Damansky Island (Zhenbao Island)

The Damansky Island (Zhenbao dao) is located in the Ussuri (Wusuli) River. It is about 200 meters to the Chinese side and 300 meters to the Russian side. The total area of the island is 0.74 square kilometers. Its middle part is a swampland with forests in the surrounding areas. Originally, it connected to the Chinese side, but water erosion separated it to form an independent island in 1915. Zhenbao in Chinese means “treasure,” a name given to the island because a huge ginseng root was discovered there in the nineteenth century by a Chinese fisherman. The Chinese claim that it has been under the administration of Hulin County, Heilongjiang (Heilungkiang) Province. This tiny island gained international fame due to the Sino-Soviet border conflict in 1969.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the former Soviet Union shared a nearly 7,000-kilometer-long border. During the 1950s, the “brotherhood” between the two Communist states seldom reminded them of their territorial disputes. After Joseph Stalin’s (1878-1953) death, Nikita Khrushchev’s (1894-1971) de-Stalinization led to a bilateral ideological rift. In 1960, Khrushchev was accused by the Chinese of “emasculating, betraying and revising” Marxism-Leninism, while he labeled Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung) (1893-1976) as “an ultra-leftist, an ultra-dogmatist and a left revisionist.” After Leonid Brezhnev (1906- 1982) took power in 1964, the ideological schism caused border clashes. The Chinese denounced the Soviet Union for being a new Tsarist regime just like the Old Russian Empire that seized over 1.5 million square kilometers of Chinese territory through unequal treaties imposed by Russia on China. With no intention of compromise, Brezhnev assumed a hard stance toward the border disputes by denying any treaties signed between the two countries were unequal. The subsequent negotiations on border issues brought no results. On the contrary, according to Chinese sources, the Soviets invaded Chinese territory 4,189 times between October 1964 and February 1969. On Damansky Island, as the Chinese claimed, the Soviets violated their territorial integrity 16 times from January 1967 to February 1969.

The military clash over Damansky Island occurred in March 1969. No third observer objectively reported it, and conflicting claims were rendered by the two sides. Each accused the other of provocation and aggression. However, a careful review of their existing sources reveals that the two countries fought three major battles on March 3, March 15, and March 17 respectively. These were not accidents, as both countries had stationed forces along the border for a long time in preparation for war.

On March 2, one group of Chinese soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) camouflaged itself in snow in the wooded area in preparation for an ambush, while another group marched toward Soviet soldiers. As they got close, the Chinese opened fire. Both sides dispatched reinforcements, and the fighting lasted until late after- noon. Each inflicted casualties on the other side. The Soviets brought in four military vehicles yet were forced to withdraw.

On March 15, the Soviets sent 100 infantry and nearly 50 tanks and armored vehicles seeking retaliation. Three Soviet planes assisted the assault. The Soviet artillery bombarded Chinese territory up to seven kilo- meters beyond the border. The violent fighting lasted for nine hours, resulting in heavy casualties on both sides. One foreign source claimed that Chinese casualties on that day were over 800. The Chinese claimed to have repelled Soviet soldiers from the island.

On March 17, the Soviets dispatched 70 soldiers to stop the Chinese from towing away a newly invented Soviet T-62 tank left by the previous battle on the ice near the Chinese side. The Soviets were not successful, and the tank was soon dragged out and put on display in Beijing to show off a Chinese victory.

The three days of heavy fighting shocked the world and made the tiny island famous. Both sides claimed victory and decorated their heroes with honors and promotions. Nobody knows the exact figure of casualties, even though the Russians set their loss at 58 dead and 94 wounded, and the Chinese announced their loss at 29 dead, 62 wounded, and 1 missing.

After Damansky, the skirmishes along the border continued, but none of them matched the scale of Damansky. Only after the informal meeting between Aleksei Kosygin (1904-1980) and Zhou Enlai (Chou Enlai) (1898-1976) at Beijing Airport in September 1969 did the military confrontation subside, thanks to their agreement to separate forces in disputed areas and to solve border problems by peaceful negotiations.

Some scholars consider the Damansky clash a modern war since both employed their most advanced weapons in the intensive fighting. It ushered Sino-Soviet relations into a two-decade ebb during which both saw each other as the arch enemy. The Chinese claimed that the Damansky battle enabled them to smash the Soviet attempt to launch a major war against China, while the Soviets argued that the clash thwarted China’s further territorial demands. The Damansky incident cast a shadow upon the two countries as their ideological and territorial disputes continued until the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In a particular way, the Damansky clash changed Chinese relations with the West. Soon after it, secret talks between China and the United States resumed, which led to an eventual normalization of their diplomatic relations. Indeed, the small war over the island triggered a significant shift in global balance of power by shaping a new world order. After the clash, Damansky Island has been under Chinese control. In 1991, China and the Soviet Union signed an agreement to stipulate its belonging to China. In 1997, a Sino-Russian agreement endorsed Chinese ownership. In 2005, both the Chinese parliament and Russian Duma ratified a bilateral agreement to legalize Damansky as Chinese territory.

References Ginsburgs, George. Damansky/Chenpao Island Incident: A Case Study of Syntactic Pattern in Crisis Diplomacy. Edwardsville: South Illinois University at Edwardsville, 1973. Hsu, Immanuel C. Y. The Rise of Modern China. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2000. Li, Xiaobing. A History of the Modern Chinese Army. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2007. Luthi, Lorenz, M. The Sino-Soviet Split: Cold War in the Communist World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008. Robinson, Thomas W. “The Sino-Soviet Border Disputes: Background Development and the March 1969 Clashes.” The American Political Science Review. (1972): 1199. Ryan, Mark A., David M. Finkelstein, and Michael A. McDevitt. Chinese Warfighting: The PLA Experience since 1949. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2003.


Reassessing the Sino-Vietnamese conflict 1979 I

A Vietnamese military officer standing on the wreckage of a destroyed Chinese tank in Cao Bang during the Sino-Vietnamese War

China’s invasion of Vietnam, 1979

PLA Operations along the Sino-Vietnamese Border, 1981–1984

The classic Sun Tzu adage of war, “Know the enemy and know yourself,” writ large, is a fundamental tenet of Chinese military strategy. The PLA always maintained an active self-evaluation program to be fully aware of its strengths and weaknesses. Deng Xiaoping reckoned that the invasion of Vietnam was a remarkable experience for the PLA since so many troops endured the combat test. Shortly after military operations ended, he ordered all troops involved in the conflict to write summaries of their combat experience as their primary job. The PLA Daily subsequently published an article, “Transforming the Self-Defense Counterattack Experiences into the Treasury of the Whole Army,” suggesting that the combat experience gained in the war against Vietnam would hold tremendous significance for the PLA. Special teams were assigned to help units document almost all aspects of the military operation in Vietnam, including planning, intelligence, command and control, operations and tactics, logistics, political work, and the aid-the-front work. Since the PLA was a highly politicized military force, analysts paid particular attention to the political work, the principal mechanism for mobilizing Chinese forces.

China claimed military victory on the basis of the geopolitical outcomes that resulted from the PLA’s performance on the battlefield, reflecting the peculiarities of how the PLA undertook its postwar “lessons learned” analysis of the conflict. China’s approach to evaluating military operations differs from Western approaches largely as a result of China’s preference for “subjective measures versus quantitative indicators of performance.” But the differences are at once less and more subtle than such a simplistic interpretation suggests. The PLA does employ quantitative measures, using them to evaluate the direct results of military operations and to understand to what extent the enemy’s effective strength has been annihilated or paralyzed. However, this use of quantitative indicators is secondary to the subjective factors that are embedded in Chinese strategic culture—most notably, the emphasis on “wits, wisdom, and strategy” that largely determine a war’s outcome.

Though the PLA conducted a thorough evaluation with both quantitative and subjective measurements, it failed to disassociate the lessons learned from the conflict from the army’s outdated military philosophy and tradition. Consequently, this failed process restricted the PLA’s subsequent modernization and transformation.

Early Assessments

Various scholars and intelligence analysts undertook a series of early assessments of the PLA’s performance in the 1979 war. These early assessments offer a foundation for better understanding the PLA’s assessment process and methodology. Harlan Jencks, a postdoctoral researcher at Berkeley, published the first scholarly analysis of the war in August 1979. Jencks acknowledged that “many critical facts remain unknown” and analyzed China’s military performance based solely on media reports. As late as 2002, lack of access to Chinese sources meant that Jencks’s study was described as the “very best work” on the 1979 war.

Jencks examined China’s war objectives and military operations, including timing, command arrangements, forces committed, strategy, and tactics. He found that China had achieved some positive results: Vietnamese military and civilian installations in the border area had been completely destroyed; the PLA had inflicted significant casualties on some Vietnamese regular units; troops had gained valuable combat experience; and the invasion demonstrated to foreign powers that China meant what it said. Nevertheless, he concluded that China had lost more than it had gained. Strategically, the Chinese invasion strengthened the Soviet-Vietnamese alliance, intensifying regional tensions and consequently disturbing East Asian and Southeast Asian countries as well as the United States. Overall, the war proved that the PLA remained an ineffective force, fighting with outdated strategy and tactics in “two-dimensional” ground warfare and suffering heavy losses as a consequence.

Other initial assessments emphasized that Vietnam’s combat-seasoned force, equipped with modern Soviet weapons, outperformed the inexperienced PLA. However, the lack of transparency in both China’s and Vietnam’s military establishments made these assessments more speculative than factually insightful. Those writing English-language accounts seemed unwilling to include information from Chinese newspapers, even though they printed a significant number of reports about the PLA’s performance. Though these accounts were often filled with political propaganda, ignoring them meant that scholars missed an opportunity to obtain an analysis untainted by an inadvertent pro-Vietnamese bias.

Complementing these academic and popular assessments, American government agencies undertook more official studies of China’s war with Vietnam. In March 1980, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) produced a highly classified assessment of the PLA’s combat performance and obvious lessons China learned from the war with Vietnam. Since the invasion failed to oust Vietnamese troops from Cambodia, the CIA report concluded that China achieved few of its political objectives. It noted that the PLA’s conservative tactics limited the operation’s scale, depth, and duration. The report asserted that the PLA’s slow advance was more a product of Chinese “cautiousness and concern for reducing casualties” than a consequence of “the difficult terrain and tenacious Vietnamese defense.” Given the fact that it was a short conventional military action with no air and naval power involved, CIA analysts concluded that China’s war with Vietnam did not present enough information for them to assess the PLA’s overall war capabilities.

The CIA’s assessment obviously included information furnished by Beijing. Two weeks after Chinese troops withdrew from Vietnam, Chinese ambassador Chai Zemin visited the White House, where he briefed national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski about the war. Chai discussed Vietnamese strength at the border, the PLA’s deployment, operations and casualties, and combat highlights. Chai tried to convince the Americans that China had achieved victory over Vietnam, emphasizing that the PLA had annihilated two Vietnamese divisions and four regiments, seriously weakened four other regiments, and inflicted five Vietnamese casualties for every one suffered by the PLA. According to the Chinese ambassador, Vietnamese troops performed poorly when fighting large battles but did well when using guerrilla tactics and sabotage attacks, something consistent with America’s experience in the 1960s and that of the French a generation earlier. The biggest lesson the PLA learned was that the hilly and jungle-like terrain impeded large-unit maneuvering, making it necessary to devise on-the-spot mid-battle adjustments that favored small-unit tactics against the Vietnamese guerrilla-type resistance. In conclusion, the Chinese were convinced that Vietnam would be more restrained after having suffered such severe punishment. In retrospect, Chai’s report was itself an incomplete assessment, containing inaccurate casualty information, but it was what Beijing was willing to share with Washington at that moment. Beijing appeared unwilling to furnish insights as to why the PLA did not perform as well as expected because the Chinese did not think it necessary to share anything beyond the outcome of the war with the Americans.

But even at this early point in postwar analysis, a growing discrepancy was evident between a Western view that tended to underscore the PLA’s shortcomings and a Chinese position that stressed the PLA’s victory over the PAVN. All these assessments suffered from the absence of many critical facts, including information about such basic matters as Chinese strategy and campaign objectives, Chinese operational tactics, and the number of casualties on both sides.

Battlefield Claims and Casualties

The PLA had not engaged in such a large-scale military operation since the Korean War. Based on Mao Zedong’s strategy that “in every battle, concentrate an absolute superior force against the enemy,” Beijing had deployed nine regular armies along with special and local units, amounting to over half a million troops. Air force fighter units flew 8,500 border air defense sorties, while transport and helicopter units flew 228 airlift sorties and the navy dispatched a task force to prepare for possible Soviet naval intervention. In addition, Guangxi and Yunnan Provinces mobilized tens of thousands of militiamen and laborers to support the PLA’s military operation in Vietnam. During the conflict, Chinese forces captured three Vietnamese provincial capitals along with a dozen other border cities and district towns, claiming to have killed and wounded 57,000 Vietnamese troops, severely damaged four PAVN regular divisions and ten other regiments, and captured 2,200 prisoners of war. Chinese victory claims also included the destruction of 340 pieces of artillery, 45 tanks, and some 480 trucks and the capture of 840 pieces of artillery and more than 11,000 small arms, along with many other types of military equipment. On this basis, Beijing asserted that military operations against Vietnam ended with China’s triumph.

However, based on the reported heavy casualties China suffered in the war and lack of information about Vietnamese casualties, most contemporary Western studies maintained that Vietnam “had indeed outperformed” the Chinese forces on the battlefield. Such reasoning accepted Hanoi’s disingenuous claims that Vietnam had committed only militia and local forces, who executed constant attacks against Chinese invaders. Apologists for the Hanoi regime argued that Vietnam had lost Lang Son and other cities only after Vietnamese defenders had killed a large number of PLA troops. (At the time, Hanoi Radio announced that a total of 42,000 Chinese troops were killed and wounded in the war, a third more than the PLA’s actual combat casualties.) Vietnam’s 1979 war records remain unavailable. However, the publication of PAVN unit histories reveals that a significant number of Vietnamese regular forces fought against the Chinese invasion, including some that engaged in “last-stand” actions before being overwhelmed by resolute PLA attackers.

A reassessment of the 1979 war based on China’s sources is equally one-sided but is still both intriguing and informative. Battlefield casualties are a common measure of combat effectiveness. Beijing publicly acknowledged that 20,000 Chinese soldiers were either killed or wounded. In reality, the PLA lost more than 31,000 soldiers (including almost 8,000 fatalities), divided between the two military regions: 5,103 dead and 15,412 injured in Guangxi and 2,812 killed and 7,886 wounded in Yunnan. Western observers, however, did not accept Chinese numbers and therefore speculated (with a misleading “precision” based on specious media reports) that the PLA could have had as many as 26,000 killed and 37,000 wounded in action. Over time, these figures have become accepted by scholars and subsequently have been widely cited to support the thesis that the PLA did not conduct itself successfully in the fighting. It is true that China’s casualties in such a short war were significantly high. However, the Chinese believed that their losses were still outstripped by Vietnamese losses.

The most controversial statistic was the number of soldiers killed. The basis of PLA victory claims were body counts after the Vietnamese positions had been sacked, a practice ironically echoing that of the U.S. Army in South Vietnam a decade earlier. For example, the 163rd Division counted 5,293 Vietnamese soldiers killed and 612 Chinese dead. This claim did not include the unknown numbers of Vietnamese troops killed inside the underground bunkers at the French Fort and inside Nhi Thanh and Tam Thanh Caves.

However, that the figures claimed by the PLA forces may be inflated. The battlefield was a dangerous and chaotic place, and perfectly accurate casualty reporting was always difficult. On 16 March 1979, at a CCP Central Committee meeting, Deng noted that the number of Vietnamese wounded counted by the PLA might not be accurate, since battlefield experiences often supported a high wounded-to-killed ratio. This discrepancy cannot be resolved until the Vietnamese records become available. The Chinese leader, however, did not think that casualties were the best criterion for weighing military success. For him, China’s victory was determined by the overall strategic situation, which he thought concluded in China’s favor. According to Deng, the war improved China’s strategic position and China’s world prestige and inspired the Chinese people to be more devoted to the Four Modernizations.” He stressed that the PLA’s battlefield losses were “small” compared to the heroism and bravery manifested by Chinese troops in the war. Deng also felt a sense of relief, speaking of his satisfaction about the PLA’s performance during the invasion with a comment that Chinese troops had not behaved like “ducks” (fang yazi) even when they confronted extraordinary challenges and ordeals. The Chinese leader was convinced that any PLA deficiencies were less important than the strategic gains China had achieved.

Assessment from a Strategic Perspective

From a Chinese perspective, the 1979 war with Vietnam was a deliberately orchestrated military response to Vietnamese policy toward China and its expansion in Southeast Asia as well as to Soviet global aspirations.30 As Deng Xiaoping stressed on 19 February 1979, Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia placed at least some of the ASEAN countries under threat, and the Soviet Union could use Vietnam to create an “Asian Collective Security System” to contain China. “Although China’s action to teach Vietnam a lesson just began,” the Chinese leader continued, “it was a limited operation to be confined within the border region with a simple objective”—to “warn Vietnam not to be recklessly aggressive in the region.” The Chinese leader related China’s war with Vietnam to Hanoi’s Indochina policy but did not state that Beijing’s strategic objective was to compel Vietnam to withdraw from Cambodia. Accordingly, the PLA’s performance must be assessed from a perspective that examines to what extent the 1979 war served China’s strategic interests.

The Chinese leadership believed that Beijing had met its goals. On 16 March, speaking in front of party, government, and military leaders at the Great Hall of the People, Deng declared China’s “victory” over Vietnam. He believed that the war had boosted China’s prestige and influence in the world, proving that China stood behind what it said and that the war was important for the fight against hegemony. He also believed that the war had inspired the Chinese people to shift the focal point of their work to economic development programs. Thus, for Deng Xiaoping, the war’s outcome had created a favorable situation for China both at home and abroad, enabling China to concentrate its energy and resources on achieving the Four Modernizations. Few Western observers would evaluate the war’s outcomes the same way that Deng did because the Chinese leader assessed the war from a larger international and domestic perspective. For him, the war produced the kind of strategic outcomes he had desired and anticipated.

The military campaign revealed the PLA’s deficiencies in modern doctrine and tactics, but from beginning to end, China controlled the conflict’s initiative and tempo. Beijing, not Hanoi, determined the pace, structure, battlefield and geostrategic engagement, and duration of the war. Beijing surprised Hanoi not only by waging massive attacks but also by its quick withdrawal without becoming bogged down, something that the Hanoi regime, overconfident from its experience against the Americans in a very different kind of conflict a decade earlier, never anticipated. China’s gauge of the Soviet response to the invasion also exposed Moscow’s inability or unwillingness to back Vietnam. This outcome proved Deng Xiaoping’s prophecy that the Soviet Union would not risk its strategic interests in Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia to confront China over Vietnam. Hanoi’s reliance on the Soviet Union for security was clearly a disappointing and even disillusioning experience.

Even more critical, the 1979 war marked the beginning of Beijing’s policy of “bleeding” Vietnam in an effort to contain Hanoi’s further expansion in Southeast Asia. While a Vietnamese withdrawal from Cambodia following China’s attack was desirable, the PRC’s leadership never anticipated an immediate withdrawal. After the war, Vietnamese claims notwithstanding, China still commanded all significant strategic options. It was free to maintain military pressure on Vietnam, including constant verbal threats of a second attack. Nor was the pressure limited to just verbal assaults. For almost the entire 1980s, the PLA engaged in occasional intense artillery shelling and major border battles. Indeed, as one study from the early 1990s concluded, “The war was most successful when seen as a tactic in China’s strategy of a protracted war of attrition” against Vietnam.

Similarly, the war did not produce significant international consequences for China. In Cambodia, the invasion not only enabled the Khmer Rouge to escape total annihilation but also encouraged the different political forces to formulate a joint alliance against the Vietnamese occupation as a legitimate course. However, the use of military force against Vietnam raised suspicions in Indonesia and Malaysia, always wary of China’s influence in the region. The Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia, which threatened Thailand, enabled the continuing growth of the strong opposition coalition of ASEAN countries against Vietnam. Regarding the Sino-U.S. relationship, China’s punitive invasion appeared particularly successful. Washington publicly condemned both Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia and China’s invasion of Vietnam but shared China’s interest in containing Soviet influence in Southeast Asia. Beijing’s willingness to use force, regardless of the casualties suffered, made China “a valuable deterrent” to Soviet-Vietnamese expansionism. Washington thus continued to seek a close relationship with China to counterbalance the Soviet Union.

Perhaps motivated by China’s use of force against Vietnam, in July 1979, the U.S. government signed a trade agreement that granted China most-favored-nation status, a significant economic coup for the Deng regime. In the following month, Vice President Walter Mondale visited Beijing and stressed to the Chinese leadership that the United States had decided to develop close trade and economic ties with China and to treat China differently than the Soviet Union. This new economic relationship, according to Mondale, included the relaxation of restrictions on U.S. exports to China, a two-billion-dollar government loan to China, and export licenses for two sets of advanced equipment (a $1 billion ore-processing complex and a 50 billion electron-volt high-energy accelerator). Deng had wanted an improved relationship with the United States: the war against Vietnam demonstrated China’s strategic value and importance to the ongoing struggle against Soviet hegemony (in Deng’s own phrase, “to the world anti-hegemony united front”), and, in return, the West “would provide money and equipment for a powerful China to deter Soviet revisionism.”

The Chinese leadership also perceived that the 1979 war served China’s domestic interests. Beginning in late 1978, the radical ideology and policies of Mao Zedong’s disastrous Cultural Revolution were increasingly repudiated. Democratic dissidents called for ideological and political changes in China, posting big-character posters and handbills calling for more democracy and freedom on the “Democracy Wall” in the national capital. This alarmed Deng, who wanted a fresh start for China but also believed that China’s new drive for the Four Modernizations required all “citizens being of one heart and one mind.” The Democracy Wall, Deng believed, stirred up sentiments corrosive to stability and unity. Moreover, he resented those people who posted letters on the wall requesting that President Jimmy Carter interfere in China’s human rights situation and the activists who burst into the Vietnamese embassy in Beijing voicing their opposition to the war against Vietnam. Following the Chinese forces’ withdrawal from Vietnam, he directed the Beijing municipal authority to ban all activities that undermined political and social stability and unity.

The Vietnamese leadership never seemed to comprehend the PRC’s strategy and war objectives, persistently maintaining that the 1979 invasion simply constituted a prelude to Beijing’s long-term scheme of infringing on Vietnamese sovereignty and independence. After China announced its withdrawal on 5 March, Hanoi called for a nationwide general mobilization for the war and began constructing defensive positions in and around Hanoi. By the end of May, the PLA had reverted to its normal alert status. Vietnam, however, remained on guard, stationing a large number of PAVN troops (allegedly 300,000) along border with China at a time when the economy was “in a worse state than at any time since 1975.” As a result, Hanoi’s attempts to fight simultaneously in Cambodia and on its northern border took a growing national economic and social toll, subsuming Hanoi’s effort to modernize its economy and, more important, undermining its geopolitical ambitions. According to Fred Charles Iklé, “Governments tend to lose sight of the ending of wars and the nation’s interests that lie beyond it,” and many are “blind in failing to perceive that it is the outcome of the war, not the outcome of the campaigns within it” that determines how well their policies serve the nation’s interests. The Vietnamese leadership clearly failed to grasp the gravity of the situation and continued depending on the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1991. If the Vietnamese should draw any lessons from the 1979 war with China, one is, as one Vietnamese general later remarked, “We must learn how to live with our big neighbor.”

Reassessing the Sino-Vietnamese conflict 1979 II

Vietnamese artillery bombarding Chinese troops, 23 February 1979

Vietnamese Military Dispositions since 1979

China’s Failure to Use Air Power

Despite China’s strategic success, the campaign revealed numerous deficiencies in the PLA’s doctrine and tactics. Many were associated with its outdated military philosophy and tradition. The PLA continued to exhibit its preference for mobile operations with deep attack penetrations and flanking maneuvers, seeking battles of annihilation with overwhelming forces and artillery firepower and fighting tenaciously.48 Such preferred operational characteristics ensured that the 1979 military campaign would remain a classic two-dimensional force-on-force mass-driven struggle with heavy losses on both sides.

One surprising aspect of the war was that neither the Chinese nor the Vietnamese air force actively participated in combat operations. Neither side flew any counterair, interdiction, or battlefield air support missions despite possessing robust air arms. Western analysts believe that the Chinese were aware that their air force would have been at a disadvantage in any engagement with Vietnamese air units. (Indeed, at least in theory, Vietnam’s air force and antiaircraft forces were highly experienced from almost a decade of war against the world’s finest air power.) However, this Western conclusion appears to have been drawn prematurely, resulting in an unbalanced assessment of the problems that both the Chinese and Vietnamese air forces were facing.

In 1979, the Chinese and Vietnamese air forces were almost identical, flying the same aircraft and operating under the influence of Soviet air doctrine, which stressed no independent air actions but rather a strongly centrally controlled effort heavily dependent on radar-cued and radio-directed ground-controlled operations from takeoff through landing. The PLAAF had a numerical advantage but no technological edge because Vietnamese MiG-21s were better than Chinese J-6s (a MiG-19 derivative) and J-7s (an early MiG-21 derivative). The Vietnamese MiG-21 pilots were allegedly combat-experienced with impressive claims against American pilots during the Vietnam War.52 However, this combat record had been exaggerated. Moreover, the combat environment was different in the 1979 war. The MiG-21s were short-ranged and point-defense interceptor aircraft unsuited for long-range missions; in any case, they had very limited air-to-ground weapons capabilities. Hanoi’s strategy was thus to husband its air resources to defend vital targets (largely in the Hanoi area) rather than send them to engage the Chinese air force at the border. According to the PLAAF records, the Vietnamese air force took no action until the fourth day of the Chinese invasion. Each time the MiG-21s scrambled from their base near Hanoi, ground controllers repeatedly urged pilots not to fly too close to the border to avoid direct confrontation with the Chinese.

On the other side of the border, the PLAAF deployed around 700 aircraft—including all its J-7 units, six bomber and attack aircraft regiments—to Guangxi and Yunnan. The forefront airfields on the border alone fielded more than 200 fighters. During the first day of the military campaign, the Chinese air force flew 567 defensive counterair sorties along the border as part of an effort to deter its Vietnamese counterparts; the PLAAF then flew an average of 300 sorties each day for the duration of the war. Although the PLAAF conducted no aggressive cross-border air operations, it flew 52 reconnaissance overflights, some of them deep into Vietnamese airspace, reportedly collecting valuable intelligence information for PLA ground operations.

The Chinese believed that their numerical superiority demonstrated the might of the PLAAF and accordingly deterred the Vietnamese air force from challenging the Chinese air force. One Chinese J-7 regiment commander later recalled that the Vietnamese air force could launch their MiG-21s only singly or in pairs, while his unit always flew formations of four, eight, twelve, or sixteen. Operating out of their bases near the border also gave Chinese pilots a fuel advantage: Vietnamese MiG-21s could only make one pass before returning to base at Hanoi. During the invasion of Cambodia, Vietnam’s U.S.-made Northrop F-5s and Cessna A-37s captured in 1975 had seen action against the Khmer Rouge forces. The PLA ascribed the Vietnamese air force’s inaction in the 1979 war to superior numbers of aircraft deployed by the PLAAF to the border. In any case, by 1979, many of the aging F-5s likely were no longer airworthy, and some had already been sent to other communist-bloc nations for study and technical analysis, and the A-37s (a light-attack derivative of the T-37 trainer) were incapable of surviving the intense antiaircraft and missile fire the PLA could have brought to bear.

Still, Chinese leaders failed to permit their air force to provide support for ground operations when that support was badly needed. China justified its failure to conduct aggressive air operations on that grounds that doing so might have escalated the conflict to an unmanageable level. The PLAAF, however, maintained that flying a large number of patrol sorties over the border airspace helped to dispel ground troops’ fears about enemy air threats, thus inspiring them to fight. As a matter of fact, on several occasions, both the Guangzhou and Kunming Military Region forward commands urged direct air support when the ground assaults encountered intense opposition from the Vietnamese. The CMC leadership refused to grant such permission. Nevertheless, the question remained whether the Chinese air force could have provided effective support for ground operations. On the early evening of 8 March, for example, one squadron leader flying a J-6A failed to intercept a Vietnamese IL-14 transport over Cao Bang because of poor air-ground communication.

Despite the PLAAF’s questionable capability, the Chinese also maintained a fallacy generated by Mao’s “people’s war” doctrine, which did not envision the need for offensive air power. The PLA experience also suggested that air power had little impact on the victories claimed by China in the past (that is, the Korean War). It was, therefore, not surprising that Chinese political leaders and generals maintained that the war did not require active air participation. Furthermore, given their faith in their war experience, Chinese leaders were convinced that ground forces could overwhelm any opponents. Thus, the 1979 war featured primitive, bloody ground warfare even though China had one of the largest air forces in the world (and, as it subsequently claimed, maintained theater air superiority). The PLA and its generals came from an institutional tradition that was accustomed to fighting infantry warfare with artillery firepower and numerical superiority; thus the “spirit of the bayonet” continued to prevail. Consequently, the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese War was particularly deadly and atrocious because both sides engaged largely in traditional ground warfare with many close-quarter battles.

Chinese Operational Characteristics

Chinese tactical and operational styles remained fixated on large-scale two-dimensional army warfare, ground maneuvers, and adeptness in ground combat operations. That was, in many respects, hardly surprising: Deng Xiaoping and his generals were ground-war veterans and faithful students of Mao Zedong’s combat principles, which emphasized the concentration of superior firepower and numbers to conduct a “battle of annihilation” with a willingness to absorb heavy losses.65 But again not surprisingly, such a combat preference determined that although the 1979 war was in many respects a low-intensity conflict, it nevertheless featured exceedingly high casualties. Western analysts criticized the PLA’s employment of human-wave tactics in classic “meat-grinder” operations as irrational and anachronistic. One study was particularly critical, asserting that this Chinese way of warfighting not only was costly but also often failed to accomplish its tactical objectives. The author of that study describes the Chinese human-wave assault as an attack “without attempting to mask or shield its movement.”

The Chinese have objected to the Western characterization of the PLA’s operational tactics as human-wave attacks. According to Zhang Wannian, commander of the 127th Division and later vice chair of the CMC, mustering superior force (jizhong bingli) and human-wave (renhai zhanshu) assaults are two essentially different operational concepts. Human-wave attacks were conducted by the massed groups of infantry soldiers without trying to use fire and maneuver tactics. In the 1979 war, he sent seven battalions to attack one Vietnamese battalion (belonging to the 123rd Regiment of 304B Division) at Chi Ma. His attacking troops were divided into groups and advanced in echelons, with each group supporting the other while engaging in consecutive assaults. Zhang admitted that massed formation occurred as the Chinese used human-wave attacks during the fighting, but he argued that the problem was caused mainly by inept leadership rather than by tactics per se.

Another well-known operational tenet used to obliterate the enemy’s effective strength in the 1979 war was the “one point, two flanks” tactic. Marshal Lin Biao summed up this principle as the PLA’s preferred operational art for surrounding and exterminating the enemy with simultaneous frontal and flank attacks. This operational preference was responsible for the PLA’s success in the Dong Dang and Lao Cai–Cam Duong battles. A unit was assigned to a defensive position as a blocking force to prevent the enemy force from conducting a retrograde operation. Western scholars concluded that Chinese operational success came only after their attacks “with a battalion where a company failed, and a regiment where a battalion failed.” The Chinese reported that each time Vietnamese reinforcements attempted to breach a Chinese blocking position, wave after wave of assaults were conducted, often leaving several hundred dead bodies. PLA studies no longer used the “one point, two flanks” tactic to characterize its military operations in Vietnam after the dramatic fall of Lin Biao in the early 1970s and the subsequent purge campaign directed against him.

The 1979 war offered ample evidence of the PLA’s continuing obsession with artillery and its adeptness in using artillery to provide covering fire to support infantry troops to either maneuver themselves out of difficult situations or press forward toward their objectives. During the 1979 invasion, more than 7,000 pieces of large-caliber artillery were deployed, and they fired a total of 880,000 shells. The Dong Dang and Lang Son battles alone witnessed 1,400 tons of artillery shells dumped on enemy positions. The PLA’s preference for extremely close-range artillery engagement—with gun crews encouraged to site their guns at the closest possible range from their targets—represented a unique PLA form of infantry and artillery cooperation. The PLA’s zealous passion for artillery fire, however, concealed another reality—that is, the PLA’s failure to recognize air power as a main striking force in modern conventional warfare.

Political Work on the Battlefield

In the PLA tradition, political work has been regarded as vital for combat effectiveness and victory. During the preparatory stage prior to invasion, in-depth ideological mobilization and political education increased the troops’ morale and enthusiasm for going to war. After the war commenced, political work was a key mechanism for maintaining high combat morale and ensuring troops’ battlefield performance, which, from a Chinese perspective, was determined by the bravery of soldiers and their obedience to orders and compliance with discipline.

At the core of the effort lay party committees and political organs. Since the early years of the Red Army, the CCP had established committees at all levels of the military apparatus. In particular, the party branch committee at the company level ensured that the party served as a role model during combat. Both rewards and punishments shaped and influenced the troops’ morale. As a result, political work strongly shaped the PLA’s operational tactics.

One recent study by a retired U.S. army officer harshly criticizes the PLA’s political focus in the war against Vietnam. The PLA’s political motivation, he argues, impressed on its troops “the imperative to advance straight at the enemy” but required no “development of professional skills” for combat. In his evaluation, the PLA, an army that had defeated American troops in Korea during the winter of 1950–51, was by 1979 no longer capable of brushing aside a much weaker opponent. A professional soldier might have difficulty agreeing completely with the PLA’s political work system and its importance. Thus, without giving any detailed analysis of how the PLA used political work in combat, the author simplistically equated it to human-wave tactics and concluded that it had led to a PLA defeat.

The PLA certainly was not properly trained and prepared for war, making political work all the more crucial. The political work system arguably motivated Chinese soldiers to fight courageously in the face of intense PAVN and militia resistance. From a Chinese perspective, bravery was the essential element in fighting the war. According to Deng Xiaoping, if properly politically motivated and therefore courageous, poorly equipped PLA troops led by largely inexperienced commanders might suffer severe losses at the beginning of the fight but would gain experience and combat skills. After the war, Deng was gratified to learn that the PLA’s current soldiers had fought as courageously and tenaciously as their predecessors, thereby confirming his faith in them and in the political system of warfare. Since that time, political work has remained an indispensable mechanism of China’s armed forces. Thus, the value and significance of political work to motivate the PLA’s combat forces and thereby ensure victory in the 1979 war cannot be overemphasized.

In 1980, the General Political Department compiled a collection of the PLA’s political work experiences in the war against Vietnam, emphasizing twelve different aspects, among them inculcating understanding of the high authorities’ resolve, strengthening patriotism and “revolutionary heroism,” emphasizing firing-line promotion as a consequence of good combat performance, and stressing the important role party cadres and Communist Youth League members could play on the battlefield. The remainder addressed issues involving different army branches, the front and the rear, and the civilian and military hierarchies, including psychological warfare, the militia forces, and the aid-the-front work. These experiences were compiled and written by political officers who regularly disseminated propaganda, meaning that exaggeration and lack of authenticity were unavoidable. Nevertheless, this 800-plus-page document suggested that the political work system was inseparable from the PLA military system and its combat missions. Without political work, the PLA believed, Chinese forces would have almost no chance of accomplishing any of their tasks. As a result, political officers and party organizations bore responsibility for making sure that soldiers understood their assigned tasks before battle and for helping military officers deal with problems that arose during battle. The troops assigned to deep-penetration maneuvers feared that they were vulnerable to enemy attacks. While explaining that penetration was essential for creating a favorable position from which to annihilate enemy forces, political officers drew up contingency measures for problems that might occur during the operation.

According to a report by the 488th Regiment, to curb the fear of troops in blocking operations, political officers repeatedly reminded them that they did not fight alone because their brother units were fighting to destroy the enemy’s defenses. This regiment later reported that political work played a decisive role in ensuring that the troops would accomplish their blocking mission after they repelled thirteen Vietnamese attacks and killed 779 enemy troops.

Political work also encouraged the rank and file to act in ways that would earn them heroic recognition. Military journalists were sent to combat units to identify soldiers who fought with particular valor and dedication and then to report on these heroic deeds. Later in 1979, the PLA Daily carried a series of reports on Chinese soldiers who had sacrificed their lives for their motherland in the war. Party committees and political organs set standards and requirements for granting merit awards to personnel and units. Individuals were cited for first-to third-class meritorious service. Individual companies received red silk banners inscribed “Shock Hero Company” or “Hero Blocking Company” if they had fought valorously in offensive or defensive operations.

According to Mao’s teachings, “The party member must be the first to bear hardship and the last to enjoy comforts.” Party members were expected to be in the thick of the fight, wherever there were dangers and difficulties. Unit leaders lived up to the party’s requirements during the operation. They were the first to charge forward and the last to withdraw. For example, the 122nd Division reported that cadres and party members had played an exemplary role, enabling the unit’s soldiers to fight vigorously. On 20 February, after all officers of his company had been killed or severely wounded, a squad leader who was also a party member took over the leadership of the company on two separate occasions, continuing to fight until reinforced.

From a PLA perspective, whether party members acted bravely depended on the effectiveness of the leadership of the party branch committees at the company level. 39th Division’s combat experiences confirmed this assertion. The company branch committees, which had performed well in combat, had often called party branch committee meetings to study operational orders and directives from higher authorities so that the entire company could act in concert. One notable achievement of the party branch was preparing a sequential list of all officer positions to ensure uninterrupted leadership on the battlefield. During combat, the party branch actively engaged in political and ideological work to enable the rank and file to maintain their will to fight. To overcome fear and decline in morale as a consequence of the loss of close comrades, the party branch emphasized getting back at the enemy, promoting slogans such as “Seeking revenge on the enemy for the fallen comrades, and making the enemy pay back with his own blood,” to boost the troops’ morale.

Nonetheless, political work was regarded as neither omnipotent nor a substitute for military professionalism, and the PLA’s review of political experiences in the 1979 war occasionally cited failures. For example, one battalion of the 484th Regiment (a total of 212 troops) was ambushed by a Vietnamese sapper team in a rice field at Ban Mau, north of Cao Bang. The leading officers panicked, made no effort to organize defenses or withdraw, and simply told troops to flee for their lives, leaving them on their own. Consequently, by the end of the fight, half of their men were either killed or wounded. In its post-combat summary, the 162nd Division bluntly ascribed this defeat to the unit leaders’ cowardice.

Other such incidents occurred, demonstrating that political work did not guarantee victory. The most notable involved the 150th Division, which entered Vietnam at the end of the invasion to cover the 41st Army’s return from the Cao Bang area. The 150th lacked preparation, training, and experience, and most of its veteran soldiers had transferred to reinforce other combat units. As a result, the division was mainly composed of new recruits, and company leaders did not know their soldiers. A three-person team headed by a deputy army commander was sent to help strengthen the 150th Division’s leadership but only created confusion, setting the stage for disaster. Their fatal mistake was deciding to follow mountain trails instead of the main highway back into China. The unit was ambushed, broken up, and defeated piecemeal. If its officers and soldiers had been veteran fighters, the unit would not have been defeated so easily.

In sum, in 1979, the PLA was far from being a professional army. New recruits accounted for 48 percent of the troops, and 25 percent of officers had been newly promoted, compromising the force’s capability for a large-scale military operation. Most Chinese soldiers came from poor rural families with little education. Raised in a culture that stressed obedience, loyalty, and sacrifice, these soldiers as a group feared neither hardship nor death. They hoped that a few years of military service could help them achieve a better living standard, either through promotion into the ranks of the officer cadre or by training them for nonfarming jobs after leaving military service. Few of them prepared themselves mentally or received adequate training for combat. Thus, political work played a critical role in generating unit cohesion and keeping soldiers focused on performing their mission. Even though the 1979 war was incredibly bloody and savage, in the end, the PLA pulled through to victory, though at a significant cost.

Reassessing the Sino-Vietnamese conflict 1979 III

October 14, 1986: After leading the attack on the Vietnamese position, Ma Quanbin, captain of the Chinese strike force, reports to the command.

The Battles of Laoshan and Bailihedongshan, 1984–1987

Vietnamese Strategy and Tactics

Prior to the late 1970s, the PLA paid scant attention to the combat doctrine and tactics of the PAVN and had never thought that their two communist countries would engage in an armed conflict against one another. As a result, the PLA underestimated the PAVN’s fighting abilities. After the 1979 war, PLA leaders conducted a thorough assessment of the PAVN’s strategy, strength, military objectives, and operational tactics. According to Zhou Deli, chief of staff of the Guangzhou Military Region, Vietnam’s military thought and combat principles emphasized “the national defense by all the people” (quanmin guofang) and “carrying out the people’s war” (shixing renmin zhanzheng), consisting of four basic approaches.

1. Tenaciously defending the border and seeking to win victory on the first line of defense. The Hanoi leadership opposed the strategy of luring the enemy deep into Vietnamese territory given the fact that the area between Hanoi and Lang Son was the heartland of Vietnamese industry. Instead, a military fortress strategy was adopted, turning villages, towns, and cities into strongholds against the invasion. Regular and local forces were employed to defend key positions along the highways and railroads, paramilitary troops were responsible for the first line of defense, and villagers were encouraged to take up arms to help defend areas where military forces were weak.

2. Aggressive defense. Vietnamese defenders needed actively and aggressively to engage the enemy at long range using offensive methods to defeat enemy attacks. Preferred defense tactics included the division of a company-sized force into three-to five-soldier squads and using platoon-size groupings of squads to defend strong points. When positions were lost, defenders would stage successive counterattacks with small groups ranging in strength from a squad to a platoon or a full company. (The PLA nevertheless concluded that the PAVN had too few troops overall and was inferior in combat power and that as a result, few Vietnamese counterattacks broke into Chinese defensive positions).

3. The use of small force to defeat a bigger enemy force. Surprisingly, given the traditionally strong centralized control pursued by Soviet-style forces, the PAVN (likely reflecting its guerrilla heritage back to the anti-Japanese days of the Second World War) fought using both decentralized control and decentralized execution. The Chinese discovered that Vietnamese defenders fought each engagement on their own and did not contact or support each other. While this structure made it difficult to get inside their command and control (their “decision loop”), it also generated problems for the PAVN that were exacerbated by Hanoi’s decision making and thus created opportunities that the PLA exploited. For example, throughout the fighting, Hanoi made no attempts to send reinforcements to help the badly battered PAVN divisions in the Cao Bang, Lang Son, and Lao Cai areas, determined to hold its strategic reserves to engage the Chinese if they invaded the Red River Delta. The Vietnamese defensive strategy—taking no action, failing to send reinforcements, and refusing to run away—made it easy for Chinese forces to encircle and annihilate them piecemeal.

4. Relying on guerrilla warfare tactics to conduct positional defense and counterattacks. According to the Chinese assessment, when Vietnamese troops (both PAVN and militia) were unable to hold their fighting positions, they always dispersed into small groups and then used complex terrain (such as mountain saddles, high growths of grass, small clumps of trees, and limestone caves) to organize guerrilla defense along the roads, trails, and routes PLA troops were likely to traverse. The guerrilla-type attacks inflicted significant casualties on Chinese forces, and PAVN sapper teams effectively sabotaged Chinese rear echelons and rear area supply lines.

It is difficult to know to what extent the PLA’s assessment of the Vietnamese forces’ tactical characteristics is objective when Vietnam’s own assessment remains absent. In retrospect, the Chinese military leadership found itself in a contradictory position when conducting such an assessment. While claiming victory, China nevertheless had to acknowledge the heavy toll the PAVN and Vietnamese militia units had inflicted. In the view of the PLA’s leadership, an impartial evaluation of PLA deficiencies was imperative. However, at the same time, they worried about overestimating Vietnamese military capabilities and performance. In the end, national pride and cultural prejudice prevented the PLA from making truly objective assessments about the Vietnamese military and its tactics. Moreover, for fear of giving too much credit to the Vietnamese military, the PLA assessment concluded that the PAVN’s regular forces lacked persistence in offense and defense and had few coordinated operations. The PLA was also particularly critical of Hanoi’s response to Chinese campaign objectives. It believed that the PLA’s multidirectional attacks on Vietnam had confused Vietnamese leaders, preventing them from recognizing in a timely fashion the main thrust of the Chinese invasion. Facing multipronged attacks, the Vietnamese military command appeared befuddled and frequently changed the mission and location of their reinforcement forces. For the Chinese, the Vietnamese military leadership’s hesitation created favorable conditions for the PLA to concentrate a large number of forces to overpower the PAVN. The PLA’s tactic of pushing its infantrymen into close mass combat against the PAVN and its acceptance of high human losses may help explain why the PLA overwhelmed the PAVN and why the PLA subsequently proclaimed the PAVN incapable of defending against China’s attacks.

PLA literature certainly conceded that the PAVN’s guerrilla-type tactics, its sappers, and its local militias were surprisingly successful in keeping the Chinese forces off balance as they anxiously sought to engage the PAVN in decisive battles during the lightning war. One Chinese frustration was distinguishing civilian refugees from defeated PAVN soldiers, who would shed their uniforms and blend in. These disguised PAVN soldiers would then coerce Vietnamese civilians to instigate attacks on Chinese forces.

The PLA assessment also recognized the effectiveness of Vietnamese defense tactics such as placing mortars and heavy antiaircraft machine guns on the top of hills to suppress PLA infantry movement. The long-range and heavy-hitting multiple 12.7mm antiaircraft machine guns were extremely deadly, particularly because none of the PLA’s infantry soldier weapons had sufficient range to engage them in counterfire. As an American officer once noted, it was impossible “to penetrate, flank, or envelop” the Vietnamese fortified positions “without taking extremely heavy casualties.”

Some Vietnamese accounts supported the PLA’s interpretation of both the performance and the perceived weaknesses of the PAVN. Interviews with senior Vietnamese officers led Henry Kenny to conclude that although the Vietnamese army would have preferred to exploit mobile rather than positional tactics against the Chinese advance, the employment of “mines, mortar attack, and direct-fire ambushes from dominating terrain features” by dug-in Vietnamese defenders had proven an effective means of inflicting heavy losses on PLA forces and delaying their advance. The Vietnamese claimed that three PLA regiments and eighteen battalions had been either destroyed or suffered heavy attrition, while 550 vehicles, including 280 tanks and armored vehicles, and 115 artillery pieces had been destroyed or damaged. The Vietnamese have consistently asserted that they fought a “people’s war,” relying heavily on an armed peasantry and crediting these militias for defending the key border towns of Dong Dang, Cao Bang, and Lao Kai. Hanoi has never publicly admitted the extensive involvement of its regular forces in the conflict. Uncritically accepting Vietnamese accounts—in fact, Vietnamese propaganda—otherwise informed Western observers have stated incorrectly that the PLA failed to achieve its intervention objectives and “did not account itself well in the fighting.” Any honest evaluation of Vietnamese performance in the 1979 war remains dependent on the opening of Vietnamese records, however.

Lessons Learned

Today, notwithstanding the PLA’s persistent assertions of military victory, several critical questions remain to be addressed. How did the PLA perceive its performance in Vietnam in terms of planning, command and control, fighting, and combat tactics? What lessons did it learn from the campaign? And to what degree did this experience affect PLA thinking about its future? Although the PLA’s tradition placed importance on writing summaries of combat experience, Chinese national pride and cultural prejudice prevented the PLA from making candid conclusions about the war. Nonetheless, the PLA synthesized the lessons learned from the war into six themes.

The first theme was in keeping with a traditional PLA maxim that any correct military decision and strategy must involve thoroughly comprehending the situation. But the 1979 war showed that the PLA’s reconnaissance capability and battlefield situational awareness and intelligence were limited. The lack of human intelligence severely hampered the PLA throughout the military campaign. One leading reason was that most of the PLA’s reconnaissance units lacked adequate training before the invasion. During the operation, they were often taken off intelligence duties and simply assigned as replacement forces or adjuncts to assault strongpoints and defend key points along with infantry units. The political officers who were responsible for the POW work had no training in interrogation techniques, further hampering intelligence collection. During the campaign, lower-level units constantly complained that leadership at higher levels did not provide with detailed information about the enemy but failed to conduct any reconnaissance missions to obtain information. This problem was further aggravated by the fact that the PLA’s assessment of the geography and terrain of northern Vietnam often relied on outdated maps and geographic information. In addition, PLA forces generally had poor map-reading skills. As a result of all these deficiencies, the PLA’s postaction report admitted that its forces engaged in many muddle-headed actions in the 1979 war.

The unexpected operational difficulties posed by Vietnam’s surprisingly active militia units led to a second lesson, one involving conflict planning. A key PLA combat principle stressed the concentration of superior forces  to ensure annihilation of an enemy. One major deficiency of the Vietnam operation was that planners failed to consider the large number of militia forces in their calculation of Vietnamese military strength. Indeed, in retrospect, the PLA believed that the militia put up a more relentless resistance and launched more surprise attacks than the PAVN’s vaunted regulars. PLA planners thought they had an overwhelming 8:1 force disparity over the Vietnamese. But the Cao Bang area alone had 40,000 to 50,000 militia members, altering the force ratio to 2:1. During the campaign, the PLA thus never possessed sufficient forces to deliver the knockout strike that its doctrine advocated and its leaders sought, seriously slowing PLA combat operations. The Battle of Cao Bang took ten days rather than the planned five, requiring the deployment of additional troops. In response to these difficulties, the PLA had to adapt quickly to the “objective reality” of the battlefield, doing so in time to engage in a mopping-up campaign against the dispersed Vietnamese forces. Analysts concluded that this adaptation helped the PLA secure its victory, but it was a very close call.

The third lesson involved combined arms operations. The 1979 incursion marked the first time that the PLA leadership conducted combined arms operations with tank, artillery, and engineering elements in support of infantry attacks while assembling an air and naval force to provide cover (even though the latter did not enter combat). But backwardness in doctrine and tactics prevented Chinese forces from carrying out the kind of coordinated operation that could be undertaken at that time by, for example, NATO or the Warsaw Pact. While Beijing’s political constraints and outdated military thinking proscribed the commitment of air forces to support ground operations, ground forces also demonstrated poor coordination between infantry, tank, and artillery units, limiting the PLA’s ability to execute full combined arms tactics. For example, infantry units had never trained sufficiently with tank units and thus could not adequately maneuver with them. Such were the crudities of operational art that PLA infantry soldiers fastened themselves to the top of tanks with ropes so that they would not fall off. Accordingly, when they came under enemy fire, they were effectively bound in place. Conversely, tank units, which often operated without infantry support or direct communication with infantry units, suffered many unexpected losses and damage because they exposed themselves to Vietnamese tank-killing teams. Although the artillery forces performed better than tank units, they also often failed to provide timely support for coordinated infantry-armor assaults, and basic command and control architectures and procedures were clearly lacking. For example, during the PLA’s 1 March drive on Lang Son, the misreading of operational orders caused artillery batteries (under regimental infantry command) to fail to lay down suppressing fire against Vietnamese strongpoints before the infantry assault, which consequently failed, with heavy losses.

The fourth lesson was the general issue of command and control, and it, too, derived largely from the PLA’s traditions and culture. Personal relationships between commanding officers and troops, which had been cultivated in the past, still mattered to the PLA. Because interpersonal relationships were more important than institutional ones, it is not surprising that the leaders of the Guangzhou Military Region later acknowledged that they felt uncomfortable commanding troops transferred from the Wuhan and Chengdu Military Regions. These leaders also received many complaints from rank and filers about Xu’s leadership style because he had not previously commanded them. Even Xu acknowledged that he (and his subordinates as well as most PLA troops) had little knowledge of the challenges of fighting in a tropical, wooded mountain environment. They quickly realized that their combat experience in northern China did not apply to the battleground in Vietnam. The lack of combat-experienced officers further compounded the PLA’s command problems. Despite sending higher-ranking officers who were also war veterans to lower-level troop units to help with command, the PLA’s operations remained frustrated by most lower-ranking officers’ inability to make independent judgments and coordinate operations at critical moments. Instead of radios, the PLA’s squads and platoons received hand flags and horns, and soldiers were instructed in the use of hand signals for communication. But the heavy vegetation covering the hilly terrain prevented the effective use of the signals, forcing troops to stay in close and vulnerable formations lest communication be lost. This lack of radio equipment severely hampered battlefield communication and coordination between squads, platoons, and their company command.

Fifth, logistics posed another serious challenge and thus was a major area in which the PLA could draw lessons. The PLA lacked a modern logistics supply system and structure to support a fast-moving, distant, offensive action in which the average daily consumption included 700 tons of ammunition and another 700 tons of fuel. Instead, a makeshift supply system required every unit to be self-sufficient in “retail logistics,” the supply system employed on the battlefield. Up to 36 percent of supplies were carried into Vietnam by human and animal labor. Without adequate storage and transportation facilities, both the Guangzhou and Kunming Military Regions had to scramble to put together a supply system, and it never functioned smoothly and efficiently. The combination of poor PLA management and Vietnamese attacks caused the loss of considerable quantities of supplies. In one incident, PAVN artillery destroyed a column of thirty-seven trucks along with their loads. Some PLA troops carrying out deep-penetration tasks did not receive food supplies for seven days. As the forces advanced deeper into Vietnamese territory, the PLA’s logisticians had increasing difficulty keeping communication lines open without diverting a large number of forces to protect them. Based on this experience, the PLA concluded it needed a dedicated transportation command. In 2002, when the former vice commander of the PLA National Defense University spoke at a military symposium, he stressed the importance of “control of communication.”

Finally, China’s experience in Vietnam in 1979 caused the PLA to reconsider its thinking about “people’s war” as applied to conflicts beyond China’s borders. The traditional principle of people’s war stressed the importance of mobilizing the citizenry to support the war effort. The 1979 war experience reemphasized this but also took it further, showing that it was almost impossible for huge PLA forces to operate outside the country without popular support for the war at home. Beijing’s propaganda machines had aroused great public patriotism and pride in Chinese soldiers. These strong expressions of patriotism helped the PLA get direct support from the people living in the two border provinces fronting Vietnam. Tens of thousands of local residents served as stretcher bearers, security guards, and porters, and militia soldiers from the border region were involved in direct combat activities. Local governments made things easy for troops by simplifying requisition procedures, thereby helping them receive adequate material and fresh food in the shortest possible time. Such experiences persuaded the PLA leadership that mobilization of local governments and civilians to support a war remained an enduring—and essential—key to victory.


The 1979 war with Vietnam baptized a young generation of army cadres on the battlefield, and many of them later rose to high PLA positions, carrying the experiences and lessons of the war into their subsequent careers. From a Western perspective, the lessons learned from the 1979 war with Vietnam may not seem coherent, comprehensive, or even fully objective, because the PLA evaluates its success in military operations not from the traditional perspective of operational “battlefield” outcomes but rather on the basis of the impact of the conflict on the overall geopolitical-military strategic situation. Deeply influenced by Mao’s teaching that war is fundamentally a political undertaking, as long as China could claim to achieve its strategic and military objectives, the PLA would consider any problems resulting from perceived tactical failures secondary. The PLA’s assessments are also colored by the belief that warfare can be learned through the experience of fighting and that knowledge can be gained rapidly enough to employ it even in the context of very brief conflicts. For example, the PLA was convinced that its forces performed much better during the second stage of the 1979 campaign than they did during the first stage. Overall, the PLA’s self-assessment of lessons learned in the 1979 conflict with Vietnam is comprehensive but varies significantly from those found in Western studies. While some of the Western studies are informative and correct to some extent, they share common failings in attempting to make overarching conclusions based on very limited sources. This approach, never satisfactory, is even less so when applied to an extremely complicated and nuanced subject such as the PLA, its structure, doctrine, culture, operational thought, and combat behavior.

Perhaps most significantly, PLA studies conclude that the infamous Cultural Revolution constituted the single most detrimental factor undermining the PLA’s previously successful—in its eyes—combat tradition. The “battlefield” lessons the PLA may have learned in this war overemphasize operation (command and control, coordination between troops, force structure and weaponry) at the expense of strategy and doctrine.

During its evaluation of the 1979 war, the PLA appeared to make no attempt to hide or overlook its own deficiencies and problems. The PLA nevertheless failed to take into account its flawed military thinking and traditions. If there is any one issue about which the PLA still seems disingenuous, it is airpower—specifically, the importance of air superiority and battlefield air support. PLA literature and textbooks continue to cite the PLAAF’s alleged “deterrent capability” as the primary reason the Vietnamese Air Force did not become more directly involved in the conflict. Marshal Ye Jianying even ridiculously commented that China’s show-of-force air operations in the war against Vietnam were an “ingenious way of employing the air force.” Such a remark demonstrates that China’s military leadership continues to fail to appreciate the critical and complex role of airpower in modern warfare.

While significant differences exist between the Western and Chinese perspectives on the 1979 conflict, the two are nevertheless consistent in some aspects of their review of how Chinese leaders approached matters of war and strategy. First, Chinese leaders were deliberative and calculating about when and how military power was to be used but did not hesitate to go to war once they decided that China’s national interests were at stake. Second, the PLA demonstrated a preference for seizing and maintaining operational initiatives by deploying superior and more powerful forces. Third, the Chinese sense of military victory lay more in their evaluation of the geopolitical outcomes than in their judgment of operational performance on the battlefield. Fourth, political work remains a unique PLA approach to ensure the effectiveness of its forces on the battlefield. This distinct set of Chinese characteristics deserves further scholarly attention and should be considered in any study of Chinese military doctrine, policy, and capabilities.

The war was designed not to pose a substantial threat to Hanoi but merely to erode Hanoi’s will to occupy Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge hoped that the PLA could strike deeply into Vietnamese territory, but China’s invasion was short and limited to the border area. Nonetheless, China’s “symbolic” attack helped the Khmer Rouge escape total annihilation and enabled them to sustain their resistance against the Vietnamese occupation forces. Was the punitive nature of the war a true objective, or was it just rhetoric and a reflection of Beijing’s anger toward Hanoi and the invasion of Cambodia? If teaching a lesson was China’s main objective, the PLA should have struck hard to achieve significant military results. But speaking to Japanese journalists in the middle of the war, Deng asserted that he did not “need military achievements.” He later explained, “Teaching Vietnam a lesson was not based on a consideration of what was happening between China and Vietnam or in Indochina but was based on a contemplation of the matter from the angle of Asia and the Pacific—in other words, from the high plane of global strategy.” His calculus was ultimately dominated by two priorities: improving China’s external security environment and reforming China’s economy and opening up the country.

Khubilai Khan, Tibet, and the Yüan Dynasty

Chinggis retired to Mongolia in 1223. He now turned his attention to the Tanguts, who had failed to send their warriors to join the campaign against the Khwarizmians in 1218, as they had promised to do as vassals of the Mongols. The Tanguts had also withdrawn their troops from the campaign against Chin in 1222, and when Chinggis sent envoys to them warning them to mend their ways and keep to the terms of the treaty, they reviled him. Although Chinggis died before the completion of this campaign, the Tangut realm was conquered in 1227. It was fully incorporated into the Mongol Empire and became one of its most important appanages or fiefdoms. One reason it was important is the fact that the Tangut Empire had developed a culture that was as refined as China’s and in some ways similar to it, but nevertheless distinctively non-Chinese (and also non-Jurchen Chin). Although the Mongols had of necessity to rely upon the Chinese for help in ruling Chinese territory under their control, they generally distrusted and disliked the Chinese and were much more inclined toward fellow Central Eurasians, especially in matters connected with religion and state organization.

Chinggis had four sons, three of whom survived him. His son Ögedei (r. 1229–1241) succeeded him as Great Khan. The Mongols continued their attacks on the Jurchen and in 1234 overthrew the Chin Dynasty. At the same time, Ögedei organized a great campaign into the west. Earlier, while campaigning against the Khwârizmshâh, the Mongols had passed through southern Russia. They now set out to completely subdue it as the inheritance of Batu, son of Chinggis’s eldest son Jochi, who had died before his father in 1227. Along with Batu as the nominal commander went Ögedei’s son Güyük, Tolui’s son Möngke, and Sübedei, the Mongols’ most brilliant general. In 1236 the Mongols attacked the Finno-Ugric and Turkic peoples of the Volga-Kama region, then the Russians to their northwest, taking Vladimir (east of Moscow) in 1238 and Kiev in 1240, subjugating the region by 1241. Sübedei continued the campaign further west into Poland and eastern Germany, where he defeated the Polish and German forces of Duke Henry of Silesia at Liegnitz and, turning south, the Hungarians and Austrians, before returning to Hungary to spend the winter. But Great Khan Ögedei died in December of that year, and the Mongols withdrew as soon as they learned about it.

Batu remained in the West with a large force. He made his capital at Saray on the lower Volga River and controlled all of western Central Eurasia from the Black Sea and northern Caucasus up to Muscovy and east through the Volga-Kama region. Many of his forces settled at Kazan, not far from the old city of Bulghâr, where they soon shifted to the language of the majority ethnic group in the army, Kipchak Turkic, which came to be known as Tatar. The realm of what was later to be called the Golden Horde soon became de facto independent, but Batu remained committed to his grandfather’s vision of a Mongol world empire and participated fully in the governance of the empire and in imperial military campaigns.

After the short reign of Ögedei’s son Güyük (r. 1246–1248), a power struggle ended with the succession of Tolui’s son Möngke (r. 1251–1259), who became the next Great Khan. He organized a massive campaign to establish firm Mongol control over the lands of Central Asia and the Near East and generally to push the limits of the Mongol Empire toward the sunset. Möngke’s brother Hülegü, commanding the imperial forces, set out in 1253. In 1256 they attacked and destroyed the Assassins, the Ismâ’îlî order that had long terrorized the Islamic world from their base in the Elburz Mountains of northern Iran. By 1257 the Mongols had taken Alamut, the Assassins’ main fortress, and their leader, who was executed by order of Möngke himself. The Mongols then proceeded into Iraq and in 1258 attacked Baghdad. The caliph refused to surrender, despite the reasonable Mongol offer and explanation of what would happen if he resisted. The city was put under siege and eventually succumbed. An estimated 200,000 people were killed in the sack of the city, and the caliph too was put to death.

The Mongols proceeded westward into Mamluk Syria and were making good progress until news reached them about Möngke’s death and Hülegü withdrew with most of the imperial forces. The Mamluks attacked the remaining Mongols and crushed them in the Battle of ‘Ayn Jalût, in Galilee, on September 6, 1260. This was the first setback for the Mongols in Southwestern Asia.

Nevertheless, Hülegü soon returned, and the Mongols succeeded in establishing their power over most of the Near East. They eventually made their home encampment in northwestern Iran near Tabriz, where there were good pasturelands. Hülegü founded the Il-Khanate, which ruled over Iraq, Iran, and some of the neighboring territories; warred periodically with the northerly Golden Horde and with the Central Asian Chaghatai Horde, the successors of Chinggis’s son Chaghatai; and extended his influence as far as Tibet.

Tolui’s inheritance included the former Tangut realm. Under Ögedei, his second son Köden (Godan, d. 1253/1260), who was assigned Tangut as his appanage, was responsible for the nearly bloodless subjugation of Tibet. In 1240 Köden sent a small force into Tibet under Dorda Darkhan. The Tibetan monasteries evidently resisted it; two were attacked and damaged, and some monks are said to have been killed. The Mongols eventually withdrew, having been told to contact the leading cleric in Tibet, Saskya Panḍita (d. 1251). Köden sent a letter to him in 1244 summoning him to the Mongol camp. In 1246 the elderly monk arrived in Liang-chou, having sent ahead his two nephews, ‘Phagspa (Blogros Rgyal-mtshan, 1235–1280)25 and Phyag-na-rdorje (d. 1267). In 1247 the Tibetans surrendered to the Mongols. Saskya Pandita was appointed viceroy of Tibet under the Mongols and Phyag-na-rdorje was married to Köden’s daughter to seal the treaty. After the death of Saskya Panḍita in 1251, the Mongols sent another expedition, under a certain Khoridai, who restored their control in Central Tibet in 1252–1253.26 Köden, who because of his chronic illness—for which he had been treated by Saskya Panḍita—had been passed over for the throne in favor of his elder brother Güyük, seems to have been dead by this time.

Khubilai (b. September 23, 1215, r. 1260/1272-February 18, 1284) was one of the sons of Tolui. He married Chabi, a fervent Buddhist. When their first son was born in 1240, they gave him the Tibetan Buddhist name Dorji (Tibetan rdorje ‘vajra; thunderbolt’). Already by 1242 Khubilai had begun assembling Chinese and Tibetan Buddhist teachers at his appanage in Hsing-chou, in Hopei. With the accession of his brother Möngke as Great Khan in 1251, Khubilai was in direct line to succeed to the throne. His brother appointed him to several other appanages in North China, greatly strengthening Khubilai’s power and making him effectively the Mongol viceroy over this rich, populous region. In 1253 Khubilai called for ‘Phagspa and his brother to be sent to him. They arrived and were well received by the Mongol prince. He left shortly afterward in command of an imperial campaign to conquer the Kingdom of Ta-li (in what is now Yunnan Province) as a preliminary flanking movement before invading the large and aggressive Sung Dynasty, which had been repeatedly attacking Mongol territory to its north.

After a year’s preparation, Khubilai’s forces, with Sübedei’s son Uriyangkhadai as general in chief, set out late in 1253. Before attacking the Ta-li forces, he sent envoys to them with an ultimatum demanding their surrender and assuring their safety if they did. When they responded by executing the envoys, the Mongols attacked and defeated them, forcing them to retreat to their capital. The Mongols notified the people of the city that they would be spared if they surrendered. They did so, and Khubilai then took the city, establishing Mongol power over Ta-li with a minimum of bloodshed. General Uriyangkhadai continued the Mongol campaign in the southwest with considerable success, eventually marching southeast to Annam (the area of modern northern Vietnam) by 1257, where however the Mongols suffered from the heat and insects. When the ruler offered to send tribute to the Mongols, Uriyangkhadai withdrew.

In 1256 Khubilai, who had returned to his appanage after the victory in Ta-li, began work on a summer capital, K’ai-p’ing (renamed Shang-tu ‘Xanadu’ in 1263). It was about ten days’ journey north of Chung-tu (Peking) in an area with both agricultural and pasture lands. In 1258, after Khubilai answered accusations made against him by conspirators at court, his brother put him in command of one of the four wings of the army in his new campaign against the Sung. In 1258 the invasion was launched, with Möngke himself leading the campaign in Szechuan, while Khubilai attacked southward from his appanage in the east.

When Möngke died of fever outside Chungking (Chongqing) in Szechuan (August 11, 1259), the campaign against the Sung came to a halt. Arik Böke, his youngest brother, who had been left in Karakorum to guard the homelands, began assembling his forces to contest the succession. Hülegü halted his campaign in Syria and hurried home to support Khubilai at the great khuriltai, but Arik Böke too had substantial support and sent forces to attack Khubilai’s appanage. When Khubilai finally reached his capital at K’ai-p’ing, a khuriltai was assembled in May 1260, and Khubilai was elected Great Khan. The decision was vehemently opposed by Arik Böke, who had powerful adherents—including Berke, the successor of Batu, and Alghu, ruler of the Chaghatai Khanate in Central Asia. They proclaimed him Great Khan in June 1260, and civil war broke out. Khubilai outmaneuvered Arik Böke at every turn, despite the latter’s many supporters. Alghu broke with him in 1262, and in the following year Arik Böke surrendered to Khubilai. The civil war was over. In 1266 Khubilai began building a new winter capital, Ta-tu ‘great capital’, slightly northeast of the old city of Chung-tu (the site of modern Peking), moving the power base of the Great Khanate further into China and solidifying his control there.

After spending the next few years settling affairs within the Great Khanate, Khubilai returned to the Sung problem. First he sent an embassy to the Sung (May 1260) to propose a peaceful solution. But the chancellor of Sung detained the envoys and sent his forces to attack the Mongols (August 1260). After Khubilai retaliated in early 1261, the Sung invaded three times in 1262. The Chinese also refused to release Khubilai’s envoys. Finally, the Mongols attacked the Sung in force, defeating them soundly in Szechuan early in 1265 and following with a full-scale invasion in 1268. The war with the Sung was not an easy matter. Mongol victory came only in 1276, when the Sung empress dowager surrendered and handed over the imperial seal and regalia. In 1279 the last resistance ended.

The new Chinese-style Yüan Dynasty officially began on Chinese New Year’s Day, January 18, 1272. Despite the orthodox procedures followed in the establishment of the dynasty, and in much of the structure of the administration, the new government was very clearly Mongol. Unlike their Jurchen predecessors in North China, the Mongols generally did not trust the Chinese. Khubilai himself did have many important Chinese advisers, but his successors put Mongols, Central Asian Muslims, Tibetans, Tanguts, or other non-Chinese in all key administrative positions. The Great Khanate continued to exist, and included Mongolia and Tibet as major constituent parts that were recognized as not being Chinese. While in many respects Yüan China was integrated into the Mongol Empire, the Great Khanate continued to be the larger unit. The two were not equated with each other.

One of the most important events of Mongol history took place at this time. The early Mongols had already come under the influence of various world religions, and some of the nation’s constituent peoples had converted, at least theoretically, to one of them—for example, the Naiman and Kereit had converted, at least nominally, to Nestorian Christianity, and the Mongols of Khubilai’s generation were already becoming Buddhists under Uighur and, especially, Tibetan tutelage. But, on the whole, the Mongols had remained pagan and for long were suspicious of all organized religions. The early European travelers’ accounts note how much the Mongols relied on their soothsayers in all things. But by the time of Marco Polo, the Mongols of the Great Khanate had unofficially, but enthusiastically, adopted Buddhism, mostly of the Tibetan variety. With its idea of the dharmarâja or ‘religious king’, the religion provided legitimation for Khubilai’s rule and also gave the Mongols access to a great body of learning and wisdom that was not Chinese.

When Khubilai decided he wanted to have a unified “Mongol” script for all the languages of the Mongol Empire, he appointed to the commission the Tibetan Buddhist leader ‘Phagspa, who was his National Preceptor and the viceroy of Tibet. The new script, based on the Tibetan alphabet (but written vertically like Chinese script and Uighur-Mongol script), was promulgated as the official writing system in 1269. Known today as ‘Phagspa Script, it is in effect the world’s first multilingual transcription system. Examples of it are preserved in several languages from around the Mongol Empire, including Chinese, and it is thought that the script influenced the later creation of the Korean Han’gul writing system. ‘Phagspa was also in charge of other intellectual projects, including the compilation of a great comparative catalogue of the Chinese and Tibetan Buddhist canons, the respective compendia of translations of sacred texts from Sanskrit.

CSS-X-20 (DF-41), a new Chinese ICBM

China is developing the CSS-X-20 (DF-41), a new road-mobile ICBM possibly capable of carrying a MIRV payload. China appears to be considering additional DF-41 launch options, including rail-mobile and silo basing. The DF-41, which is expected to have a range of about 14,000 kilometers and be mobile. China has conducted several tests of the DF-41 but has yet to deploy the missile. The number of warheads on Chinese ICBMs capable of threatening the United States is expected to grow to well over 100 in the next 5 years.

China has still not completed development of the long-awaited DF-41 ICBM (CSS-X-20), which has been reported in development at least since 1997. The US Defense Department believes that this missile is capable of carrying MIRVs and rumors have spread in the media that the DF-41 can carry six to 10 warheads.

As is likely the case with the DF-5B, though, the number of warheads that the DF-41 carries may be significantly less––perhaps three––and the additional payload capability may focus on decoys and penetration aids to overcome the US ballistic missile defense system. The PLARF conducted its tenth test of the DF-41 in May 2018 and followed it up with a simulated second-strike exercise in January 2019, which may have included the DF-41.

This could indicate that the missile has nearly completed its development and testing cycle; however, the missile is not yet listed as operational in the 2019 Defense Department report. The DF-41 is expected to eventually replace the aging DF-5 ICBM and could potentially be launched from silos and railcars, in addition to mobile TELs.

China will put its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile into service as early as this year, according to a regional defence magazine.

The DF-41, which was described by Washington as the world’s longest-range missile, has entered its final test phase, according to Canada-based Kanwa Asian Defence.

With an operational range of up to 14,500km, the DF-41 would first be deployed to the advanced brigade of the People’s Liberation Army’s new Rocket Force based in Xinyang in Henan province, the report said.

From there, the missile would be able to strike the United States within half an hour by flying over the North Pole or slightly more than 30 minutes by crossing the Pacific, the report said.

But defence analysts said it was not clear if the DF-41 could break through the multilayered US missile defence system in the Asia-Pacific region.

“No one questions the longest range of the DF-41 is near 15,000km. But within just a few minutes of being launched, it might be blocked by the US’ defence system at its Guam naval base,” Professor He Qisong, a defence policy specialist at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said.

The solid-fuel, road-mobile ICBM had been tested at the Wu­zhai Missile and Space Test Centre – also known as the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre – in Shanxi province since last summer, the Kanwa report said.

The DF-41 has been tested at least five times since July, 2014, according to the US-based Washington Free Beacon.

Earlier reports from the website said US intelligence agencies had detected that the PLA’s missile force submitted a DF-41 missile to a “canister ejection test” from a railway-mounted mobile launcher on December 5.

The test was a milestone for Chinese strategic weapons developers and showed that Beijing was moving ahead with building and deploying the DF-41 on difficult-to-locate rail cars, in addition to previously known road-mobile launchers, the website said.

Kanwa chief editor Andrei Chang said the strike rate of the DF-41 would improve further after 2020 when China completed its home-grown BeiDou navigation satellites, helping to wean the PLA off its dependence on the US’ Global Positioning System.

But He said the US might develop technology to jam the BeiDou system’s signals.

“The US has spared no effort to upgrade its missile defence system year after year,” He said. “The missile systems – so far – are just a game of threats played among the great powers.”

Missile Defense Project, “Dong Feng 41 (DF-41 / CSS-X-20),” Missile Threat, Center for Strategic and International Studies, August 12, 2016, last modified June 15, 2018, https://missilethreat.csis.org/missile/df-41/.

Sino-Japanese War

The Battle of the Yalu River (“Naval Battle of the Yellow Sea”) was the largest naval engagement of the Qing-Japan War, and took place on 17 September 1894, the day after the Japanese victory at the land Battle of Pyongyang. It involved ships from the Imperial Japanese Navy and the Qing Beiyang Fleet. The battle is also known by a variety of names: Battle of Haiyang Island, Battle of Dadonggou, Battle of the Yellow Sea and Battle of Yalu, after the geographic location of the battle, which was in the Yellow Sea off the mouth of the Yalu River and not in the river itself. In the second half of the nineteenth century in Asia, both Qing and Japan put major resources into creating modern navies of armored steamships with guns firing explosive shells. Their battle at the Yalu River in 1894 ended with the defeat of Qing Empire Beiyang Fleet.

Turning to Germany for training and equipment of their army and to Great Britain for ships and naval instructors, the Japanese soon knew themselves to be the leading oriental military power and began to stretch their muscles. The first to feel their strength were the Chinese. Although the humiliating defeats leading up to the enforced treaties with the western powers had opened their eyes to the need to acquire western military and commercial skills and a `self-strengthening movement’ was set on foot under the guiding hand of the all-powerful minister Li Hung-chang, the Chinese people and their Manchu rulers lacked the martial ardour and the sense of purpose that raised the Japanese so rapidly to modern military and industrial power. Arsenals were founded at Shanghai, at Foochow and Nanking where small ships were built and guns manufactured. Chinese students were sent abroad, a naval academy founded at Tientsin and a steam navy, built abroad, was commissioned, or rather four separate navies – at Canton, at Foochow, in the Yangtse River and (in the north) the Peiyang fleet. Only the last of these was under the direct control of the Peking government.

Such an arrangement was an inadequate basis for sea power and when, in 1874, a Japanese expedition was sent to Formosa to exact retribution for the murder of some Ryu-kyu sailors by Formosan aborigines, the Chinese were unable to take any effective steps to protect this overseas outpost of their Empire. Actually the whole basis for the Japanese action was in Chinese eyes false. For the Ryu-kyu Islands had been a regular tributary of China since 1372. But the Japanese Lord of Satsuma had, unknown to the Chinese, subjugated them in 1609, since when the island king had been also a tribute-paying vassal of Satsuma.

Negotiations, in which the British minister to China, Thomas Wade, acted as mediator, led to a settlement by which China paid an indemnity of half a million dollars and agreed not to condemn the Japanese action. This latter concession tacitly implied Chinese acceptance of Japanese sovereignty over the Ryu-kyus and five years later this was confirmed by Japanese formal annexation.

Korea and Japan

In 1875 it was the Koreans’ turn to clash with the newly awakened aggressive power. Though Christian missionaries had, in spite of periodic persecution, spread their faith widely in the kingdom since the second half of the eighteenth century, the Koreans had successfully resisted all Western efforts to promote trade or establish diplomatic relations. In 1866, following a sweeping massacre of Christian priests, the French had sent a punitive expedition of seven ships and six hundred men which captured Kangwha near Seoul, but after suffering more than thirty casualties in a skirmish outside the city, withdrew. An American merchant ship seeking trade was destroyed and the crew killed in the same year. An American squadron sent to investigate the matter in 1871 steamed into the Han River, on which Seoul lies; on being fired on by shore batteries, the ships bombarded the city of Kangwha on two successive days but then withdrew, their mission unfulfilled.

To the Japanese, Korea represented either a natural stepping stone to their penetration of the mainland or a pistol pointing at the heart of their country. They soon determined it should be the former. An expedition to force diplomatic and trade relations was planned; a surveying team with gunboat escort began charting the approaches to the Korean capital in 1875, and when this was fired on, the gunboats retaliated, destroying the Korean forts. A squadron of six Japanese warships appeared. The Chinese government was at that time in no state to interfere on behalf of its tributary state. The Korean Regent was instructed to negotiate and the Treaty of Kangwha, 24 February 1876, was the result. Not only was Korea thereby opened to diplomatic and commercial relations with Japan, but she was recognized as an independent state on an equal footing with Japan and, in the absence of any protest by China, was thus freed of her ancient vassalage.

When the United States concluded a similar treaty in 1882, the Koreans took the opportunity, in a separate statement, voluntarily to acknowledge Chinese suzerainty ; and it was under the auspices of the Chinese government that the treaty and those with Britain, France and Germany which followed it were concluded. Nevertheless Japan soon became influential in Seoul, operating in support of Queen Min, to reform the government and modernize the army, and against the reactionary Regent, Taewongon. In 1882 the latter provoked a rising during which the Japanese legation was burned, seven Japanese officers were killed and the minister forced to flee to Japan.

Both Chinese and Japanese warships arrived to enforce a pacification. The Chinese envoy arrested the Regent and deported him to China. A settlement with Japan was patched up, the most significant feature of which was the establishment of the Japanese right to station troops for the protection of the legation. The Chinese government, however, now took steps to re-assert suzerainty. Extra-territoriality for their nationals was one of the terms of a commercial treaty ; six Chinese battalions were stationed in Korea and a young Chinese officer, Yuan Shih-k’ai, who was in the years ahead to play a leading role in the history of China, was appointed to train the Korean army.

Pro-Chinese and pro-Japanese factions now grew up and in December 1884 the latter, encouraged by the Japanese minister and aided by the Japanese legation troops, staged a revolt in which the royal palace was broken into and the king captured. Yuan Shih-k’ai’s troops gained the upper hand, however; the Japanese, facing annihilation, set fire to their legation and, formed into a square with their wounded and womenfolk in the centre, fought their way through the winter night to the coast.

With a technique that was to become only too familiar, the Japanese made the incident an excuse for sending an expedition to enforce payment of compensation while at the same time a Sino-Japanese Convention was concluded at Tientsin. By its terms both Chinese and Japanese troops were to be withdrawn; but, deeply significant for the future was the mutual agreement that either China or Japan might send troops into Korea for the restoration of order provided they gave each other prior notice. For the time being, however, Chinese influence was supreme with Yiian Shih-k’ai virtually Governor of Korea.

French Aggression

But the Japanese, growing ever stronger on land and sea, were biding their time, while China, for lack of adequate sea power suffered a humiliating defeat when she attempted to oppose French aggression in Vietnam. Annam, as Vietnam was then called, was an ancient tributary state of China. Tribute missions had been sent to Peking even after the French had annexed the three southern provinces (Cochin-China) following the despatch of a punitive expedition to Saigon in 1859 on account of attacks on missionaries. She established a virtual protectorate over the remainder by another treaty in 1874. French troops were stationed in North Vietnam and fortresses built along the Red River. They were opposed by an irregular Chinese `Black Flag’ army, a remnant of the rebel Taiping army which from 1850-64 had controlled much of China and came near to unseating the Ch’ing dynasty. Regular Chinese troops were also surreptitiously sent to Tonking.

The fighting on land that followed was sporadic and indecisive. But when on 23 August 1884 the French Rear Admiral Courbet, with a squadron consisting of three powerful armoured cruisers and nine smaller ships attacked the Chinese Foochow squadron of one iron vessel, six wooden sloops, two armed transports, two gunboats and a number of war junks, the huge French superiority of force made the encounter into little more than a military execution. It took a mere forty-five minutes, following which the French guns were turned destructively on the arsenal and the defensive forts. The French fleet went on to occupy Keelung in Formosa and the Pescadores.

Meanwhile a blockade of the Yangtse River estuary and stoppage of the tribute grain from South China to the capital had been undermining the warlike resolution of the Empress Dowager ; when a serious defeat of the French army in Tonking offered a face-saving opportunity, a peace treaty was negotiated in June 1885, which recognized France’s position in Annam.

Yet another ancient tributary was lost to China in the following year when Burma became a British protectorate. Japanese hunger for a share in the apparent break-up of China strengthened their determination to possess themselves of Korea when the moment was ripe.

In 1894 an uprising by a Korean religious sect known as the Tongkaks, assisted by agents of the Japanese secret society, Genyosha, caused the Korean government to appeal to Yuan Shih-k’ai for help. A force of about 2,500 Chinese infantry was landed at Asan on the Korean west coast. This was the moment the Japanese had been waiting for: a balanced army eight thousand strong was immediately transported to Chemulpo.

Li Hung-chang turned to the western powers for mediation. Proposals by the British and Americans were rejected by the Japanese and, with war imminent, the Chinese chartered three British steamers to carry reinforcements to Asan. Two of these, escorted by the small protected cruiser, Tsi-Tuen, and the sloop, Kwang-Yi, reached Asan safely ; but as the two warships put to sea again on 25 July 1894 to return to Taku, they were intercepted by the Japanese Flying Squadron of three fast light cruisers, Yoshino, Naniwa and Akitsushima, under the command of Rear Admiral Tsuboi who had orders to stop the transport of troops to Korea, if necessary by force, and to deal with any Chinese warships met, though war had not yet been declared.

Convoy Battle

In the unequal fight that developed the Chinese were overwhelmed, the Tsi-Yuen being heavily damaged, though she was unaccountably allowed to limp away to the Chinese naval base of Wei-hai-wei ; the little sloop was forced to beach herself, where she was quickly destroyed. While the Yoshino was chasing the Tsi-Yuen off the scene, there came in sight two more ships. These were the chartered Jardine and Matheson steamer, Kowshing, carrying 1,200 Chinese troops, twelve guns and two Chinese generals, and her escort the 572-ton sloop Tsao-kiang. The sloop was quickly induced to surrender to the Akitsushima. The Naniwa, commanded by Captain Heihachiro Togo (who eleven years later was to be the hero-admiral, victor at the Battle of Tsu-shima), meanwhile signalled the Kowshing to stop and, having ascertained that she was carrying troops, ordered her to follow the cruiser. When the British master signalled that the Chinese would not allow him to comply and requested Togo to take off the Europeans on board, the Japanese captain declined on the grounds that his boat might be attacked. Four hours of unproductive signalling was brought to an end when the Naniwa opened fire at point blank range and sank the Kowshing. The British officers were picked up by the Naniwa’s boats; some 512 Chinese managed to swim ashore or cling to wreckage, but loss of life was heavy.

War between China and Japan was formally declared on 1 August. As with all wars, this one would inevitably be concluded by the victory of one of the opposing armies; but the decision would have already been secured at sea, on the local control of which depended the support and supply of both. For although Korea was connected to China at its landward frontier, road communications were so primitive as to be of little use for the despatch of reinforcements or supplies.

That only by battle with the opposing fleet could such an essential control be secured was not understood by Fi Hungchang, who forbade Admiral Ting Ju-ch’ang, commanding the Peiyang fleet, to proceed to the east of a line drawn from his base at Wei-hai-wei to the mouth of the Yalu River. The Japanese fleet arrived off Wei-hai-wei on 10 August and bombarded its forts, but the challenge was not accepted; the Chinese ships remained in harbour. Thus Admiral Ito, the Japanese Commander-in-Chief, was left undisturbed to convoy his land forces to Korea where such a Japanese superiority was quickly built up that the Chinese army was defeated and driven north.

Battle of Yalu

Admiral Ting was now ordered to escort a troop convoy to the Yalu from Port Arthur. This was successfully achieved ; but it was off the mouth of the Yalu that Admiral Ito arrived on 17 September 1894, placing himself between Ting and his bases and forcing the Chinese admiral to accept the battle he had professed to desire. Ting at once put to sea and cleared for action.

The two fleets were, on paper, evenly matched. Indeed, to the school that believed that the heavily armoured battleship mounting four 12-inch guns was the arbiter of naval battles, the Chinese was the more powerful. For Ting had two of these, the Ting Yuen, his flagship, and the Chen Yuen as well as eight cruisers mounting guns varying in calibre from 10.2-inch to 5.9-inch. None of these guns was of the quick-firing type which had been invented seven years earlier.

The Japanese fleet under Admiral Ito was divided into a Main Squadron under his personal command and a fast Flying Squadron under Rear Admiral Tsuboi. The biggest ships of the Japanese Main Squadron were three unarmoured cruisers, Matsushima (Ito’s flagship), Itsukushima and Hashidate, which mounted but one 12.6-inch gun each. The remainder of the squadron consisted of two cruisers Fuso and Hiyei, ancient veterans built seventeen years before, carrying a few antiquated guns, and one, the Choyoda, armed with nothing bigger than 4.7-inch guns, but of the quick-firing type.

Rear Admiral Tsuboi’s flag flew in the cruiser Toshino, a fine modern ship of 4,150 tons with 6-inch and 4.7-inch quick firers. With him were three other fast cruisers; Takachiho and Naniwa, mounting two 10.2-inch guns and six 6-inch each, and the Akitsushima which, like the Toshino, carried only quick-firing guns of 6-inch and 4.7-inch calibre. None of these ships was armoured, but even the slowest could make nearly nineteen knots, a good speed at that time.

So far it might seem that the Japanese fleet was much too weak to think of facing the heavy guns of the Chinese. On the other hand all the Japanese ships except Takachiho, Naniwa, Fuso and Hiyei carried between ten and twelve quick-firing guns, either 6-inch or 4.7-inch. A meeting between the two fleets might show which of the rival theories was right – that of the believers in the massive blow of a few big guns, or the contrary theory that many quick-firers would smother the slow-firing, big-gun ships before they could score many hits.

When the time came, however, the test was not to be so clear-cut. There were several reasons for this. The Japanese fleet was a highly trained and skillful force, whereas the Chinese, who a few years previously had achieved a high state of efficiency under the guidance of Captain W. M. Lang of the British Navy, had reverted on his departure to the condition of glossed-over incompetence usual in the armed forces of the Empire. The ships were kept outwardly smart and well-painted, but behind this facade there were half-empty magazines and unpractised gunners. Troubles in the shell factories had led to indifferent bursting charges, or even cement and coal dust inserted in their place.

Furthermore, Admiral Ting had a faulty conception of naval fighting tactics based on the outcome of the Battle of Lissa, fought twenty-eight years earlier, in which the Austrian victory had been won by a frontal, line abreast attack on the Italian line, and an eventual recourse to the ram. The fact that the big guns of his two battleships could all fire ahead increased Ting’s faith in such a method. He had completely overlooked the fact that guns had greatly increased in range and effectiveness since Lissa, so that a fleet which awaited such an onslaught in line ahead would have a considerable gun advantage for a long period during the approach. The ram had consequently ceased to be a practical proposition.

Such were the two fleets that now steered for an encounter; the Japanese at about ten knots, which was the best that Fuso and Hiyei could achieve, the Chinese at a knot or two faster. Ito’s fleet was in line ahead with the Flying Squadron in the van. Besides the major units there were present two ships of little or no fighting value, the gunboat Akagi and an armed merchant steamer Saikio Adaru, which were to prove an embarrassment to Ito. It is not clear why the Japanese admiral did not send such vulnerable ships away to the southward, where they would have been clear of the battle. Instead he stationed them on the port side of his Main Squadron, the side away from the enemy.

Meanwhile Ting’s squadron was approaching on a south-westerly course in a formation somewhat similar to Tegetthoff’s at Lissa, with the two big ships in the centre. But owing to tardiness in getting under way, the two starboard wing ships were lagging, while on the other wing one of the Chinese cruisers, the Tsi-Tuen, was well behind and unable to get up into station. In fact, viewed from the Japanese ships, the Chinese squadron seemed to be in considerable disorder.

The tactics of the two admirals were soon evident. At the long range for those days of six thousand yards, the Chinese opened fire with their big guns. With calm confidence the Japanese held their fire, and indeed they could well afford to do so; for with the rapidly changing range making shooting difficult, the unpractised Chinese gunners failed to score a single hit during the approach.

The Japanese line drew steadily across the Chinese front until the Flying Squadron was able to pass round the starboard wing, and at a range of three thousand yards open a withering fire from their quick-firers on the wing ships of the Chinese formation. Their Main Squadron now came into action, passing close ahead of Ting’s flagship and the Chen Tuen, which bore down as though to ram, both battleships being heavily shot up in the process. The whole of Ito’s squadron except the Hiyei, the rear ship, passed safely round the northern flank of Ting’s line, and Ito then led round to star¬ board, circling the now completely disorganized Chinese fleet and keeping up a punishing fire to which only a feeble reply was made.

Indeed the Chinese had more than the enemy’s fire with which to reckon. Dense funnel smoke, increased by that from a hundred guns, enveloped the whole scene. The laggard Tsi-Tuen, coming up at last, plunged into the smother and ran amok, colliding with two ships of her own side, sinking one and so damaging another that it steamed away blazing to be beached. The Tsi-Tuen herself then withdrew to Port Arthur, where her captain subsequently paid for his actions with his head.

Meanwhile the Hiyei, unable to follow the Japanese Main Squadron round the Chinese flank, boldly turned to pass through the Chinese. Avoiding two torpedoes fired at her and which strangely enough hit nothing in spite of the milling throng of ships, the Hiyei won through, though suffering considerably in the process.

The two weak Japanese ships, Akagi and Saikio Maru, also cut off, kept on across the Chinese front, the former being badly battered. Seeing this, Rear Admiral Tsuboi led the Flying Squadron round to port to come back and cover them. This brought a temporary relief to the Chinese ships, but by the time Tsuboi had completed his turn the Chinese found themselves between two fires, Ito to the eastward and the Flying Squadron to the north-westward.

By now Ting’s squadron was in desperate straits. Apart from the victims of the Tsi-Tuen’s wild career, two other cruisers, smothered by the rapid fire of Tsuboi’s 6-inch and 4.7-inch guns, had gone down. Yet another had struggled away burning furiously, ultimately to be run aground near Port Arthur. Ting was thus left with only four of his original ten ships, all of which had suffered severely and had shot away nearly all their ammunition.

Complete annihilation of the Chinese squadron was in Ito’s grasp. The Japanese had not achieved this without damage to themselves, however; in particular Ito’s flagship Matsushima had been hit twice by 12-inch shells, once by a 10.2-inch, suffering more than a hundred casualties, and had been set on fire. By the time Ito had transferred his flag to the Hashidate and despatched the Matsushima, Hiyei, Akagi and Saikio to base for repairs, the sun was sinking low; and as dusk fell, the two fleets disengaged and formed up on parallel courses in line ahead.

A renewal of the fight might now have wiped out the Chinese force, but a new element had entered the situation. The two torpedo-boats of Ting’s squadron had joined him from the Yalu. This caused Ito to decide to await the dawn before completing the enemy’s annihilation, and in the night Ting slipped away with his surviving ships, which included his two battleships. Nevertheless the Japanese had won a considerable victory, and had secured control of the disputed sea area, making certain of victory on land. There the Japanese were able to occupy Dairen and to capture the fortified base of Port Arthur by attacking the forts from the rear. They went on to capture Wei-hai-wei in February 1895, turning the guns of the forts on the damaged remnants of the Peiyang fleet. Admiral Ting committed suicide; the fleet surrendered.

Li Hung-chang, the inspirer of the Self-strengthening Movement by which China had hoped to withstand further foreign aggression, but which had failed primarily because the Chinese public service was so riddled with corruption and incompetence, was disgraced and dismissed. He was reinstated, however, at Japanese insistence upon an envoy of sufficient stature being sent to negotiate a peace settlement. The Treaty of Shimonoseki which was finally signed on 17 April 1895 provided for recognition of Korean independence and termination of tribute to China ; a large indemnity ; the opening of four more Chinese ports ; Japanese right to open factories and engage in industry in China ; finally, and most ominously, the cession to Japan of Formosa, the Pescadores and the Liaotung Peninsula on which Port Arthur and Dairen were situated.

For the moment Japan had in spectacular fashion burst out of her backwardness and obscurity to claim an equal status with the western powers. Great Britain had already offered a treaty revision to abolish her extra-territorial rights and during the next few years her example was followed by other powers. But Japan was now to suffer a humiliating set-back on her road to great power status, one which was to colour her attitude ever afterwards.

Type 052B or Guangzhou Class Destroyer

The Type 052B or Guangzhou class destroyer (NATO reporting name: Luyang I class) is a class of multirole missile destroyer built by the People’s Republic of China. Two ships have been built, with Guangzhou (168) and Wuhan (169) both being commissioned into the PLAN in July 2004. This class features a stealthy hull and significantly improved air defence systems, an area that had been a major weakness on previous ships designed by China. These ships represent a major improvement over the older generation vessels and reflects PLAN’s need to have a modern destroyer.

The Type 052B is built with considerable Russian technology including the Russian-made 9M38 Buk-M1-2 (NATO codename: SA-N-12 Grizzly) air defence missile system, an extremely effective air defence system with a range of 38 km. Most military analysts expect the Guangzhou class to be similar to the Russian Sovremenny class destroyer in terms of general performance. The displacement of the Type 052B is 5850 tons. The ship features a “low point” design combined with radar absorbing paint to reduce radar signature. The ship’s funnel incorporates cooling devices to reduce infrared signatures. The stern flight deck can host a Kamov Ka-28 ASW helicopter.

The Type 052Bs are equipped with two missile launchers, one forward and one aft on the ship. These launchers can launch the SA-N-12 Grizzly Surface-to-Air Missile. Each launcher has two dedicated MR-90 Front Dome fire control radars and carries a total of 48 missiles. They also haves 4 quad YJ-83 Anti-Ship Cruise Missile launchers located amidships. For guns there is a 100mm cannon in ‘A’ position and this is the first PLAN vessel to be equipped with a Close-In Weapons System, or CIWS. For sub-surface threats, she is armed with 2 triple 324mm Yu-7 Anti-Submarine torpedo tubes and two Type 75 twelve-barrel 240mm antisubmarine rocket launchers. The Type 052B is equipped with four 18-barrel Type 724 chaff launchers for part of its self-defense suite.

Weapon Systems

The Type 052B destroyer is armed with two Russian-made surface-to-air missile launchers, one on the front deck behind the 100mm main gun, and one on top of the helicopter hanger. The launchers can fire the latest 9M317 Shtil (NATO codename: SA-N-12 Grizzly) semi-active, radar-homing, medium-range air defence missile. The missile uses the ship’s Russian-made Fregat M2EM Top Plate 3D circular scan radar for target acquisition, and the Front Dome (two radar for each launcher, each radar with two guidance channels) indication radar for missile guidance. Up to three missiles can be aimed simultaneously. The range is up to 38km against aircraft and 20km against anti-ship cruise missile. The ship carries 48 missiles.

Four 4-cell launcher for the YJ-83 (C-803) sea-skimming, radar-homing anti-ship cruise missile system are installed behind the funnel. The YJ-83 is said to have a final approach speed of Mach 1.5 and a maximum range of 150km. It was noted that the YJ-83 onboard the Type 052B relies on a Russian-made Band Stand fire-control radar to provide target information, which would enable the YJ-83 to reach its maximum range of fire without relaying target information by the shipborne helicopter.

The Type 052B destroyer was the first PLA Navy warship to be fitted with the CIWS. There is a seven-barrel 30mm Type 730 CIWS installed on each side of the bridge. The weapon system has a maximum rate of fire of 4,600~5,800 rounds/min.

The ship also has a single-barrel 100mm gun developed by 713 Institute on the basis of the French Creusot-Loire T100C design. The gun can be used against surface targets and air targets such as aircraft and low speed missile, with a maximum rate of fire of 90 rounds/min. The gun can be operated in fully automatic mode from the radar control system, from the shipborne optical sighting system, or laid manually. The turret design incorporates strong radar cross-section reduction features.

The Type 052B destroyer is fitted with two triple 324mm Yu-7 (Mk-46 Mod 1) antisubmarine torpedo tubes and two Type 75 twelve-barrel 240mm antisubmarine rocket launchers. Range is up to 1,200m. The rocket is armed with a 34kg warhead. Additionally, the destroyer has four 18-barrel multiple rocket launchers (MRLs) installed on the front deck. The purpose of these MRLs remains unknown but is thought to be used to launch antisubmarine rockets, ground- attack rockets and/or decoys/chaffs.


The Type 052B uses a Fregat-MAE-5 (Top Plate) 3D search radar, mounted at the top of the forward mast. Four MR90 Front-Dome radars provide fire control for the SA-N-12 missiles. A Type 344 fire control radar controls the main gun. A bandstand radar provides fire control for the YJ-83 ASCM missile.


The air search radar is a Russian Fregat M2EM (NATO codename: Top Plate) 3D air search radar operating at D/E band. The radar has a maximum detect range of 230km to aircraft and 50km to sea-skimming missile. There are four (in contrast to six on Sovremenny class) Russian Front Dome fire control radar (F band) for the 9M38 air defence missile. The main gun and anti-ship missile are controlled by the Russian Band Stand radar.

Command and Control

The ZJK-5 combat system onboard the Type 052B is thought to be an improved variant of the Type 051B (Luhai class)’s ZJK-4-3A. The ZJK-5 is based on the 1553B military data bus and the 100Mbps Ethernet technology. The multi-channel defence suite is capable of engaging several targets simultaneously.


The destroyer’s stern hanger accommodates one Kamov Ka-28 (NATO codename: Helix) antisubmarine warfare (ASW) helicopter. Carrying various weapons including torpedoes and deep charges, the helicopter can operate in all weather conditions up to 200km from the host ship. Alternatively, the destroyer can carry an indigenous Z-9C helicopter.


The Type 052C’s propulsion is in the form of CODOG, consisting of two Ukraine-made DA80/DN80 gas turbines rated at 48,600hp and two Shaanxi diesels (Chinese copy of the MTU 20V956TB92) rated at 8,840hp (6.5 MW).


Type: Guided missile destroyer

    Unit cost – around US$400 million per ship by 2004’s price

    Ships – Guangzhou (168) and Wuhan (169) as of 2006

    Propulsion – 2 x Zorya-Mashproekt DN80 gas-turbines

    2 x MTU Friedrichshafen 12V 1163TB83 diesels

    Length – 155 meters

    Beam – 17 meters

    Draft – 6 meters

    Displacement: 5,850 tons standard, 6,500 tons full load

    Speed – 30 knots

    Crew – 280 (40 officers)

    Combat Data System – ZKJ-7 information processing system designed by the 709th Institute (reported speed: 100 MB/s)

Sensors and processing systems:

    Fregat-MAE-5 (Top Plate) 3D air search phased array radar

    MR90 Front-Dome fire control radar

    Mineral-ME (Band Stand) over-the-horizon targeting radar

    Type 344 fire-control radar

    Data link: HN-900 (Chinese equivalent of Link 11A/B, to be upgraded)

    Communication: SNTI-240 SATCOM


        16 x YJ-83 SSM

        48 x SA-N-12 SAM in 4 x 12 magazine

        1 x 100 mm gun

        2 x 30 mm Type 730 CIWS

        2 x Triple 324 mm ASW torpedo tubes

        2 x Type 75, 12-barrel 240 mm antisubmarine rocket launchers (range 1200 m, 34 kg warhead)

        4 x 18-barrel Type 726-4 decoy/chaff launchers

        Aviation: 1 Kamov Ka-28 ASW helicopter

Type 051B Luhai-class / Luyang-class Multirole Destroyer