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China revamps its military; Slashes army groups from 18 to 13

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BEIJING (PTI): In a major revamp, China has slashed the number of "army groups" from 18 to 13 as part of its plans to reduced three lakh troops to make the world's largest army a mightier force capable of winning modern wars.

The Central Military Commission (CMC), the overall high command of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) headed by President Xi Jinping, has decided to reorganise the army, Defence Ministry spokesperson Senior Colonel Yang Yujun said on Thursday.

Yang said that 13 army groups (army corps) will be formed from the previous 18.

The move is a crucial step to build a strong and modernised new-type army and is important to shifting the focus of the PLA from quantity to quality and efficiency, he told the media in Beijing.

In response to a question on reform of military academies and research institutions, Yang said that the reform aims to adapt to the new command system and military structure, as well as to provide talent and theoretical and technological support to the building of a first-class military force.

The downsizing of the PLA was announced by President Xi in 2015 to make the force leaner and reliant on modern warfare. The unprecedented reform began in November 2015, when CMC unveiled a blueprint for the PLA's development.

The commission pledged to establish a leaner and more efficient command chain, to reduce the number of non-combatant personnel and departments and to build the PLA into a mightier force capable of winning modern wars.

On April 18, Xi had ordered the newly formed 84 large military units to give priority to building "new-type" fighting capabilities in electronic, information and space warfare.

Xi, heading the over two million-strong military, spoke to the commanders of the new units during which he asked them to hone their skills and focus on joint operations and technology.

"The new PLA units must prepare themselves for combat and study wars. They should concentrate on improving their joint operation capabilities and technology level," Xi said.

He also told the new forces to conduct more combat exercises and give priority to building "new-type" fighting capabilities, state-run China Daily reported.

In PLA terminology, new-type fighting capabilities generally refers to capabilities of engaging in electronic, information and space operations, the report said.

His call for preparation for new type of war came as Beijing prepared to counter the US deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) interceptor missiles in South Korea, whose powerful radars could see through most part of China, including its missile development programme.

THAAD is designed to intercept and destroy short and medium-range ballistic missiles during their final phase of flight.

As it expanded strategic influence, China is also flexing its military might specially in the neighbourhood over the territorial disputes with India, Japan and countries in the South China Sea region.

The new PLA units are at combined corps level, which means their commanders have or soon will be promoted to a rank of either major general in the Ground Force, Air Force and Rocket Force or rear admiral in the Navy.

Though the PLA has not disclosed how these units were set up, it is likely that they were created through the regrouping of existing forces rather than recruiting new personnel, because the Chinese military is still engaged in cutting its troops by three lakhs, official media reported.

Since Xi's announcement of reducing the number of troops in 2015, the PLA has set up a headquarters for its Ground Force, founded a Strategic Support Force dedicated to electronic, information and space operations, and established a Rocket Force to replace the former Second Artillery Corps.

The previous four top PLA departments - staff, politics, logistics and armaments - were dismantled.

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