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A smart person learns from the mistakes of others. Ukraine as a combat testing ground for Beijing

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Few people follow the actions of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine and evaluate them as closely as the military personnel of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Why is Beijing watching the Russo-Ukrainian war?

Analysis of wars fought by other countries continues to play an important role in Beijing’s decisions on military modernization, the widespread use of big data, artificial intelligence and simulations alongside the PLA’s own field experiments. PLA analysts, who traditionally have great respect for the Russian military, will no doubt find their achievements in the initial phase of the conflict highly convincing.

Focus He translated David Finkelstein’s text on China and his close observation of the war in Ukraine.

Beijing watches the Russo-Ukrainian war

  • First, the People’s Republic of China sees the military element of national strength and natural resources as Moscow’s strengths in its post-Soviet incarnation. As a result, the success or failure of this operation will affect Beijing’s view of the “comprehensive national strength” of the Russian Federation in general and the state of the Russian armed forces in particular.
  • Second, Russia’s operational actions can have a very direct impact on past and future reforms and modernization of the PLA. In 2016, the PLA underwent the largest restructuring in its history to better prepare for the modern information age war. Some important aspects of this restructuring were inherited from the USA. However, the PLA also took into account the lessons learned from Russia’s New Look military reforms that began in late 2008. Professional military journals of the PLA often publish articles on the latest developments in the Russian military field and the combined US armed forces. And, of course, the Chinese and Russian armies are institutionally close, thanks to negotiations between the general staff and mutual participation in professional military training schools. In November 2021, the states signed a “Roadmap for Close Military Cooperation 2021-2025” aimed, among other things, to formalize joint naval and air patrols similar to what they did a month earlier in the Tsugaru Strait in northern Japan. Therefore, evaluating the operational actions of the Russian military will become a priority for PLA analysts as they approach their Russian counterparts.
  • Third, Chinese and Russian military forces have been conducting joint exercises for many years. Russia’s results in Ukraine will make the PLA feel the difference between training and real combat. This issue is of great importance to the PLA, which is aware that it has not seen large-scale conflicts since the 1979 invasion of Vietnam. However, the PLA considers the Russian military to be very experienced in real combat, and this is often true. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian army has fought all over Chechnya, Georgia, Crimea, eastern Ukraine, Syria and now Ukraine. PLA analysts will stay tethered to their computers as they try to understand how Moscow is tackling its newest challenge. One of the lessons they can learn is that war is an extremely difficult task, even for military veterans.
  • Fourth, the technical characteristics, strengths and weaknesses of Russian weapons systems will be of particular interest. While Beijing has a sizable domestic defense manufacturing sector, the PLA still retains Russian-made or designed weapons, systems, and platforms.

Lessons from the Russo-Ukrainian War for Beijing

At this stage, it is too early to say with certainty what exactly Chinese military experts will learn from the war with Ukraine. Like the rest of the world, PLA analysts accumulate data and try to absorb what’s happening in real time, and that’s always difficult. In addition, the war in Ukraine is entering a new phase as the Russian army regroups and refocuses its operations in the east and southeast. It is highly likely that the best analyzes of PLA will be done in a few months. However, we can make modest but reasonable estimates of what PLA will be most likely to notice at the operational and strategic levels of the conflict.


Heaven is getting ready. Hard lessons for China from the battlefields of Russia-Ukraine

At the operational level, PLA analysts will note that Russian military operations to date violate some of the PLA’s time-tested “Basic Principles of Military Operations” (基本战役原则).

Four of them in particular have been overtly ignored.

The basic principles of the war, which Russia violated in the war with Ukraine

  1. First of all, the Russian army underestimated the “enemy” and overestimated its own capabilities, which is a significant mistake. The principle of operation of military campaigns of the PLA “know the enemy and yourself“(知彼知己).
  2. Also, based on the apparent divergence of Russia’s actions in Ukraine’s northern, eastern and southern regions at the beginning of the war, Moscow’s operations would likely appear to constitute violations. the principle of “unified coordination” (协调一致).
  3. Russia’s obvious problems with logistics and other combat support functions will inevitably lead PLA analysts to believe Russia is violating. principle of “all-round support” (全面保障).
  4. Finally, Moscow’s military planners initially did not comply, and do not even attempt to achieve it. universal war principle: “surprise”Formulated as follows in the ULR Campaign Principles “confuse the enemy“(出敌不意). By releasing intelligence to the public, Washington has exacerbated Moscow’s problems in this regard. All this should convince observers from Beijing that a strategic-level surprise effect is increasingly difficult to achieve these days.

As a longtime follower of Russian doctrine, the PLA will be surprised, to say the least, by the apparent lack of “coherence” in Russian operations. Moscow’s operation in Ukraine is very similar to ground-based united warfare – this is exactly the type of war the PLA is trying to move away from. In November 2020, after 20 years of experimentation, the PLA completely overhauled its joint operations doctrine.

The PLA’s new paradigm, known as “Integrated Joint Operations” (体化联合作战), requires unity of effort and integration between services on land, at sea, in the air and in key high-tech fields such as cyberspace, space and space. electromagnetic spectrum – all under one command and control structure.

In addition, PLA aims to bring joint operations to the tactical level, previously only carried out as part of large-scale campaigns. The concept of integrated joint operations defines many aspects of the PLA’s activities – its organizational structure at the national and regional levels, command and control, capability development, training and professional military training.

Rather than displaying elegant 21st-century co-op operations using high-tech capabilities, as the US military has done and the PLA strived, Russia seems to be returning to the blunt use of ground, air, and missile strikes. These are by no means examples of “operational art” that the PLA hopes to adopt. The PLA’s strategists and planners, who have been ardent students and admirers of Russian doctrine for decades, may only wonder why.

Volodymyr Zelensky and the Chinese Martial Art

As the “armed wing of the Chinese Communist Party”, the PLA is both a political and military force. The PLA has a group of political officers who maintain discipline, strengthen the bond between the army and the party, monitor the dynamics of military-civilian relations, and deal with the personnel aspects of the war. Therefore, the Chinese military will closely follow reports on the human and cognitive aspects of the war. PLA analysts will read reports of low morale among Russian troops, alleged desertions, lack of discipline in tactical communications, attacks on Ukrainian non-combatants and war crimes charges. They will also draw attention to the stories of citizens protesting in Russia against “Putin’s war” and Moscow’s repressive measures.

At the same time, PLA political officials and others will be surprised at how well Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky uses information warfare and strategic communications as a power-building tool.

Really, Zelensky and the Ukrainian army are actually implementing what the PLA calls “three war fronts” (三种战法) – public war, psychological warfare and legal warfare.

Reading these stories will no doubt justify the PLA’s continued focus on “political work” (政治工作) among troops and local people, while also reaffirming the effectiveness of the PLA’s new joint doctrine of both political work and national mobilization. Stories from the battlefields in Ukraine will provide politicians and others with additional evidence to highlight why the PLA should remain a political force. They will also ask questions about the effectiveness of the post-Soviet structure of so-called political leaders in the Russian army.

In addition to operational and tactical issues, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the international response it provoked lead to discussion of higher-level strategic issues such as the impact of harsh international economic sanctions on China’s national security future, the capability of liberal democracies. between regions to present a united front in the face of a common threat, the strength of alliances, and the rapid return of the United States to its global leading role. While the Beijing government denies any political parallels between the situation in Ukraine and Taiwan, the PLA and other countries may see both the operational and strategic lessons of the Russo-Ukrainian war relevant to this scenario.


incompetence and fear. Experts explain why the Kremlin is fighting “reluctantly”

The issue of nuclear deterrence is one of the most important strategic issues created by the Russia-Ukraine war. PLA analysts and others in the Chinese national security community will examine the role of Russia’s nuclear arsenal in shaping US and NATO responses to Moscow’s actions, including the absence of military intervention. All this will probably confirm the correctness of the pre-war decision to establish for Beijing the stability and volume of its nuclear arsenal. It also raises questions about how effective China’s longstanding “no first use” nuclear doctrine will be in the future. There is a suspicion that Beijing’s military and civilian strategists will study the nuclear issue long and carefully.

Overall, it should be assumed that during and after this conflict, the PLA will devote significant resources to learning from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Chinese will not make hasty decisions based on past experience. All aspects of warfare will be carefully covered in symposia, conferences, debates, articles and books. At the operational and tactical levels, these courses will validate or correct Chinese doctrine, including tactics, techniques and procedures, optimal use of systems, and even political work.

Strategically, such lessons could even affect Beijing’s future nuclear doctrine and calculations regarding the use of its potential. Beijing officials continue to say they have no need for this conflict. For this we will need to take their word. However, Russian military action provides the PLA another “experimental space” for a comprehensive study of the combat experience of other countries.

about the author

David M. Finkelstein is a retired US Army officer. He has been researching security issues in Asia for a long time. Director of China and Indo-Pacific Security Affairs at CNA, an independent research institute in Arlington, Virginia.

Source: Riafan

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