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12:20 PM, January 23, 2019
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PLA troops (image: Defense.gov)

The Chinese Army forces have been halved while the Navy and Air Force has been significantly boosted in an attempt to transform the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) into a comprehensive modern force, Xinhuanet reported on Sunday.

The army now accounts for less than 50 per cent of the total number of PLA troops; almost half of the non-combatant units have been made redundant and the number of officers in the PLA has been reduced by 30 per cent, the report stated.

The statement indicated that the four other branches of the PLA – the navy, air force, rocket force and strategic support force, which is responsible for areas such as cyberwarfare – now together make up more than half of the Chinese military, overtaking the army, which has traditionally been the dominant unit of the PLA.

“In the old set-up, the PLA had too many officers. In this overhaul, all these officers must find new positions and adapt or they will be made redundant,” the report quoted Ni Lexiong, a military expert as saying.

"The navy, air force and missile units can now play a bigger role in the event of conflict by fighting enemy forces beyond China’s borders," Ni added. He explained that modern warfare puts a greater emphasis on superiority in areas such as the air, space and cyberspace – further reducing the importance of the ground force. “It had to be reformed and optimised to meet the pressing needs of the changing times and this is the purpose of the overhaul,” said Ni.

In the last few years, the PLA has downsized its military by retrenching 300,000 troops under the military reforms initiated by President Xi Jinping. But it still remained the world's largest military with two million personnel in the ranks.

The Chinese military currently has five independent branches, including the army, navy, air force, rocket force – the strategic and tactical missile operator – and strategic support force, which is in charge of cyber, space, and electronic warfare. The last two were established three years as President Xi stepped up efforts to modernise the military.

The PLA Army, founded in 1927 as the Red Army of China, was the key to the Chinese Communist Party's victory in the civil war in 1949 and maintained its dominance within the military throughout 10 major overhauls between 1950 and 2005. It had no navy or air force until 1949 and the PLA Rocket Force, initially known as 'the Second Artillery Corps', was founded in 1966.

In 2013, the PLA had a total of 2.3-million servicemen, with only 235,000 in the navy and 398,000 in the air force, according to a 2013 defense white paper, the report added.

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