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Idiot Vendor fails to read
BLAMEES: There's only two.
Me: Your homicidal anti-hero [aka DSoTR] who's designed, implemented, deployed, migrated, and maintained AD in billion dollar companies since its inception in 2000, and before that LDAP on a defunct OS's 4.11 release.
IdiotVendor - they support our wildly out of date system above. They do NOT deal with the OS or anything else beyond their specific hardware and applications.
It was early spring when the ticket arrived in my queue - well, less of a ticket and more of an email - that scheduled tasks on one of our servers are failing with the message "could not start". IdiotVendor has been manually starting these tasks daily rather than letting us know they're failing in the overnight, and now it's urgent because the person who has been doing this is manual task is going on holiday.
I respond with a short email asking what server and what tasks are failing.
Four hours later a wild screenshot appears - with nine scheduled tasks all failed out, and I spot the incidental inclusion of the server name since apparently writing out the name in the email body is hard.
It's one host on a cluster. I have additional questions.
A little back and forth about nodes and jobs and I finally get some answers.
- These tasks run on the the active node.
- The jobs on the passive node should not still be running a week later.
- IdiotVendor uses drive letter mappings rather than UNC paths.
- Reiteration that IdiotVendor's tech in on holiday next week making this UrGEnT!
- My question on user account and special privileges remains unanswered.
- When usepass is re-entered into one scheduled task ALL failed scheduled tasks work again for a while.
- IdiotVendor claims that password is being deleted by some security process on our end.
The game is afoot!
Check out the history of one task, then another, then a third. Yup, all consistent failed at nearly the same time, with the logs saying:
The specific error is: 0x80070569: Logon failure: the user has not been granted the requested logon type at this computer.AHA! says I. I know this tune. We locked down user right assignment for a specific compliance we need to meet.
Send IdiotVendor my findings - the error points away from passwords and towards a rights issue, and reiterate my question as to whether said user account needs special rights a conventional user would not possess.
IdiotVendor re-iterates there's no way it's a user rights issue and it's got to be passwords because it wouldn't work then fail if it was user rights.
We agree to create a new account and password for exclusive use for the scheduled tasks, since using Domain Admin is completely stupid. This is accomplished in short order, I change these on all scheduled tasks, and we're off to the races. IdiotVendor will monitor in the overnight.
Tasks fail in the overnight, as I expected.
IdiotVendor emails me in the deep dark of REM sleep. I'm not on call, so my phone isn't nearby, and I'm not answering.
IdiotVendor email again at a more sane hour, pulling my boss and the rest of my team into the email chain.
Log on, look around, scheduled task log files are gone. Well, so much for troubleshooting the logs. Event logs show GPO applied seconds before all jobs started to fail, and literally nothing else that's out of scope or specification. Even a check of security logs on all DCs show this new account hasn't had a bad password attempt since I mistyped it during setup.
Wait, there's an open command prompt. That wasn't there yesterday.
IDIOTVENDOR MOVED THE LOG FILE FROM ITS DEFAULT LOCATION AND DID NOT TELL ME THIS
Ask IdiotVendor to confirm there's no user rights assignments for the account required. I need them to confirm this to end this fucking charade of technical incompetence disguised thinly as technical skill.
They say this does not happen on their test system.
Well, there's your problem!Set password on one scheduled task.
All scheduled tasks start to work.
gpupdate /forceAll scheduled tasks fail.
All logs read "The user has not been granted the requested logon type at this computer."
Guess what account needed User Right Assignment for Log on as a batch job?
Guess what GPO item I changed to allow this User Right Assignment?
I'll bet you awfully clever folks know what happened when I opened a command prompt and entered
gpupdate /forcedon't you?
Why yes, you did guess right - all jobs immediately work.
Do my final post-mortem for this moron.
- Scheduled task shows specific event
- IdiotVendor does manual workaround rather than reaching out to us
- IdiotVendor hasn't updated their test lab to our GPOs in well over a year
- Problem is exactly what I said the first time - User Rights Assignment
- Show timelines, problem determination, IdiotVendor and their lack of reading comprehension of the relevant log files
- Boss finally chimes in on the email thread:
Great job, DSoTR! IdiotVendor, please update your lab GPOs to our current production GPOs.IdiotVendor is quiet.
A Summary of the PLA's Reforms Focusing on the Ground Force, Plus Some Info on Equipment.
In the spring of 2014, a task force was formed in Beijing to draw up a reform blueprint for the PLA. It involved over 690 civilian and military departments, 900 serving and retired commanders and experts, 2165 brigade-level and above officers, and ultimately resulted in over 800 meetings and took into account over 3400 comments and recommendations from the rank and file. The blueprint was revised over 150 times and was finalised in November 2015. Subsequently, the PLA underwent thorough reforms, demobilising 300,000 personnel, constituting almost half of non-combat positions and 30% of the officer corps. It is the most comprehensive of all PLA reforms in recent memory and has radically changed the way the PLA operates. A new training syllabus also went into effect in January 2018, having been in the works since April 2013. The overriding priority of the new syllabus is to have a high degree of realism with emphasis on new modes of warfare such as jointness and informationisation.
The PLA reforms are not complete and more will follow. In the last ten years, the salaries and social status of military personnel have been elevated considerably and recruitment is not an issue. Retainment, however, is, and skilled personnel attrition remains a major challenge to the PLA. A rework of the promotion and pay structure is likely planned as are changes to the recruitment schedule and possibly also lengths of service. This should give skilled personnel fairer remuneration, more flexible career paths, and make the military more competitive with the civilian sector. There is also increasing societal pressure on the PLA to relax their selection criteria and start accepting applicants such as college graduates that have passed the cut-off age or aspiring pilots with less than 20/20 vision. As the PLA has expanded their public outreach and interactions especially on social media, it is possible these widespread calls will lead to changes.
OrganisationThe PLA's organisation underwent structural, strategic, operational, and tactical changes. The four CMC organs were split up into fifteen smaller departments for better specialisation while accountability was strengthened by making the discipline department and audit office independent. Drastic reform of the CMC organs was something that over 90% of the task force agreed must be done if the reforms were to have any chance of lasting success. This served to destroy existing interest groups, cut bureaucratic bloat, reduce graft, and structurally impede formation of future interest groups and factions. At the same time, military regions were dismantled and their functions transferred to theatre commands and branches, splitting up the operational and administrative responsibilities that had previously been combined. Operations and admin can now be focused upon exclusively by their designated institution without distraction. Towards the smaller scale, group armies and echelons below them were reformed or abolished to maximise combat effectiveness, taking into account improvements in information technology and quality of the recruitment pool.
Former Military RegionsThe seven military regions were dismantled and their assets along with those of other branches were reorganised under five new theatre commands. The military regions existed as a holdover from the initial thirteen military regions which had been reduced and reorganised into seven over the decades. Their establishment stemmed from administrative and internal state considerations that were relevant decades ago but no longer make much sense today. In addition to their administrative responsibilities, military regions also had operational responsibility for PLAGF units in the region. This intertwining of administrative and operational duties compromised both and military regions were plagued with bureaucratic inefficiencies, graft, poor operational readiness, slow reaction speeds, inconsistent unit qualities, and inadequate jointness. Other branches of the PLA had their own independent chains of command and joint operations were very much a matter of compromise and negotiation between different branches rather than routine and seamless affairs. There have been cases in the past where pre-arranged joint exercises were cancelled or downsized at the last minute because one or more branches did not attend.
Theatre CommandsTheatre commands have operational control of most units within their specified zones, including ground, sea, air, support, and some rocket units, breaking down C3 barriers that previously existed between branches and even between different departments of the same branch. The consolidation of different unit types from different branches under a unified command has led to a huge increase in joint operations and exercises. Indeed, theatre-level joint operations is one of the four main categories of training topics under the new syllabus. Whereas military regions could not order joint exercises into being due to a lack of authority over non-PLAGF units, theatre commands have no such issue. Theatre commands are explicitly not responsible for force planning or administration, freeing them to focus all their effort on preparing and training against their reference threats. Force planning is now conducted by the newly empowered branches. Previously, the CMC organs played a large role in the force planning of the PLA's branches which was detrimental as the CMC had been dominated by PLAGF elements and failed to fully understand or appreciate the specific needs of other branches, nor, due to their need to consider those other branches, did they consider the PLAGF's specific needs either. The result was suboptimal force planning for everyone.
Five theatre commands were established to address specific threats instead of internal priorities a la military regions. Whichever direction has notable threats deserving of dedicated consideration, a theatre command was established to face it. The resulting theatre commands coincide with the four cardinal directions plus a central theatre. The Eastern Theatre Command was established to finish the civil war as well as face the East Asian threat consisting of Japan and USPACOM with possible ROK involvement under certain conditions; the Southern Theatre Command was established to face the South East Asian threat consisting of USPACOM, Vietnam, and a secondary focus on the ROC; the Western Theatre Command was established to face the Central and South Asian threat, consisting of India and USCENTCOM; the Northern Theatre Command was established to face the Korean Peninsula; and the Central Theatre Command was established as a strategic reserve. It's worthwhile to note that theatre command force allocations are not set in stone and units can and are shuffled around the country depending on need. While the general staff of each theatre focuses their preparation and training on the threats in their axis, their job at the fundamental level is to use whatever forces they are given to the best effect. As to what forces they actually get in a war; the CMC will decide that when the time comes.
Joint Logistics ForceTo better address wartime requirements, the operations-focused Joint Logistics Force (JLF) was established, unifying logistics throughout the PLA. It consists of a main logistics centre in Hubei and a series of supporting logistics bases in each theatre directing the logistics brigades within. The new brigades are more flexible and deployable, and the JLF as a whole is focused on wartime effectiveness, devoting more preparation and training to carrying out their mission while subject to enemy action. The integration of the JLF in theatre command HQ makes it the sole logistics coordination hub, replacing the previous system where each branch had a separate supply chain coordinated at different locations by different people. Concentrating the C2 of everyone's logistics at a single location overseen by a single team makes joint operations much easier to coordinate and sustain. The advent of logistics brigades further signifies the PLA's new focus on long-distance sustainment of fighting forces as a brigade is a deployable and mobile unit capable of crossing vast distances while a base or centre or depot is inflexible and immobile. Proliferation of brigades thus entails the making mobile of capabilities that had previously been largely static.
The JLF experienced its first real-world challenge during the 2020 Jan-April Hubei lockdown where they were tasked with the operation and manning of converted and field hospitals at the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak epicentre. The JLF was able to assemble over 4000 PLA medical personnel, the majority of whom had prior experience with epidemic response to SARS and/or Ebola. They were transported to their posts in three batches from Jan 24 to Feb 17 from around the country via airlift, high-speed rail, and motorway. In the initial stages of the lockdown, they also provided the first stocks of medical equipment and materials, buying time for the civilian response. However, while the JLF demonstrated its ability to rapidly mobilise men and material nationwide and relocate them in close coordination with civilian counterparts, its wartime capability to sustain expeditionary forces under theatre command direction was not put to the test.
Group ArmiesGroup armies (GA), the basic operational manoeuvre element of the PLA, have been reduced in number but made larger on average and more consistent. Eighteen GAs existed before the reforms with considerable variation in strength and capabilities between them, e.g. some had no organic aviation and some had just a few brigades while others were loaded with divisions. Five GAs were disbanded as part of the reforms and the remaining thirteen have been standardised with six manoeuvre brigades (except 82nd GA which has seven), an air-defence brigade, an artillery brigade, an aviation brigade, a special warfare brigade, and two or three support brigades, possessing fifty to sixty thousand personnel in total. The common framework across all thirteen GAs allow for flexible attachments and tasking of subordinate units depending on need, facilitating tailored and proportional responses to a variety of contingencies from border skirmishes to artillery exchanges to full blown war. As the largest manoeuvre formation of the PLAGF and in line with the PLA's evolution into a more deployable and expeditionary force, the GA's organic elements such as signals, recce, and EW have been reinforced with assets previously kept at higher echelons giving it enhanced independent operating and sustainment capability. GAs are the prime candidate for deployment abroad if PRC armed assistance is ever requested as they have abundant teeth while possessing enough of a tail to avoid being reliant on local support which cannot be assumed sufficient or even available at all times. I can plausibly see three GAs deployed to the DPRK on short notice without much difficulty with another three held in reserve across the border.
BrigadesThe PLAGF has pivoted almost completely to combined-arms brigades and combined-arms battalions. Manoeuvre divisions and regiments have all been abolished except in the Xinjiang Military District where the poor infrastructure and sparseness of the region suits the retainment of divisions, and the Beijing Guard Area which is tasked with protecting the leadership and is not very important. A combined-arms brigade has four combined-arms battalions, a recce battalion, an artillery battalion, an air-defence battalion, a support battalion, and a sustainment battalion. It resembles a smaller version of its superior GAs and a larger version of its subordinate battalions. This modular matryoshka-like structure brings about new capabilities but also new challenges for brigade commanders. While a brigade is normally a tactical level asset, as the nature of warfare has evolved, the operational level of war has been pushed further and further down. In some cases, the brigade echelon is the operational level as the conflict could well be over by the time corps or army echelons respond. The pivot to modular combined-arms brigades is an acknowledge of this trend and the structuring of manoeuvre brigades to resemble a small GA streamlines their employment as operational level assets among other benefits. As a result, brigade leadership now have to be familiar with the employment of his unit both operationally and tactically and everywhere in between.
In addition to manoeuvre brigades, a large part of the PLAGF's combat potential comes from specialised brigades. The most prominent and integral to normal operations is the artillery brigade with one allocated to every GA and two independent. A typical artillery brigade has four or five tube battalions and one or two LR-MLRS battalions. They are responsible for coordination of massed fires against targets both requested by line units and scouted organically as well as those assigned from above. Aviation brigades play an increasingly important role but their current influence is constrained by the limited number of helicopters. Two aviation brigades have been formed into aerial assault brigades and it is believed that all GAs will eventually get the same treatment pending helicopter fleet expansion. Special warfare brigades provide elite infantry capability in situations where mechanised infantry is unsuited. These include prolonged reconnaissance in hostile territory, warfare in terrain inaccessible to vehicles, MOUT, counter-terrorism, and operations requiring special insertion such as swimming, airdrop, powered parachuting, vertical insertion, etc. Air-defence brigades provide mobile hard-kill protection as well as EW capabilities relevant to anti-air. Each missile battalion in the brigade is capable of providing an air-defence umbrella of radius 20-70km depending on the SAM system equipped. There is sometimes also a towed AAA battalion to provide point defence. The remaining support brigades, some of which are organic to GAs while others are theatre command subordinates, provide EW, signals, strategic ISR, engineering, repair, chemical-defence, medical, and logistics support.
BattalionsLine battalions in the PLAGF were transformed from homogeneous battalions into combined-arms battalions. The former were either tank or infantry. They had limited organic sustainment capabilities and were typically issued simple fire and manoeuvre orders. Combined-arms battalions, by comparison, comprise over a dozen specialisations including infantry, tank/assault gun, artillery, anti-tank, anti-air, recce, signals, sapper, field repairs, chemical-defence, and medical among others, and are twice the size of old line battalions. A typical tracked combined-arms battalion has two tank companies, two mechanised infantry companies, a firepower company with indirect fires and AT, and a support and sustainment company. The wheeled and motorised battalions are similarly organised with some differences in vehicle type distribution. They are designed to give commanders the ability to seize initiatives and hold objectives without needing to wait for higher-echelon support and are typically given objectives and missions instead of simple orders. The universal conversion from homogeneous battalions to combined-arms battalions have made battalions the smallest and most manoeuvrable fighting element in the PLA capable of sustained independent operations.
Much has been written on the effects of the transformation to combined-arms battalions on the rank and file, and literature on the topic is abundant. One of the most common remarks regarding the new battalions is the drastic increase in number of technical specialisations. The addition of these specialisations and capabilities to the battalion has necessitated the establishment of a battalion staff to advise and assist the CO who previously only had his deputy and political officer for support. The staff consists of a chief of staff and four functional positions; operations, fires, recce, and combat service support. The latest reforms allow distinguished NCOs to receive training and education previously reserved for officers. These newly-qualified NCOs have begun filling functional positions in battalion staffs, becoming the first staff NCOs in PLA history. The recce specialist is not only a staff member but an active participant in the field and regularly accompanies recce detachments on missions. The fires specialist, in addition to his usual role of organising battalion fires, is often responsible for coordinating with aviation assets since he has the best understanding of where to apply aerial firepower. On top of a staff, the battalion HQ has also been given a chief of NCOs who is in charge of coordinating the battalion's day-to-day life and ensuring the leadership is aware of the situation with the rank and file.
Not only have support assets been made organic to the battalion but control has also been pushed down to line units. For example, to request field repairs, line units previously had to go through the company, battalion, regiment/brigade, and sustainment contingent HQs before reaching the field repair detachment to relay their whereabouts and the nature of the damage. Line units now have direct contact with field repair detachments and can bypass all other echelons, saving vast amounts of time. Similarly, medical teams now accompany line units during an assault enabling them to provide medical care to wounded immediately. However, this necessitates greater tactical proficiency on part of the medical personnel as they no longer reside in the rear only to arrive on scene after the battle is over or has moved on. They are now required to know the kill radii of various munitions, drive AFVs (armoured ambulance), operate information terminals, understand manoeuvre instructions, operate self-defence weaponry, use different types of cover, etc. The experiences of battalion personnel after the reforms reflect the experience of the PLA as a whole; higher competencies are required from everyone.
EquipmentThe PLA's new hardware in the air and naval domains have attracted the lion's share of public attention. However, the ground forces have also been actively modernising. The first examples of modern equipment departing from Stalinist-era designs began appearing in the PLA during the 1980s, some having started development in the preceding decade while others were imported from the newly-accessible West. Examples include the first universal chassis SPG, first MBT with a computerised FCS on a non-T-54 chassis, and the TPQ-37 counter-battery radar. However, these pieces of equipment were expensive for the cash-strapped China of the 1980s and procurement numbers were nowhere near enough to equip the entire PLAGF. Only a small number of these systems were procured for high-priority units. Both that generation and the preceding Stalinist generation of equipment are currently being retired.
An intermediate generation of equipment appeared in the 90s and 00s and forms the bulk of the PLAGF inventory. These include the ZTZ96/A, ZTZ99, PLZ05, PLC09, PLL05, HQ7A/B, PGZ04A, ZSL92, PHZ89, AFT09-carrier, and ZTS63A among others. They are typically characterised by tech inferiority in terms of individual subsystems performance but a decent overall performance. Through careful systems engineering involving balancing design requirements, keeping doctrine in mind, and procuring of meaningful numbers, these systems are generally able to fight on comparable terms with contemporaries as part of a combined-arms force. However, there are distinct shortcomings to these systems largely due to limited budget or limited tech base at the time of development. For example, the ZTZ96/A and ZTZ99 do not have an integrated powerpack and engine/transmission changes take many hours; the ZSL92 is not particularly well-protected and its carrying potential is constrained by its small size; the AFT09 requires LOS to engage its targets putting it at high risk of counterfire; and the PLZ05 makes inefficient use of hull volume and thus only carries 30 rounds while the K9 carries 48 rounds and the PzH 2000, 60.
The next generation, which comprises the majority of current procurement, is an evolution of the intermediate generation that addresses many of their shortcomings and are generally competitive with global counterparts. These include the ZTZ99A, ZTZ96B, ZBD04/A/B, ZBL08, CSK141, PHL03/A, PLZ07/A, PLZ05B, PLZ10, ZBD05, PGZ09, HQ16A/B, etc. A large amount of information technologies have been incorporated into this generation and they can be considered the PLA's first foray into networked warfare. Procurement of these systems continue but first few examples of the next generation are beginning to supplant them in production.
The new generation's poster child is ZTQ15 but also includes the AFT10, "625" AAA, PLC161, PLC171, PLC181, PHL191, new 8x8 family, and arguably the PHZ11, PHL11, HQ17/A, and CSK181. This generation is characterised by a very high degree of modularity, informationisation, automation, and limited relation to Cold War designs. Certain Cold War elements persist such as the L7 105mm, 2A18 122mm, 122mm MLRS, and the 9K330 Tor configuration but overall the new generation can be considered distinct from Cold War systems. Future members of this generation will include the next-gen IFV and next-gen tracked SPG. It is unclear whether the next-gen MBT will be part of this generation or the one thereafter, it depends on how radical the technology employed is and how long it takes those technologies to become practical.
In addition to ground systems, the PLAGF is expanding procurement of helicopters. Currently, the PLAGF has a helicopter shortage especially in the multipurpose 10t weight class but with the introduction of the Z-20, this issue will see some mitigation throughout the next two decades. The current helicopter fleet numbers just over 1000 and minimum requirements for the entire PLA is likely at least double if not triple that. The Z-10 provides an initial critical mass of attack helicopters but it has been confirmed by industry and PLA sources that a heavier follow-up is in the works. It is hinted that the new heavy attack helicopter benefits immensely from the Z-20's powertrain and powerplant and may resemble the Huey-to-Cobra transformation. In addition to Z-20, the Z-8G and Z-8L provide supplementary heavy-lift capability transporting ATVs, buggies, tankettes, artillery pieces, etc., and are important components of heliborne assault forces, a unit type that the PLA will likely expand as helicopter numbers continue to rise.
Unmanned systems were adopted beginning in the mid 90s and are increasingly ubiquitous. Lightweight drones like the DJI Mavic, Harwar H16-V12, and CH-902 are hand-launched and man-portable and are thus given to infantry for recce and light air-support. Larger BZK008s and JWP02s fly missions up to 100km away for brigade recce and arty FO while even larger and faster drones like the SX500 provide targeting information up to 300km away for VLR-MLRS like the PHL191. UGVs recently began equipping combat units possibly in a testing and evaluation capacity. The decade leading up to 2020 saw multiple PLA-hosted UGV competitions with both state institutes and civilian companies participating during which multiple models earned the PLA's confidence.
Individual gear is also an area where the PLA has begun modernising albeit not really pushing boundaries. The individual soldier's kit that debuted in the 2019 October Parade began development as part of Project 1224 and is known to consist of new small arms, fatigues, camouflage, body armour, helmet, backpack, and information systems including a tactical display eyepiece and personal IFF system, among others. Relegated to the backburner for decades, individual gear has recently become a priority as funding for the PLA has increased in line with national wealth. However, the PLA remains conservative with design and the kit doesn't appear to feature anything that hasn't already been tried and tested globally. Introduction of the new kit began in late 2019 and the entire process of reequipping two million servicemen is planned to take three years to complete.
InformationA large part of the organisational reforms have been enabled by new information systems including vehicles and terminals supporting the Integrated C4I Complex (ICC) that began development in early 2004 and was first introduced to the PLA across all branches in 2010. The successful development of the ICC was recognised with the State Award for Scientific and Technological Progress Special Class, an award typically given to one to three projects of great significance to the country every year. Other projects that have been given the same award include the DF-31, J-10, and KJ-2000. The ICC unified the hundreds of disparate C4ISTAR systems developed by different branches and departments of the PLA in the twenty years leading up to 2010 and has arguably contributed more to increasing PLA combat effectiveness than any other system in recent memory.
Within most combined-arms brigades, C4ISTAR networks link every vehicle and select infantry such as FO and recce together into a singular battlefield map accessible to all terminals. This allows all vehicles to constantly be aware of friendly positions and identified enemy positions as well as the status of all nodes including their health, munitions count, fuel load, current orders, etc. The commander is able to seamlessly take in the battlefield picture including recommendations from his staff and orders from above, and issue complex orders with a keyboard, a process much more efficient and accurate than traditional voice radio. Some brigades have also compiled databases of the performance parameters of their systems and personnel in a variety of environments and situations. This helps units to construct more realistic training scenarios, make fairer calls during confrontation exercises, and find the most effective methods of doing things supported by empirical data.
If the brigade is subject to electronic attack, standard operating modes should be able to sidestep the disruption by frequency hopping or other signal processing magic. If the attack is especially sophisticated or powerful, friendly EW assets both organic and higher-echelon can respond in the EM spectrum or use support measures to locate the source of the disruption and task fires with its destruction. Failing that, the network has the option to transmit simpler and more powerful packets that are difficult to obfuscate completely, up to and including Morse code. Wired communications can also be used between nearby stationary elements. As a last resort, signal flags are carried aboard every fighting vehicle in the brigade.
FiresHailed as the god of war, artillery systems have been given priority development and procurement by the PLA since their founding, the last twenty years being no exception. The PLA operates tube and rocket artillery of various calibres, both guided and unguided. Tube artillery mostly has three echelons; battalion, brigade, and corps. Battalion tubes are self-propelled vehicles armed with the 2A80, a gun-mortar system that can perform well over a wide range of elevation angles. They began entering service en masse in the mid-00s. Effective range with conventional munitions is <15km, about the maximum expected for battalion-organic recce and FO. Brigade tube fires is provided by 2A18s with a max effective range of <25km. They are mounted on a variety of platforms, most of which are self-propelled but some brigades still operate towed systems. Corps tube fires is provided either by 152mm or 155mm L52 guns developed on the basis of Gerald Bull's 155mm L45s. L52s have a range of 38km firing base-bleed rounds with tight dispersion and low cost, traits desirable for the voluminous round consumptions that characterise HIC. Larger calibres including 203mm were tested but abandoned as the PLA struggled to find a use for them with the introduction of large-calibre MLRS.
The bulk of tactical fires is provided by thousands of 120mm gun-mortars organic to battalions and 122mm guns organic to manoeuvre brigades; the calibres chosen for their good balance of firepower, cost, and handleability. 120mm systems include the PLL05 and PLZ10 while 122mm systems include the tracked PLZ07/A/B and PLZ89, 8x8 PLL09, truck-based PLC09, PLC161, PLC171, and the towed PL96. 152mm and 155mm guns provide corps fires although the former are increasingly rare and should be entirely gone within a couple years. The PLA's adoption of the 155mm calibre was motivated primarily by the range offered by the L45 and subsequent L52 tubes which made it possible for former div arty and corps arty to support a large number of subordinate manoeuvring units at once. Although the 155mm is capable of firing ERFB and rocket-assisted rounds with ranges exceeding 50km, the PLA chooses not to as the dispersion of those rounds is poor. Standard or base-bleed rounds comprise the bulk of PLA massed-fires expenditure. Current systems in service include the PLZ05/A, PLC181, and a few PLZ45s in the PLA Armour Academy.
Rocket artillery primarily come in 122mm and 300mm with limited numbers of 107mm and 370mm. 122mm is mostly organic to brigades and have a maximum range of 40km. 300mm belonged to dedicated LR-MLRS brigades until they were disbanded during the reforms and folded into artillery brigades which were given expanded ISTAR capabilities allowing them to service the 150-180km range of the PHL03s. The 370mm PHL191 with an estimated range of more than 300km and its requisite ISTAR assets are entering service beginning with the 72nd GA's artillery brigade. Large-calibre rocket artillery sees the most PLAGF use of precision munitions and live-fire footage of Beidou-guided and bunker-busting rounds from PHL03s are very common.
For the newer systems, the entire gun or tube-laying process is automated and all relevant data is digitally communicated and processed including firing orders, positions, atmospheric data, radar-captured trajectory parameters, and target status after each salvo. The time from FO requesting a fire mission or CBR detecting enemy rounds to guns firing is typically less than a minute for guns already on standby. For truck-based SPGs, the time from first receiving firing orders while on the march to completion of the firing mission and being on the march again is less than five minutes. The time required for SPGs built on AFV chasses that don't require adjustment of the suspension system and lowering/raising of bracing spades is even less. For the entire duration of the mission, the crew only needs to park the vehicle and load the gun as everything else is automated.
Dedicated anti-tank systems have been since the 1950s and continue to be part of artillery units in the PLA. At the battalion echelon, the AFT11 has just entered service so most battalions still use AFT07s and PF98s. At the brigade echelon, AFT10s have proliferated to a very healthy degree with lower-priority units still operating AFT09s. The AFT10 is an optical fibre-guided NLOS optional man-in-the-loop or fire & forget heavy missile with a 10km range suitable for anti-armour, anti-vehicle and anti-fortification duties, and is also capable of engaging slow low-flying targets. The missile is entirely fibre-guided with no radio-guided portion of flight thus rendering it almost impossible to jam, a capability the PLA considers crucial in a war against opponents with advanced EW systems such as the US and to a lesser degree, the ROK. Gun-based anti-tank systems have been entirely withdrawn from service since 2019.
Direct-FireThe PLAGF direct-fire assault fleet in non-amphibious units totals roughly 4850 vehicles. ZTZ59/79s amount to roughly 500, ZTZ88A/Bs around 350, ZTZ96s around 800, ZTZ96As around 1050, ZTZ99s and 99As both around 500, ZTQ15s around 150, and ZLT11s around 1000. Everything older than ZTZ96A are either obsolete or so worn down from intensive training that they all need to be retired within a decade. The ZTZ59/79s will be the first to go, likely within a couple of years. Their numbers have already fallen drastically in the past three years from ~2500 in early 2017 to roughly 500 today. ZTZ88s will follow shortly as quite a few of them are already serving as placeholders and not tanks. ZTZ96s have been run hard for over twenty years and many vehicles are quite worn, they will likely be replaced by ZTZ96Bs and ZTZ99As. ZTZ96A and ZTZ99 are relatively new, their FCS are fully computerised and compatible with informationisation upgrades; their replacements can wait a while. ZTZ99A and ZTQ15 are currently in production and will remain so for the immediate future.
ZTZ96Bs were previously thought to be unnecessary but the intense wear on ZTZ96s, exacerbated by the latest reforms, means over 1400 tanks need replacing in the immediate future. Furthermore, the restructuring of the Xinjiang divisions strongly suggests there will be an expansion in the tank fleet by 100-400 vehicles, making the actual number of new tanks needed 1500-1800. Having them all be ZTZ99As and ZTQ15s is financially untenable. The ZTZ96Bs will thus play a big role in satisfying this demand. ZTQ15s will populate at least two brigades but more may follow. The Marines also operate the ZTQ15 and will probably expand their fleet as well. ZLT11 and its replacement are being procured to equip the high-mobility 8x8 brigades. Another 350-450 8x8 assault guns are needed to fill the existing ORBAT with more needed for the Marines and possibly also non-manoeuvre units such as border defence and Beijing Guards.
Case Study: ZTQ15The ZTQ15 is arguably the most recognisable component of the PLAGF's equipment modernisation; a great many people who know practically nothing about the PLA or China as a whole nevertheless know the PLA has a new light tank. The ZTQ15 is thus a good case study to illustrate the direction of the PLA's hardware upgrades. It was tailored for operations in hostile environments such as altitudes over 4500m above sea level and soft muddy terrain. Its V8 engine with a bore diameter of 132mm, stroke length of 145mm, and maximum RPM of 2600, outputs 660kW of maximum continuous power, giving the 33t vehicle a PWR of 20kW/t. To overcome the thin air of the Plateau, the engine is equipped with a two-stage turbocharger that minimises power loss. It is also equipped with a warmer to facilitate quick ignition in extremely cold weather. The engine is coupled to a hydro-mechanical automatic transmission together as a powerpack that can be swapped out within half an hour. The suspension is a semi-active torsion bar system sporting electronically controlled viscous dampers with adjustable orifices that are narrowed or widened in real time depending on sensor readings, providing a smoother ride and reducing crew fatigue, important in the oxygen-sparse atmosphere. If the system breaks down, it simply becomes a passive viscous damper that still provides decent ride quality.
Due to its unique operating environment of highly adverse and isolated terrain where resupply and replacements have great difficulty reaching, the ZTQ15 is designed with multipurpose functionality to get as much bang for the buck as possible. Its FCS is integrated with both direct and indirect fire modes, allowing ZTQ15s to stand in for howitzers if needed. This is achieved by equipping the vehicle with high-precision inertial measurement units and Beidou receivers connected via CAN bus to a central computer. This allows its position and orientation in space to be precisely known so that the battalion or brigade fires director can construct an accurate spatial representation of shooters and targets in 3D and accurately plan indirect fires. Another feature enabled by constant position and orientation awareness is that a ZTQ15 can hand over prosecution of a target to another ZTQ15 in the network if it's unable to prosecute the target itself due to, say, a damaged gun or lack of ammo; essentially remote-controlling someone else's gun to shoot whatever it's looking at even if the target is obscured to the shooter vehicle. This is possible because every vehicle in the network knows its position and orientation relative to everyone else, and if one vehicle knows the position of the target in a 3D space, everyone does.
Many of ZTQ15's features such as FCS automation, digital information displays, high-power-density diesel engine, and networked fleet-based combat lay the foundations for the PLA's next-gen MBT. Current in-service FCS already automate target range-finding, tracking, and leading. This leaves the gunner responsible for target acquisition, firing, and damage assessment. When not engaging a target, the gunner is also responsible for scanning the highest-threat sector where the turret is pointed, usually frontal. Further refinement of automation technologies in the next ten years could mean the gunner only has to spot or confirm an enemy and the FCS will do the rest. The commander's communication and scanning functions have also been automated to a large degree. Recent developments in wearable displays and augmented reality technology promises even greater improvements in this field for both the gunner and commander. Drivers too have an increasingly easy time as old unassisted tillers turned into steering wheels while transmissions became smoother then fully automatic. Vehicle parameters that required driver attention have gradually come under the stewardship of electronic control units, freeing up drivers to pay greater attention to their surroundings.
It is thus being seriously considered to merge the gunner and commander into one position and expand the driver's role to include communications and forward sector scanning for the next-gen MBT. The resulting two-man crew can each have an 80cm-wide workspace and be protected by a healthy amount of side armour without the vehicle exceeding 3.5m overall width or be any heavier than existing MBTs. The unmanned turret can be lightly armoured, cutting turret weight by more than ten tonnes which can then be devoted to more armour for the crew. More refined automation and seamless integration and presentation of imagery and data from onboard and offboard sensors could allow the next-gen MBT to have situational awareness superior to today's tanks in spite of a reduction in crew size. The ZTQ15's extensive use of network systems and new information terminals should give Chinese tank designers hard data and operational experience that will help them identify promising approaches for the next-gen MBT. However, successful development of informationisation and automation to a degree sufficient for a two-man crew in a reasonable timeframe is not guaranteed and it's very possible that the next-gen MBT will retain a three-man crew. Regardless, the ZTQ15 is a good indicator of the direction the PLA is taking with their new equipment.