Special Operations: The Dragon Ladies Assemble


April 9, 2013: China is expanding its force of female operators. Chinese SOF (special operations forces, including commandos and troops similar to American rangers and special forces) are a relatively recent development but have been growing rapidly over the last decade. The latest addition is women. Last year ground forces commanders were ordered to find ways to recruit, train, and organize female special operations units. The use of women in “special operations” is not entirely new in Chinese history, but melding that tradition with modern special operations units is.

Various army units called for volunteers and thousands responded. There are over 150,000 women in the Chinese military, most of them in the army. Out of that group there are always some willing to try something new and challenging. Nothing is quite as challenging as special operations. Since women have become competitive as police snipers and on SWAT teams, it is believed the many new female special operations units (usually squads or platoons for recon or intelligence gathering) are more than just for show.

While the first Chinese special operations units were formed in the late 1980s, in the last decade China has let its SOF troops get out more, sending them to participate in international operations and even a NATO sponsored International Competition of Special Forces. Chinese commandos who participated in a 2009 international special operations competition walked away with the largest number of wins and broke several records.

The Chinese term for the SOF is Quantou Budui (fist units), an allusion to martial arts where a powerful blow in the right spot can quickly bring down a foe. Chinese SOF remains small, well equipped, and well trained. There are fewer than 5,000 troops in the Chinese SOF, organized into 6th Special Warfare Group, 8th Special Warfare Group, 12th Special Warfare Detachment, and Naval Commando Unit. The 15th Airborne Corps is used as a major source of recruits. Thus Chinese soldiers know that if they want to become commandos they have to get into an airborne unit first. China has over 20,000 second-tier special operations troops (rangers, special recon, and raiding personnel), which is where nearly all of the new women operators probably ended up.

At the time of the 1991 Gulf War, the Chinese only had a few hundred commando type troops and they were intended mainly for long range recon missions. But after seeing what American SOF soldiers did in the Persian Gulf, the Chinese began forming units similar to American Rangers. By the time the 2001 war in Afghanistan came along, the Chinese decided to develop more commandos along the lines of American Special Forces, Delta Force, and British SAS.

For a long time Chinese SOF units mainly trained and planned for operations against Taiwan. This included attacks on key targets, as well as kidnapping or killing senior military and political leaders. Some of this would involve Chinese SOF operators who snuck on to the island as tourists or commercial travelers beforehand.

China now has hundreds of very experienced operators, each with over a decade of SOF experience. China has also been sending SOF personnel around to train troops in foreign nations. For example, seven years ago several hundred instructors from the Chinese special forces were in Venezuela for about six months, training Venezuelan troops in recon techniques and counter-terrorism tactics. The Chinese spoke good Spanish. The Chinese were apparently very interested in finding out about the training techniques used by the American Special Forces instructors (who had trained Venezuelan troops until 2003) and the Venezuelans told all they knew. Since then, a lot more of these training/intelligence missions have been conducted, finding that this half century old American technique is very useful.


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