Posted by: mulrickillion | July 31, 2011

Assessing the Grade Structure for China’s Aircraft Carriers: Part 2



By Kenneth Allen and Aaron Shraberg, China Brief, Vol. 11, Iss. 14, June 29, 2011 —

Category: China Brief, Military/Security, Elite, China and the Asia-Pacific

This is the second of a two-part series about the grade (zhiwu dengji) system of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and how China’s forthcoming carrier might fit into the fleet structure of the PLA Navy (PLAN). Part 1 provided an overview of the PLA’s Table of Organization and Equipment (TO&E), discussed possible grades for the carrier, and what on-shore organization the carrier might be subordinate to. The carrier’s placement within the PLA’s on-shore organizational structure (jidi fangyu zuozhan zhihui tizhi) will affect personnel duties, training, and ship supply and maintenance. This part examines the possible at-sea task force structure (haishang jidong zuozhan biandui zhihui tizhi) of a PLAN carrier task force by discussing the differences and similarities between a U.S. Navy (USN) carrier strike group and a possible PLAN carrier task force group [1].

Why Focus on PLA Grades?

Every organization within the PLA, including PLAN vessels (i.e. an organization), is assigned one of 15 grades that start at the Chairman and Vice Chairmen of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Military Commission (junwei zhuxi fuzhuxi) and go down to platoon leader (paizhang). With only a few exceptions in the PLA, the commander/leader and political officer of every organization are co-equals and hold the same grade as the organization. In addition, every officer within an organization is assigned one of the 15 grades. Unlike the U.S. military that has 10 officer grades and 10 equivalent ranks, the PLA has 15 grades and 10 ranks. As such, each grade has two ranks (a primary and a secondary rank), and officers rarely receive a grade and rank promotion simultaneously. Therefore, the officer’s grade, not his rank, defines his position and authority. Equally, the PLA’s grade, not rank, structure defines its command and control (C2) and coordination structure within and between organizations.

Because no PLA organization can command another organization at the same level, command is organized within a vertical structure (i.e. higher and lower organizations) and coordination is organized by a horizontal structure (i.e. at the same level), which can be within the same service or between services. As the PLA implements greater use of information technology to more effectively communicate throughout the chain of command, it has increasingly implemented a skip echelon (kuaji) C2 structure, whereby an organization two or more levels higher can command a lower echelon.

Where Does the PLAN’s Carrier Fit?

In 2004, the PLA implemented what it calls “integrated joint operations” (yitihua lianhe zuozhan). The goal was to provide a strong vertical C2 and horizontal coordination structure among all of the PLA’s services and branches using information technology as the foundation [2]. The organizational structure of the PLA, based on the grade system, will affect the at-sea task force structure of any future PLAN carrier task force, and will influence the extent to which it is “authoritative, lean, agile and efficient” [3]. Modifications to the grade system will influence China’s ability to meet its security requirements both regionally and abroad.

USN Strike Groups

Although one should not “mirror image” the organizational structures of a USN carrier strike group and a possible PLAN carrier task force, many of the same basic concepts apply to both militaries because all navies, particularly carriers, face similar logistical and operational challenges.

According to the USN’s official website, there is no real definition of a strike group, which is formed and disestablished on an ad-hoc basis; however, all strike groups have a similar composition. The same can be said of a modernizing PLAN. Typically, a USN carrier strike group might have a carrier, a guided missile cruiser, two guided missile destroyers (used primarily for anti-air warfare or AAW), an attack submarine (used to seek out and destroy hostile surface ships and submarines) and a combined ammunition, oiler and supply ship. A PLAN task force group will likely employ similar vessels. . . .

The Jamestown Foundation: Assessing the Grade Structure for China’s Aircraft Carriers: Part 2


See also



  1. […] Assessing the Grade Structure for China’s Aircraft Carriers: Part 2 […]

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