CMSI China Maritime Reports



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“Above-the-neck” reforms in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) that began in 2015 directed the development of a new joint operational command system that resulted in commensurate changes to PLA Navy submarine force command and control. Additional changes to tactical submarine command and control were driven by the evolution and expansion of PLA Navy surface and airborne capabilities and the introduction of new longer-range submarine weapons. Follow-on “below-theneck” reforms inspired significant organizational change across most of China’s military services. However, the PLA Navy submarine force, for its part, did not reorganize its command structure but instead focused on significant improvements to the composition and quality of its force. Between 2017 and 2023, the PLA Navy submarine force engaged in a notable transformation, shuffling personnel and crews among twenty-six submarines—eleven newly commissioned and fifteen since retired—relocating in-service submarines to ensure an equitable distribution of newer, more capable submarines across the fleet. Observations of infrastructure improvements at PLA Navy submarine bases portend even more changes to submarine force structure in the coming years.

Publication Date

June, 2023


China Maritime Studies Institute, U.S Naval War College


Newport, Rhode Island


China, China Maritime Studies Institute, CMSI, People’s Liberation Army, PLAN, organizational, submarine

China Maritime Report No. 28: Bitterness Ends, Sweetness Begins: Organizational Changes to the PLAN Submarine Force Since 2015