping with the Chinese concept of ‘Informationised War’ that rests on integrated joint operations. Thus, one can say that recently created joint commands are a further work on the concept of joint-ness visualised in the WZC.

As for the change in the WZC, it should be seen in the present-day strategic context. One can point out here, while the strategic direction of the WZC was land-warfare centric, with the emergence of the United States (US) and re-emergence of Japan as key strategic opponents, return of Taiwan as a strategic concern after supposedly pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) came to power, and the added strategic volatility in the South China Sea, the entire east and southeast coast is now the strategic geographical priority for China. These developments are aptly captured in the latest defence white paper in which Chinese military strategy appears making a decisive departure from land to the seas and oceans. In this strategic context, preparations for an integrated and synergised force projection towards seas, directed against perceived threat from the US, would further define future Chinese campaigns, with the WZC acquiring stronger maritime salience.

For more on the subject, please refer to my following IDSA publication:

Prashant Kumar Singh, “Changing Contexts of Chinese Military Strategy and Doctrine”, IDSA Monograph Series No. 49, March 2016.

Posted on January 05, 2017

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