Learning by Doing: The PLA Trains at Home and Abroad

  • November 01, 2012
  • Mr Roy Kamphausen, Dr David Lai, Mr Travis Tanner
  • Mr Roy Kamphausen, Dr David Lai, Mr Travis Tanner

To better understand the PLA’s ability to employ its developing capabilities in a variety of potential scenarios, this year’s workshop examined how the PLA learns by doing, specifically through its exercises and noncombat operations at home and overseas, and through key logistical and theoretical developments. Key findings are: 1) recent PLAN exercises and operations point to an increasing interest in developing expeditionary naval capabilities and a presence in distant seas, suggesting that a move beyond the current “near seas” focus is both possible and an extension of existing efforts; 2) PLA ground force exercises—rather than aiming to intimidate others by demonstrating the ability to project power beyond China’s borders—focus on moving military power within China, both to defend China’s borders and perhaps as a prelude to military restructuring in which smaller but more mobile formations could replace larger and more static ones; 3) through its participation in international military exercises as well as peacekeeping operations and humanitarian aid and disaster relief missions, the PLA is gaining greater capabilities to deploy outside of China’s borders for a variety of missions; and, 4) PLA operations are increasingly supported by a modern, civilian-integrated military logistics network, though a lack of overseas bases continues to limit the effectiveness of this network as it pertains to overseas power projection capabilities.