China — PLA Special Operations Forces (english version)




Each of the PLA’s sev­en MR has a “Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Group”, which is the size of Army reg­i­ment with about 1,000~2,000 men organ­ised into three bat­tal­ions. Each bat­tal­ion has its own head­quar­ters and sup­port unit. Their oper­a­tions are usu­al­ly in com­pa­ny strength (70~100) or small­er teams. Each of the SOF unit has a unique code­name. For exam­ples, the SOF unit of the Guangzhou MR is known as “Sharp Sword of South­ern Chi­na”, and that of the Nan­jing MR “The Fly­ing Dragons”.


Sinodefence -  SOF in Exercise: A SOF team in combat training exercise (Source: Chinese Internet)
SOF in Exer­cise: A SOF team
in com­bat train­ing exer­cise
(Source: Chi­nese Internet)


Offi­cial­ly, the PLA does not have a uni­fied com­mand like the U.S. Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand (USSOCOM) for spe­cial oper­a­tions, but the Intel­li­gence Depart­ment (2nd Depart­ment) of the PLA Gen­er­al Staff Depart­ment may serve as a gen­er­al direc­tor for SOF and spe­cial forces war­fare doc­trines devel­op­ment. The SOF units are also believed to be close­ly asso­ci­at­ed with the intel­li­gence depart­ment of the sev­en MRHQs.

One impor­tant move since 2003 in the PLA SOF devel­op­ment is that the com­mand of the SOF units has been trans­ferred from MRHQs to the head­quar­ters of some group armies (GA). For exam­ple, the SOF unit of the Bei­jing MR is now direct­ly organ­ic to the head­quar­ters of the 38th Group Army. The SOF unit of Cheng­du MR is now direct­ly organ­ic to the 13th Group Army.


Table: PLA Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Forces Units

Mil­i­tary RegionOrgan­ic to Group ArmyCode­nameNote
Bei­jing MR38th GADivine SwordEstab­lished in the ear­ly 1990s
Shenyang MR39th GATigers of Northeast 
Lanzhou MR Tigers of the Night 
Jinan MR54th GAEagle 
Nan­jing MR Fly­ing DragonsEstab­lished in late 1992.
Guangzhou MR42nd GASharp Sword of South­ern ChinaEstab­lished in 1988 as the PLA’s first ded­i­cat­ed SOF unit, and was lat­er expand­ed in 2000 to become the first PLA SOF unit capa­ble of air‑, sea‑, and land-operations
Cheng­du MR13th GAFal­cons of SouthwestEstab­lished in 1992. Exper­i­men­tal unit for digi­tised army and air­borne mechan­i­cal troops technologies

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