Lessons the PLA learnt
Reviewed by Rakesh Datta

Chinese Lessons from Other People's Wars
Ed Andrew Scobell, David Lai & Roy Kamphausen. Lancer. Rs 795

True to the proverbial dictum that more you sweat in peace, less you bleed in war, Chinese are learning aggressively from wars fought by others. The strategical understanding of the use of force is to grasp the changing perception about the role of power, logistics, command, control and precision munition, as the Chinese have not fought openly for well over three decades.

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) has grown extensively over the years from guerrilla to recognising new concept of fighting wars under modern conditions and in informatised warfare. The hands on analysis on learning by not doing is an edited book by Andrew Scobell, David Lai and Roy Kamphausen, providing valuable insight to what PLA could know from foreign conflicts, contrary to Mao's belief of learning by doing. China has been struggling for a leadership role, but is equally concerned about its national security issues where the core mission remains war fighting. The jointly sponsored study by the Strategic Study Institute, National Bureau of Asian Research and Pacific Command, is a presentation of the annual PLA conference held at US War College in 2010.

Forwarded by Robert F. Williard, Commander US Pacific Command, the book runs into eight chapters dedicated to the PLA's analysis on various wars. The PLA's operational legacy is in land warfare. Whether it was civil war or fighting against Japan, Korea, India, Vietnam or on Sino-Soviet border, there was not much appreciation for air or naval perspective. It is the last two aspects that China has turned to for operational reasons, notwithstanding, focusing in high-tech areas on ground as well. In fact, China does not have any centre for conflict analysis, unlike such centres in the United States.

In this context, the first case concern discussed in the book under review is war in Kosovo. It not only embarked a new role for NATO, but also brought out decisiveness of air element in the future wars. According to the writer, Jule Tuefel Dreyer, the PLA's conclusion from Kosovo conflict has been varied. While it established the validity of people's war, it equally pronounced the importance of space and informationalisation in the PLA's new strategy including realisation about the role of logistics, psychological ops, climatic control and camouflaging. For example, FRY defenders burned tyres to create smoke to conceal troops withdrawal and the role of street hawkers paralyzing US communication, showed high morale amongst military and civilians. In fact, ethnic cleansing in Kosovo was US grand strategy which the PLA could always interpret targeting its sore points like Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan.

Chinese long endeavour for gaining blue water navy also made them study Malvinas war. According to Christopher D. Young, Chinese near sea action had been much in conflict. Being the last major out of area maritime campaign Chinese learning from the Falklands war only validates their string of pearl strategy in the Indian Ocean of creating basis and facilities, premising on "take your protection with you." Establishing PLA's interests beyond Taiwan, it provided valuable lessons in anti access and denial operations, use of expeditionary forces and logistics, besides role of aircraft carrier and merchant vessels.

The PLA's analysis of the two Gulf wars has been equally rewarding in terms of its emphasis on strategical, operational and tactical trend of war, including non- traditional roles. The key trends of "three attacks, three defends" and emphasis on joint operations further demonstrated importance of informationalisation and the role of psychological, public opinion and legal aspect of warfare to inspire resistance and garner support from outside, as exhibited by Saddam and George Bush.

According to Frank Miller, the PLA is a learning organisation in which CMC is advised by the Academy of Military Sciences and National Defence University in building issues of interest. China looks upon her engagement with US Pacific Command as a study model for operations in military diplomacy, joint exercises and modernisation and restructuring of the PLA. Further, piggy-backing on lessons learnt by US and Russian forces in their operations in Afghanistan and Chechnya, as examined by Martin Andrew and Yu Bin, was to transform the PLA around combined arms mechanised force employing maneouvre roles, thereby ensuring combat effectiveness with low collateral damage.

An incisive compilation of expert essays, the book provides a valuable insight to military commanders, policy makers, diplomats, academicians, researchers and analysts about the PLAs deficiencies and new understanding of China's strategic calculus in addressing challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.