January 20, 2016:
In China the 2015 military reforms were difficult for the mass media to report on because the more important changes had to do many administrative things, like who reports to who. It is much easier to report on stuff like the movement, disbanding or creation of units but the 2015 reforms had little of that. Most of the changes had to do with support units and headquarters. All these changes were important because they streamlined the chain of command (the number of people an order has to get through before it reaches the unit that must act). The need for these reforms arose because most of the changes in the military since the 1980s had to do with upgrading weapons and equipment. This was very much needed because in the 1980s most of Chinese troops were equipped with gear several decades behind what Western forces had. But now that the equipment upgrade has largely been accomplished, and new generations of gear are appearing. It was now time to upgrade command and control systems as well as how intelligence is collected, analyzed and distributed. That meant tinkering with the chain of command and related items.
Until now most of the organizational methods of the Chinese military were based on the system established in the 1950s to make the military more capable of defending China. Back then the military was mainly the PLA (Peoples Liberation Army) which was largely infantry with some supporting services like artillery, aircraft and some coastal and riverine warships. By the 1960s China had nukes, but it was still the same old PLA and the defensive strategy was still based on widespread and persistent guerilla war to “wear down and “swallow” an invader. That meant command and control was still the traditional East Asian model. That is, it was strictly top down. Subordinates kept silent and simply followed orders from above. There was little opportunity for subordinates to make suggestions.
Observing and studying Americans at war from 1991 to the present impressed Chinese military leaders. This led to many of the new reforms which implement a more "American" command style (subordinates that can talk back, with different opinions and interpretations of battlefield situations). The new reforms make this possible, as this flood of information is now handled by new, more efficient, communications systems and a less convoluted command structure. The new system enables subordinates to provide feedback that does not break any of the ancient taboos about embarrassing the boss, but does clearly spotlight rapidly developing bad news. Hey, it's just a bunch of stuff on a big flat screen display. The boss will know what to do.
But now the boss has many more obvious resources literally at his fingertips. Staffs and specialists are concentrated in fewer headquarters and report to fewer (often only one) boss. The high command now has fewer headquarters to deal with and everyone knows who can do what and when they are doing it. The PLA is no longer the army with a lot of support units (like the navy and air force) haphazardly attached and often developing their own plans in conflict with what the general staff is looking for. The Chinese military now consists of quite distinct army, navy, air force and “rocket” (ballistic missiles, some with nukes) forces.
The 1950s system decentralized the military so that the high command had control of some specialist units (and nuclear weapons) while the eleven military regions was each a separate armed force ready to fight on by itself if China were nuked and invaded. Since the 1980s everyone has received new equipment but were still organized to fight like it was the 1950s. It had become obvious that the older approach was truly obsolete and not making the most of modern transportation and communications technology.
The one support service that will benefit the most will be intelligence. China has a huge military intelligence capability but before the new reforms it was scattered and compartmentalized and the supreme command (general staff) had a difficult getting and organizing all the information everyone was collecting. Now the goal is to use computerized analysis and modern communications systems to quickly (often in real time) collect, analyze and present all (or most) of that information. For anyone expecting to fight China that is a scary prospect because the new reforms make the dragon is a lot more aware and faster to react.