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Research Questions

  1. How is C2 exercised in the U.S. Navy and the PLA Navy?
  2. How are these C2 concepts reflective of service culture?
  3. How do these C2 structures support or challenge each nation's shift to new maritime missions?

As China pursues its rise as a global power, it is incrementally orienting its People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy toward power projection missions. At the same time, the U.S. Navy is working to enhance its capabilities to conduct counter-power projection missions. Command and control (C2) in naval competition presents one lens with which to view these evolving missions. Mission command, a pillar of the U.S. Navy's culture for centuries, is central to its execution of power projection missions: leaders throughout the command chain are disciplined, apprised of their commander's intent, and empowered to make decisions and execute actions. Historically, the PLA Navy has utilized a C2 system that reflects the Chinese Communist Party's authoritarian rule and overall culture, which is fundamentally different from that of the U.S. Navy. The PLA Navy operates under tightly managed C2 — better described as control and command — that allows for little delegation of authority or independent action. The U.S. Navy and the PLA Navy are both likely to face challenges as they shift to new maritime missions unless they adapt their existing concepts of C2. The authors identified key questions about China's shift toward power projection that require additional examination. What is more valuable to China: the ability to project power globally or retaining its rigid control and command system? Will the PLA Navy's increased experience and professional development affect the trust placed in PLA Navy personnel by senior PLA commanders? How will increased PLA Navy professionalism affect control and command? Would the Chinese Communist Party tolerate a PLA Navy that is more empowered to make independent decisions? And, would a shift by the PLA Navy to a mission command approach be a threat to the United States?

Key Findings

The U.S. Navy and the PLA Navy will likely be challenged to fully shift to new strategic postures if they do not adapt their existing concepts of C2

  • The U.S. Navy's model of mission command appears conducive to counter-power projection missions in theory, but success will likely require increased investments in education and professionalism across the force.
  • The PLA Navy's rigid control and command structure is likely to come under increasing strain given the relative independence and greater operations tempo required by power projection operations.
  • Currently, many unknowns exist, particularly in understanding how PLA Navy culture is evolving and how the Chinese Communist Party might weigh its preferred method of tight control throughout the PLA against more-effective power projection efforts.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense's Office of Net Assessment and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute.

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