Disclosing its strength for the first time, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the world’s largest active military, today said its troops totalled 1.483 million, excluding its missiles division.
An annual white paper revealing the details of the 2.3 million strong PLA’s actual number of troops in the army, navy and air force, omitted the number of personnel in its Strategic Command Division, the Second Artillery Force, which handled its nuclear and ballistic missiles.
Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujin who released the white paper on Diversified Employment of China’s Armed Forces at a media briefing skirted the question about the PLA’s strength estimated to be about 2.3 million.
Defence analysts who scrutinised the document said here that 2.3 million is stated to be a realistic figure as the paper did not include the numbers of PLA’s Second Artillery, the main missile unit of the Chinese military that comprises of large personnel and mobile missile units.
“These are highlights. The paper not only released certain figures of the strength of the mobile units of the army, navy and air force, it also provided in detail, policy and principles adhered to diversified employment which is not covered by previous white papers. “This will help media to understand armed forces,” Yang said.
According to the white paper, the eighth of its kind issued by the Chinese government since 1998, China now has about 8.5 lakh army servicemen in 18 combined corps and additional independent combined operational divisions (brigades).
The combined corps are composed of divisions and brigades which operate under seven Military Area Commands (MACs). The PLA Navy has a total strength of 2.35 lakh and commands three fleets the Beihai Fleet, the Donghai Fleet and the Nanhai Fleet
The PLA Air Force has about 3.98 lakh officers and men and an air command in each of the seven military area commands of Shenyang, Beijing, Lanzhou, Jinan, Nanjing, Guangzhou and Chengdu. In addition, it boasts of one airborne corps.
The PLA Second Artillery Force, the country’s core force for strategic deterrence, is composed of nuclear and conventional missile forces and operational support units, the paper said, without disclosing the numbers.
It is equipped with a series of ‘Dong Feng’ ballistic missiles and ‘Chang Jian’ cruise missiles, both long, medium and short range. It also has under its command missile bases, training bases, specialised support units, academies and research institutions.
According to the document, China will build a strong national defence and powerful armed forces which are “commensurate with China’s international standing and meet the needs of its security and development interests”.
The paper also said China still faces multiple and complicated security threats and challenges. Chinese armed forces are employed to safeguard borders, coastal and territorial air security and they will strengthen combat-readiness and combat-oriented exercises and drills, it said.
And they will readily respond to and resolutely deter any provocative action which undermines China’s sovereignty, security and territorial integrity, it said.