How powerful is the Chinese People’s Liberation Army? A video of an amphibious Chinese tank going viral on Twitter might have an answer. The video suggests that the PLA tank, billed by Beijing to lead an invasion into Taiwan, wasn’t so ‘amphibious’ after all, as it sank completely in merely 30 seconds.
Want some fun? Watch this video!🤣
🇨🇳 PLA sinking tank!🚮 pic.twitter.com/D7Xb19ljiu
— Hiro Hamakawa (@hiro_hamakawa) August 15, 2020
But this is certainly not the only example of solid cracks in the Chinese PLA’s serious shortcomings on all three fronts- Air, land and water. While Chinese propaganda claims that the PLA is one of the most powerful military forces, a cursory analysis suggests otherwise.
Geographical limitations, frequent accidents, complete lack of battle-tested weapons and men, and the infamous “reverse engineering” are some of the most serious issues with the Chinese PLA that are rarely discussed. It is, therefore, apposite to go through all three PLA branches.
The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF):
The issues of PLAAF start with its frontline, seemingly fifth-generation J-20 fighter jet manufactured by Chengdu Aerospace Corporation (CAC). Beijing claims that its ‘stealth’ J-20 aircrafts can beat India’s newly acquired 4.5-gen Rafale fighters. However, Indian defence experts and IAF veterans have poked holes in such claims.
In response to China’s superiority claims, retired IAF Marshal, BS Dhanoa recently asked two questions demolishing all such Chinese claims.
First, Dhanoa asked, “If the J-20, also called the Mighty Dragon, is indeed a fifth-generation stealth fighter, then why does it have canards while genuine 5th generation fighters such as the US’ F-22, F-35, and Russian fifth-generation Su-57 don’t?”
Second, he asked, “Why can’t the J-20 supercruise if it is a 5th generation fighter as its manufacturer Chengdu Aerospace Corporation calls it?”
Chinese fighter jet manufacturers have a history of manufacturing some major disasters like the J-20 because the production is invariably based on shoddy copies of the American and Russian designs.
Take, for example, the JH-7 that is described by Beijing as a 4.5-gen aircraft that should make it as good as say a Rafale. However, JH-7 has had a troublesome history with videos and reports of its crashes getting leaked despite the secrecy maintained by the PLA and CCP.
Other frontline Chinese fighter aircrafts and helicopters have similar issues. Last year, the PLAAF witnessed frequent helicopter and fighter crashes. One of the accidents involved a J-10 fighter jet which is also a fourth-generation, frontline Chinese aircraft.
According to SCMP, military sources attributed these frequent accidents to CCP General-Secretary Xi’s call for strengthening “combat readiness”, which is bringing to surface inexperience and technical defects. A source close to the PLAAF told SCMP, “[If these problems are not resolved], it is foreseeable that more accidents will happen because the top brass is pushing for more drills and exercises across the military.”
The main issue behind Chinese jets is again the extensive “reverse engineering” that powers them. J-20, for example, is believed to have borrowed its features from American technology. China has always been under the scanner for stealing American aviation Intellectual Property (IP) by copying designs of the F-22 and F-117A fighter aircrafts, as well as the American Black Hawk choppers. Similarly, JF-17 that has been jointly developed by China and Pakistan is a copy of the American F-16 and the Russian MiG-21.
The People’s Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF)
The PLAGF has emerged as the biggest embarrassment for the PLA. While the PLAN and PLAAF had local disasters to handle, PLAGF has often ended up with a bloody nose on Chinese borders.
While currently the Chinese ground Army is being derided for its not-so-amphibious tank, the Chinese tanks have had a chequered past. Take the Type 96 tanks, for example, that are the backbone of the Chinese tank force. During a Tank Biathlon in Russia in 2018, China fielded the Type 96 which broke down in the middle of the competition, exposing deep faultlines in China’s surface military might.
At present, China boasts of the biggest tank force in the world with 6,900 tanks but roughly half of these tanks are reported to be old and obsolete. What hurts Beijing, even more, is its zero combat experience- after all the man behind the machine is at least as important as the machine itself.
CCP mouthpiece Global Times had itself revealed, “As training began in 2019, an elite-combined arms brigade under the 81st Group Army of the People’s Liberation Army Central Theater Command reflected how they failed to beat its opponent in a 2018 mock battle, despite being equipped with China’s strongest main battle tank, the Type 99A.”
Moreover, CCP’s One child policy has given rise to “wimps” without any fighting spirit, the repercussions of which were visible during the Galwan bloodbath on June 15 when the Indian Army inflicted heavy casualties upon the PLA.
People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN):
Except for the border tussles with India and Russia, China is going to fight all its future battles from Senkaku Islands (Japan) to the Spratly Islands (South China Sea) and Taiwan in the maritime sphere. But where does the Chinese PLAN stand?
To be fair, the Chinese Navy is poised to remain a Green-water Navy incapable of exercising influence far beyond its littoral zones due to narrow choke-points like the Strait of Malacca and the Indonesian Straits, and even wider passages like the Miyako Strait that separate the East China Sea and South China from the rest of the world.
The Chinese Navy is surrounded from all sides by influential naval powers like India, the US and Japan. When it comes to firepower, there is not much reliable information that comes out of China. But we at least know of reports about a 2011 radiation leak that occurred on a Chinese Nuclear-Powered Submarine. Chinese submarines have always been subject to accident speculations. China, of course, doesn’t come out clean on such reports.
When it comes to Beijing’s naval firepower, it doesn’t come anywhere near the US Air Force and Washington is slated to win a naval confrontation with China shortly or even over the next twenty years.
Though there is a lot of fuss about China’s military might on land, air and water, a closer analysis discloses some serious chinks in the PLA’s armour. Frequent accidents, cover-ups and battle inexperience continue to overshadow the PLA.