It is the right time for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to implement the Master Chief System, said Cai Shichuan, researcher from the Institute for Army Building under the National Defense University (NDU).
The reform on Master Chief System in the PLA achieved some results last year. To further understand the PLA’s non-commissioned officer (NCO) system, our reporter interviewed Cai Shichuan on January 21, 2014.
Reporter: In some foreign militaries, non-commissioned officers that train and manage soldiers are called "master sergeant", while they are called "master chief" in the PLA. What is the difference between their responsibilities? In what aspects did the PLA make explorations in the Master Chief System?
Cai Shichuan: In the headquarters at various levels of the militaries in many countries, there is a master sergeant who serves as the assistant to the commander as well as the consultant for soldiers. Master sergeant is the direct manager and leader of the soldiers, equivalent of the "master chief" of the PLA.
Since the establishment of the non-commissioned officer system in 1978, the PLA has been constantly adjusting and improving the military service period, military rank setting, the staffing standards, treatment standards, selection procedures, management mechanism and placement channels of the non-commissioned officers. In general, the system has encouraged non-commissioned officers to join and play more important roles in the army building.
In fact, some grassroots troops of the PLA have explored the establishment of "master chief" for over a decade. At the end of last century, a destroyer flotilla of the PLA Navy began to trial the "master chief" system by referring to the management model of foreign militaries. In early 2014, the general headquarters of the PLA authorized a mechanized infantry brigade under the Beijing Military Area Command (MAC) and an infantry brigade under Shenyang MAC to pilot the Master Chief System.
By the end of 2014, 36 outstanding non-commissioned officers at the pilot infantry brigade of the Shenyang MAC were appointed as battalion master chiefs, marking the official appointment of the first group of master chiefs in the PLA.
Reporter: Does the implementation of the Master Chief System indicate that the PLA will take the path of building a professional army?
Cai Shichuan: The implementation of the Master Chief System is an inevitable requirement for building a professional army. Piloting the system aims to explore how to implement the Master Chief System scientifically and efficiently, rather than test whether the system is feasible or not.
According to the pilot results, first, the Master Chief System can ease burdens for grassroots officers so that they can concentrate on tactics and commanding matters. Second, the System helps to enhance the sense of honor among non-commissioned officers (NCO) and make the NCO group more attractive. Third, the System can expand the development space for non-commissioned officers. Fourth, the system can provide conditions for the further reform of the officer team of the PLA.
When the master chief takes some duties and posts from the officers, the latter can seize chances to transform and improve their competency. It is conducive for the PLA to downsize its huge officer teams, optimize its military strength structure and cut down its labor costs.
Reporter: The PLA just started the implementation of the Master Chief System. What are the issues and problems to be solved in the future?
Cai Shichuan: First, how to define the role of a master chief, how to clarify his responsibilities and his relations with the unit officers? The relationship between a unit officer and a master chief is like that between a chief physician and a head nurse in the hospital.
The second is how to reasonably determine the benefits of a master chief. At present, the basic salaries for non-commissioned officers consist of the level salary and service salary. The highest level non-commissioned officer is paid as much as that for a regiment level officer. We may consider introducing duty salary and post allowance for master chief at different levels, so as to improve their living standards.
The third is how to promote the Master Chief System. We can establish battalion master chief and then establish higher level master chiefs. We can spend five to ten years in cultivating and selecting the master chiefs of different services in the PLA, in order to achieve a hierarchical Master Chief System.