The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is the world’s largest standing army, and incorporates the Chinese air, naval and nuclear forces as well as the ground forces. The total number of personnel in the PLA is currently about 2.25 million troops on active duty, plus a reserve force of more than 7 million and another 1.5 million paramilitary forces.
China’s ground forces, of approximately 1.6 million personnel, is the largest component of the PLA (approximately 70% of its total manpower). The regular forces of the ground forces consist of 18 group armies, which are corps-size combined arms units each with 30,000~65,000 personnel. Also included in the ground forces roster are three airborne divisions which are manned by the PLA Air Force (PLAAF), and two marine brigades of the PLA Navy (PLAN). Precise information about China’s special operations forces is slightly more difficult to obtain.
Beginning in the 1980s, the PLA has been trying to transform itself from a land-based power, centered on a vast ground force, to a smaller, mobile, high-tech military capable of mounting defensive operations beyond its coastal borders. While much of the PLA ground force was being reduced over the past few years, advanced and specialised units such as special operations forces, helicopters, surface-to-air missile, and electronic warfare units have all been rapidly expanded.
Often called “the roof of the world,” Tibet occupies about 471,700 square miles of the plateaus and mountains of Central Asia, including Mount Everest. On October 1, 1949, the People’s Republic of China was formally proclaimed in Beijing and the following year launched an armed invasion of Tibet. When China’s People’s Liberation Army invaded, Tibet was an independent state.
Often seen in use by the Chinese Army in Tibet is an interesting camouflage uniform with a pattern apparently copied directly from the German 5-colour Flecktarn. Because of its association with the PLA in Tibet and Flecktarn, the pattern is often called “Tibet-tarn” by western collectors. However, according to Kamouflage.net, its official name is “Type 03 Plateau Pattern” and it is in fact used by all units of the Chinese Army based in semi-arid, high / mountainous regions.
Most likely, the pattern was copied from Flecktarn material produced in commercial Chinese factories – as the pattern is identical – only the colours have been altered. In the Type 03 camo, the dark green areas of Flecktarn has been replaced with sage green, the olive-grey areas of Flecktarn have been replaced with red-ochre, and the light green areas of Flecktarn have been replaced with a khaki/sand colour. The black areas of Flecktarn have been retained, and the red-brown areas of Flecktarn have been replaced with mid-brown. At any rate, it is certainly an interesting and unique camouflage pattern that works well in the areas it is intended for. It also works very well as a late autumn and winter pattern in those temperate woodland areas where Flecktarn works well during the spring and summer.
Type 03 Highland Uniform
The uniform is designed to be worn as an over-garment over a standard fatigue uniform or insulating under clothes, so it is cut quite roomy and simply. Furthermore, the material is relatively hard-wearing ploy-cotton twill very similar in weight and weave to the German Flecktarn combat uniform.
The jacket features:
- 2 waist level cargo pockets
- 1 chest pocket (left side, vertical zip)
- Zip-closing front, with snap-closing wind flap
- Waist drawstring
- Stand-up collar
- Elasticised, Velcro-fastening wrists
The trousers feature:
- Zip-closing fly
- Button-closing waist
- 2 hip-level slash pockets
- 1 cargo pocket (right thigh)
- Button-tab adjustable ankles
There is also a helmet cover, boonie hat and load-carrying battle vest available in this camouflage pattern.
Commercial Reproduction Uniform
If you try to buy one of the issue uniforms, you will quickly find that they are generally as hard to find as the proverbial rocking horse droppings. Because of this, there is a commercial reproduction of the uniform which has become available in limited numbers. The commercial reproduction is identical to the issue uniform in all respects – except one. The commercial version is made from lightweight rip-stop material. There is no label to identify the type of fabric used, but it feels like it is most likely a poly-cotton mix – of rather thin and flimsy quality. There is a Chinese flag and “People’s Liberation Army” scroll insignia included on the reproduction uniform, but these are easily removed.
Felix Tactik FXT/B BDU and Anorak
More recently, Felix Tactik, a small Canadian-based custom BDU maker, produced a limited run of their FXT/B BDU and Anorak from authentic issue-quality cloth. This is more of a proper, modern combat uniform than either the issue Type 03 or its commercial reproduction – and it includes some very useful and innovative features (especially in the case of the Anorak).
The BDU jacket and trousers are inspired by the original Crye R6 pattern – but with some additional features and modifications – so you know what you’re getting will be very functional. The side-opening access to the chest pockets, and double-stacked arm pockets, are especially nice.
The Anorak is a very nice piece of kit and picks up with other designs have left off. For starters, it features many more useful pockets on the chest, arms and belly areas – as well as MOLLE loops and a velcro patch. Also very useful are the kidney pouches and H2O bladder carrier round the back. The adjustable hood is a particularly nice design – most notably, it has a number of eyelets sewn into the ear areas to allow for better hearing when the hood is up (similar to Soviet/Russian scout/sniper overalls). It could be cut slightly looser and longer through the body, but otherwise its a very nice piece of kit. Well, I helped consult on the design – so of course it is. 😉
Unfortunately, Felix Tactik has gone out of business since this article was originally written.