China’s Logistics Modernization is Changing the Pacific Military Balance

Written by Lyle J. Goldstein

The well-worn formulation that “amateurs study tactics, while professionals study logistics” has significant explanatory power when considering the rapidly changing balance of power in the western Pacific. This derives from the single, unalterable fact that Beijing will operate on interior lines in almost any scenario in that theater, while Washington will operate on exterior lines in such a conflict. Thus, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will not only bring more initial firepower to any fight, but perhaps more importantly, can sustain that immense volume of firepower. “Blue” forces, by contrast, will be operating at the end of very long and likely tenuous supply lines for an extended period.

During the Korean War, initial Chinese offensives were quite successful, but the PLA eventually outran its supply lines and proved unable to dislodge UN forces from the peninsula, resulting in the stalemate on the 38th parallel. In that conflict, PLA logistics supply was relentlessly pounded by U.S. airpower and Chinese forces at the front suffered accordingly. That original “trial by fire” made a deep impression upon the PLA regarding the importance of military logistics. Today, there is every reason to believe that China could move forces forward surreptitiously and effectively, not only to provide a stunning initial blow, but also to maintain PLA combat power. A window into the PLA’s current thinking on logistics preparation is provided by a recent article (2017, no. 4) in the Chinese military journal Military Economic Research [军事经济研究] written by two professors from China National Defense University [国防大学].

The article is a case study of British logistics mobility in the Falklands War or, as Chinese term the conflict, the Malvinas War (马岛战争). As I have written elsewhere , Chinese strategists have studied all aspects of the Falklands War, including especially aerial, undersea, and amphibious dimensions. Special emphasis is placed in this article on the rapid mobilization, size, and efficiency of the merchant armada that was assembled to accompany the Royal Navy’s expeditionary force.

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About the author

Lyle J. Goldstein

Lyle J. Goldstein is Research Professor in the China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) at the United States Naval War College in Newport, RI. In addition to Chinese, he also speaks Russian and he is also an affiliate of the new Russia Maritime Studies Institute (RMSI) at Naval War College. You can reach him at [email protected] The opinions in his columns are entirely his own and do not reflect the official assessments of the U.S. Navy or any other agency of the U.S. government.