PLAMC – the elite amphibious force
Sub Title : Is responsible for amphibious warfare, expeditionary operations and rapid responses
Issues Details : Vol 17 Issue 1 Mar – Apr 2023
Author : Neeraj Mahajan
Page No. : 55
Category : Military Technology
: March 25, 2023
The People’s Liberation Army Marine Corps (PLAMC) is the marine force of the People’s Liberation Army and one of five major branches of the PLA Navy responsible for amphibious warfare, expeditionary operations and rapid responses. The PLAMC has been engineered to support China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Marine Corps (PLAMC) is a special force for amphibious operations, uses a blue camouflage uniform known as the “blue water” camouflage pattern to blend with the sparkling azure sea and blue sky. The PLAMC also called the “Jiaolong Commando Unit” is capable of launching coordinated landing attacks against enemy fortifications on isolated beaches and islands.
Its blue camouflage pattern combat dress labels the PLAMC as an elite amphibious force and provides a psychological advantage by intimidating the enemy. It makes the PLAMC troops difficult for the enemy to detect and helps distinctively set them apart from the other military forces in the world. In a way, one could say that they become ‘invisible’ to the enemy while they approach the shore or move along the coast.
Leadership and control
PLAMC is subordinate to the PLA Navy Headquarters and the Central Military Commission (CMC) the highest military authority in China. The command structure inside PLAMC is similar to that of other branches of the Chinese military. The commander assisted by a number of deputy commanders is responsible for the overall management and direction of the corps as well as logistics, training, and operations. The PLAMC is organized into smaller units, such as brigades and battalions, which are responsible for carrying out specific tasks and operations. Each unit is led by officers who are responsible for the training, discipline, and readiness of their soldiers. The leadership and control of the PLAMC is tightly integrated into the broad command structure of the Chinese military. The PLAMC is subject to the same overall strategic direction and control as other branches of the military, and its operations and deployments are likely to be closely coordinated with other units and branches of the Chinese military.
Motto and ethos of the Chinese PLAMC
The motto of the PLAMC is “one breath, one shot,” which emphasizes the importance of speed and accuracy in executing amphibious operations.
The ethos of the PLAMC is – discipline, perseverance, and adaptability. The emphasis is on speed, accuracy, teamwork, and cooperation. PLAMC personnel are trained to be physically and mentally tough, to withstand the challenges of amphibious operations in difficult environments. They are also trained to be able to respond quickly, as amphibious operations can be complex and require flexibility.
Another key aspect of the PLAMC’s ethos is a focus on teamwork and cooperation. Amphibious operations are inherently joint operations, requiring close coordination between different units and branches of the military. PLAMC personnel are trained to work closely with other units and to be able to operate in a wide range of environments, including sea, land, and air.
Specially equipped amphibious commando force
The Chinese PLAMC uses a variety of special equipment which includes:
Type 05 amphibious light tank: A tracked armoured fighting vehicle developed in the early 2000s by Chinese state-owned defence company Norinco. It is equipped with a 105mm gun and is specifically designed for amphibious operations. Its engine is able to generate 1475 horsepower and can run at a maximum road speed of 65 km/h and 30 km/h in the water. It has a maximum cruising range of 500 km and can accommodate a crew of 3 and about 10 fully equipped marines. China is the only country to produce these unique high-speed amphibious IFVs.
Type 726 hovercraft: An air-cushioned landing craft or amphibious hovercraft used by the PLAMC to transport troops and equipment from ship to shore. It is equipped with a QC-70 marine gas turbine and can travel at a max speed of 60-80 knots. Nicknamed “Yema” or wild horse, it has a maximum carrying capacity of 50 tons and can carry one main battle tank (e.g., Type 96) or four armoured vehicles and dozens of soldiers.
ZBD-05 amphibious infantry fighting vehicle: An amphibious vehicle used by the PLAMC to transport troops and provide fire support. Armed with a ZPT-99 30mm autocannon, a 7.62mm coaxial machine gun, and HJ-73C anti-tank missiles, the vehicle can carry 7 to 8 (one squad) armed infantry in its passenger compartment at the rear.
FN-6 portable air defence missile system: A man-portable air defence missile system used by the PLAMC to shoot down low-flying aircraft and helicopters. It can be easily transported on foot or by vehicle. This makes it well-suited for amphibious operations. It is also capable of being fired from a variety of platforms, including vehicles and boats. The FN-6 is widely used by the Chinese military and has been exported to Pakistan, Sudan, and Venezuela.
JY-27A radar system: A mobile, 3D radar system used by the PLAMC for air defence and early warning. The JY-27A radar system is a long-range surveillance radar developed by China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC) and is capable of detecting and tracking airborne targets such as fighter jets, helicopters, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) at a range of up to 500 km.
Z-9 helicopter: It is a multi-role helicopter based on the French AS365 Dauphin helicopter. It can be used for a variety of missions, including transport, reconnaissance, search and rescue operations and anti-submarine warfare. It can also be equipped with anti-ship missiles and torpedoes. The Z-9 helicopter has been in service with the PLA since the 1990s and has also been exported to several other countries, including Pakistan and Myanmar.
QBZ-95 assault rifle: The assault rifle developed by Norinco, a Chinese state-owned defence company, is widely used by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). It is considered to be a reliable and effective weapon and is capable of firing both single shots and bursts. Another unique feature of the QBZ-95 is that it can adapt to different combat situations and can be used as a carbine, assault rifle, or light machine gun. The PLAMC typically uses the QBZ-95 rifle with a variety of accessories, including a bayonet, bipod, and grenade launcher. The rifle has also been modified for use in underwater combat, with a special variant designed to fire specialized underwater ammunition.
QSZ-92 pistol: This is a semi-automatic pistol developed by the China North Industries Corporation (Norinco). It was designed to replace the ageing Type 54 pistol and is currently used by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and the PLAMC. The QSZ-92 is a double-action, short-recoil operated handgun that fires the 5.8x21mm DBP87 round, which is similar in size to the NATO 9x19mm round. It has a number of features that make it well-suited for military use, including its ability to function in extreme temperatures and harsh environments. In addition to the standard QSZ-92 pistol, there is also a compact version known as the QSZ-92C, which has a shorter barrel and a reduced magazine capacity. This variant is often used by the PLA Special Operations Forces and other units that require a more compact handgun. It is likely to remain in service for many years to come.
In addition to the above, the PLAMC also uses special equipment and a wide range of other communications systems, night vision devices, and various types of small arms.
What makes the Chinese PLAMC different?
Originally conceived of as a special amphibious commando unit to seize the island of Taiwan the PLAMC is different from other branches of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in many ways.
Firstly, the PLAMC is a specialized force designed to conduct amphibious operations in coastal regions, whereas other branches of the PLA are equipped and trained for general conventional operations. This unique feature is the reason why the PLAMC is equipped with amphibious support vehicles, landing craft, and helicopters. This apart, the PLAMC is a relatively small force with around 35,000 personnel compared to other branches of the PLA which have over two million active-duty troops.
The training, equipment, and organizational structure of the PLAMC is designed to allow it to operate as a crack, highly motivated and capable force for conducting amphibious operations during the day or night. In keeping with its amphibious nature of duties the PLAMC undergoes rigorous training exercises focused on beach landings, island seizure, and amphibious assault in addition to marksmanship, combat tactics, and reconnaissance.
The PLAMC is organized into self-sufficient combined amphibious infantry, and artillery brigades supported by aviation, engineering & chemical defence, artillery and logistical service-support brigades. The idea behind this is to have a highly specialized rapid action force capable of conducting coordinated, swift and effective amphibious operations in a unique and challenging environment.
History of the Chinese PLA Marine Corps
During the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) and the Chinese Civil War (1945-1949), Chinese Communist Party (CCP) forces developed amphibious warfare capability, which was used in the Battle of Yijiangshan Islands and resulted in a PLA victory and the complete destruction of the ROC garrison.
The establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 led to the establishment of the PLA Navy (PLAN). It is today the second largest navy in the world – only behind the United States Navy – with five branches namely; the Submarine Force, the Surface Force, the Coastal Defense Force, the Marine Corps and the Naval Air Force.
The history of the PLAMC dates back to 1953 to the “Naval Infantry Force” which consisted of several infantry and amphibious tank regiments. It was initially created to conduct amphibious operations. Its main objective was to appropriately ‘crush and tackle’ the belligerent forces in Taiwan and provide security in China’s coastal regions.
In the 1950s-1960s, the Naval Infantry Force was primarily used for internal security purposes, conducting operations against nationalist forces in Taiwan and fighting against insurgents in Xinjiang and Tibet. However, in 1957 the Chinese abandoned the plans to seize Taiwan and the Naval Infantry Force was disbanded.
During the Chinese Civil War, the PLA Navy was established on 23 April 1949. However, till the late 1980s, the PLA Navy was largely a riverine brown-water navy with a small number of gunboats and patrol boats supported by larger “mother ships”. In the initial stages, the PLA Navy was largely dependent on the Soviet Union which provided all kinds of naval advisers as well as equipment and technology. But in the 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union the Chinese military leaders realized the need for renewed attention towards the seas. Hence the Chinese PLA Navy underwent significant modernization and started paying attention to training and equipment upgrades.
The PLA began to modernize its military and began to develop a dedicated marine corp. As a result, the first marine brigade was established in 1983, and by the mid-1990s, the PLA had three marine brigades with around 5,000 personnel each. These brigades were primarily focused on defending China’s coastal areas and but were not intended for overseas deployment.
During the early 90s, the PLA Navy started asserting itself and conducted military exercises and missile tests near Taiwan and began to focus more on international peacekeeping operations, in Sudan and Lebanon. By early 2000 the PLA Navy underwent a major restructuring and expansion, with the establishment of new amphibious units and the creation of a unified command structure. It also started asserting its territorial claims in the South China Sea by conducting exercises and patrols in the region.
This led to the expansion of PLAMC with an increased focus on amphibious operations, in 2017. Since then, the PLAMC is conducting amphibious operations, such as landing on beaches, seizing islands, and providing support for other military operations in littoral (coastal) areas. The PLAMC has undergone significant expansion, with new equipment, training, and personnel being added to the force. Today, the PLAMC is a specialized force to project China’s power in the region.
Since its establishment, the PLAMC has not conducted any large-scale combat operations but has participated in several exercises and operations that have demonstrated its capabilities and readiness. One such exercise was the Joint Sea-2017 military exercise involving China and Russia. During this exercise, the PLAMC conducted a simulated amphibious assault on an island in the Sea of Japan, demonstrating its ability to quickly deploy and conduct amphibious operations.
Once again, the PLAMC participated in the RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific) exercise in 2018 — the largest naval exercise in the world where it conducted a simulated amphibious assault on a beach in Hawaii, to demonstrate its ability to work with other military forces and conduct joint operations. While the PLAMC has not yet conducted any large-scale combat operations, its participation in these exercises has demonstrated beyond doubt its capabilities and readiness for amphibious operations.
In addition to the above the PLAMC has also been involved in various humanitarian and disaster relief operations, such as providing support after earthquakes and typhoons like Typhoon Mangkhut in the Philippines (2018).
Today, the PLAMC is a relatively new and rapidly developing force and an integral part of the PLA’s amphibious capabilities. It is expected to play an increasingly important role to project China’s power even beyond its borders in the years to come. Here are some key factors that need to be considered before comparing the PLAMC to other amphibious forces. The PLAMC is:
- Highly specialized force – specifically trained and equipped for amphibious operations.
- Part of the larger Chinese military, which is one of the largest and most well-funded military forces in the world.
- In terms of size, capabilities, and access to resources it is a significant force in the region and one that is likely to become increasingly important in the coming years.
- Likely to witness continued modernization and expansion, as China seeks to enhance its capabilities by conducting amphibious operations in the region.
- Likely to enhance its capabilities for conducting amphibious operations and play an increasingly important role in future
Threat to India, Taiwan and other neighbours
China has been involved in various territorial disputes with its neighbours, including India and Taiwan, over issues such as border disputes and sovereignty claims. The PLAMC’s focus on amphibious operations makes it well-suited for conducting operations in littoral or coastal regions. This could pose a threat to neighbouring countries. The PLAMC could be used to support China’s territorial claims In the South China Sea where China has been involved in disputes with neighbouring countries. Similarly in the Indian Ocean, the PLAMC could play a role in supporting China’s expanding naval presence. The PLAMC could be used to support Chinese naval operations, conduct maritime security operations, or participate in joint exercises with regional partners.
Future of the PLAMC
China has developed several types of amphibious vehicles, including the Type 726 hovercraft, but there is still room for improvement in terms of speed, range, and carrying capacity. The PLAMC is likely to continue to develop and acquire new vehicles to enhance its ability to rapidly deploy and conduct amphibious operations. Another area of focus for the PLAMC is likely to be on joint operations and integration with other branches of the Chinese military. The PLAMC is likely to continue to work closely with other units to enhance its ability to conduct joint operations and integrate with other branches of the military. Additionally, as China seeks to expand its influence and defend its territorial claims, the PLAMC is likely to be involved in a range of activities, including supporting China’s naval presence in the region, conducting maritime security operations, and participating in joint exercises with other regional partners.