Red Letters #3
Why does the People’s Liberation Army use steel casings for ammunition instead of copper/brass? Does it affect accuracy?
China uses steel casings because of the following:
Steel is much cheaper than brass.
Steel cased ammo can be stored for decades as long as anti-rust measures are followed.
Steel cased ammo is extremely difficult to reload on your own, so no indigenous Chinese insurgency would be able to collect casings and generate their own ammo.
That being said, steel casings have the following disadvantages:
High friction, leading to more jams and rougher weapon cycling.
High friction, leading to more wear in the firearm.
Rust if not properly stored.
Not as accurate as brass cased ammo fired from a weapon designed to use brass cased ammo.
The majority of the ammo held in the PLA War Reserve Material Requirement (WRMR) is likely DBP95 (弹步抢普通/ Cartridge, Infantry Rifle, Standard) 5.8x42mm, with a steel casing and a layer of dark brown paint for slightly less friction and rust mitigation. The majority of ammo in active use is likely DBP10 and DBP10A, both 5.8mm and both steel casing. The former has a lacquer outer layer for less friction, and the latter has a copper wash layer for even less friction. Ammo being issued with the new service rifle (QBZ-191) is said to have a “new casing” (CN). However, as of April 2022, it looks like it is still a steel case. This is a guess, but maybe it is a polymer-coated steel case that allows for a low cost round that cycles more like brass.
As a final note, the designated marksman and snipers are issued different rounds that utilize an all-brass casing.
Is China’s military training really that outdated?
The short answer is that we do not know. Their publicized training seems inadequate, but this brings up two questions.
Are publicized training videos real?
It is likely that PLA videos show real training. With that said, much of it seems scripted and the training shown indicates a lack of mastery of the basics. The “hype reels” that the PLA makes are almost certainly for recruiting purposes.
How good is the PLA’s training compared to that of the US?
Training in basic skills is almost certainly behind the US, but aside from this we can’t look at US v PLA training as an apples to apples comparison. Instead, we should look at training as it enables capability. This becomes a serious problem when it comes to the PLA’s ability to conduct joint operations in a littoral environment and their ability to conduct amphibious operations. While the US holds the crown for amphibious operations in the past, this may not be the case in the future.
Broadly speaking, training in the US is meant to prepare US troops for a variety of contingencies. This is one of the reasons why there are so many schools and additional programs within the various services. The PLA does not need to do this to the same extent because they are likely only gearing up for a Taiwan contingency. Mountain and desert training is still important, but these are secondary or tertiary efforts. As a result, the PLA only needs training that will allow them to accomplish their incredibly narrow mission set and they are dramatically improving in this regard.
Is China’s command capable of conducting military operations that could mimic the success of the Gulf War?
MImicking the US success in the 1991 Gulf War is a tall order. First, the US AirLand Battle doctrine was truly revolutionary and well thought out. The US then had the time to train on that doctrine and had an excellent NCO corps to implement it. Additionally, US generals and admirals at the time were nearly all Vietnam veterans with combat experience far more serious than Iraq/Afghanistan under their belt. On top of all this, President HW Bush was a combat veteran himself and had hugely experienced advisors.
Then , HW Bush assembled a huge coalition, stuck to very limited objectives, and secured victory in 100 hours. It’s a truly remarkable piece of strategy and statesmanship, which is why it so deeply affected the PRC and likely kickstarted their military buildup.
The PRC does not have the same deep bench of experience and is almost certainly incapable of assembling a coalition that will assist them in achieving their no-so-limited strategic objectives.
Is China aware of how vulnerable they are in regards to energy and food imports?
Every great power is acutely aware of their strengths and limitations in regards to wartime autarky. The PRC has an entire government department, the 国家粮食和物资储备局 / National Food and Strategic Reserves Administration whose entire purpose is to manage China’s reserves of food and energy. The CCP officials of this organization declared that China maintains massive food and energy reserves. It is hard to measure the veracity of these claims, but it must be expected that China has at least a year if not years of reserves available. This is especially the case when the CCP can simply decide not to feed a part of the population. Additionally, a major dimension of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is to construct food and energy networks supplying China over land, which cannot be cut off by a US Navy blockade.
In contrast, the US is well endowed with the mighty Mississippi River network, the largest and most productive area of farmland in the world. Also, the US is self-sufficient in energy production, though processing could get complex when attempting to match grades of oil to the correct processing equipment under wartime conditions.
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