PLA infantrymen now have powerful rifles, but still lag US
A pricey new gun is being rolled out that will mark a long-overdue improvement to soldiers' gear
Chinese President Xi Jinping, who also heads the Central Military Commission, reportedly tried out a powerful new rifle worth half a million yuan (US$78,000) during his recent visit to an infantry combat team under the People’s Liberation Army’s Central Theater Command.
The big gun, part of the PLA’s QTS-11 system, is the result of a decade of painstaking efforts to catch up in the race to arm soldiers, emulating the US Army’s revived Land Warrior program and the discontinued Objective Individual Combat Weapon program.
Weighing around 5 kilograms, the 5.8-millimeter-caliber rifles, integrated with 20mm grenade launchers, are capable of shooting targets within a radius of 200 meters in a strafe-like fashion, according to the Beijing-based Science and Technology Daily.
Together with other wearable gear such as thermal imagers, laser rangefinders, wearable computer and positioning, communication and situational awareness helmets, the whole QTS-11 kit costs a grand total of 1 million yuan a pop. It has already been deployed to about 50,000 infantrymen and other troops for special duties, air assault and paratroopers brigades of 13 field armies, Hong Kong-based Ming Pao newspaper reports.
This is a 500 million yuan trial aimed at ramping up combat strength, with an emphasis on an individual infantry soldier as a complete unit rather than as a segment of a larger force in urban warfare and dismounted infantry actions.
Shown on a China Central Television news program, Xi appeared to take a keen interest in the big gun on display and even peeped into the gunsight and aimed the rifle at a target as instructed by a soldier.
That said, it remains to be seen when the QTS-11 can be rolled out to equip more troops in PLA infantry units.
Analysts note that as night-vision goggles, bulletproof glass, optical aimers and other gear have long been standard issue for a US soldier, these items are still something of a luxury for their Chinese counterparts.
Even bulletproof vests are not as omnipresent among Chinese troops and armed policemen as many think.
“Since 2008, some Western think-tanks claim that China’s military spending has risen to the second-highest globally, but the title of ‘second in the world’ hasn’t given Chinese soldiers any greater sense of security,” The Wall Street Journal cited a 2014 report by the Guangzhou-based Southern Weekly as saying.
“The individual soldier’s equipment cost – a matter of life and death on the battlefield – has remained at the levels seen five years ago,” the 2014 article said.
“US defense spending is worth five times that of China’s, but the cost differential between the two countries in terms of individual soldiers’ equipment is more than tenfold.”
Still, the QTS-11 system could be a game changer, and it has also been reported that a military hospital of the East Theater Command is now developing an Ironman-like, weight-bearing suit mocked as a “wearable skeleton” to carry heavier gear as Beijing aims to put more gadgets and devices on each of its infantrymen.