China’s Logistics Modernization is Changing the Pacific Military Balance

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The well-worn formulation that “amateurs study tactics, while professionals study logistics” has significant explanatory power when considering the rapidly changing balance of power in the western Pacific.

The well-worn formulation that “amateurs study tactics, while professionals study logistics” has significant explanatory power when considering the rapidly changing balance of power in the western Pacific. This derives from the single, unalterable fact that Beijing will operate on interior lines in almost any scenario in that theater, while Washington will operate on exterior lines in such a conflict. Thus, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will not only bring more initial firepower to any fight, but perhaps more importantly, can sustain that immense volume of firepower. “Blue” forces, by contrast, will be operating at the end of very long and likely tenuous supply lines for an extended period.

During the Korean War, initial Chinese offensives were quite successful, but the PLA eventually outran its supply lines and proved unable to dislodge UN forces from the peninsula, resulting in the stalemate on the 38th parallel. In that conflict, PLA logistics supply was relentlessly pounded by U.S. airpower and Chinese forces at the front suffered accordingly. That original “trial by fire” made a deep impression upon the PLA regarding the importance of military logistics. Today, there is every reason to believe that China could move forces forward surreptitiously and effectively, not only to provide a stunning initial blow, but also to maintain PLA combat power. A window into the PLA’s current thinking on logistics preparation is provided by a recent article (2017, no. 4) in the Chinese military journal Military Economic Research [军事经济研究] written by two professors from China National Defense University [国防大学].

The article is a case study of British logistics mobility in the Falklands War or, as Chinese term the conflict, the Malvinas War (马岛战争). As I have written elsewhere , Chinese strategists have studied all aspects of the Falklands War, including especially aerial, undersea, and amphibious dimensions. Special emphasis is placed in this article on the rapid mobilization, size, and efficiency of the merchant armada that was assembled to accompany the Royal Navy’s expeditionary force. The Chinese article notes that the sixty-seven merchant vessels sent with the British Fleet were about equal to the number of warships dispatched and comprised just over double the tonnage. The Chinese strategists are impressed that the “large quantity of mobility assets” [运输力量多] could be organized so quickly, beginning just two days after the war began. Rapid upgrades [建设快] of these merchant ships included adding helicopter landing pads, equipment for at-sea resupply, as well as modernized communications and rescue equipment. Average time for these upgrades is reported by these Chinese analysts to have been just seventy-two hours. Three hundred different private enterprises, they explain, were involved in this crucial work.

https://nationalinterest.org/feature/chinas-logistics-modernization-changing-pacific-military-balance-44612

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