Helmet: 1,580 yuan
Camouflage Tactical Vest: 280 yuan
Backpack: 185 yuan
FMJ08 Gas Mask: 380 yuan
Type 95 Automatic Rifle: 4,300 yuan
Camouflage Gloves: 95 yuan
Woven Belt: 95 yuan
Satchel: 95 yuan
Individual Combat Ration: 30 yuan
Rain Coat: 160 yuan
Woodland Camouflage Clothing: 157 yuan
Kettle: 165 yuan
First Aid Kit: 50 yuan
Combat Boots: 320 yuan
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has caught up with the “big weapon” and “large equipment” times but what about its soldiers’ individual equipment? Individual equipment is not only related to the interests of soldiers, but also will affect the outcome of the war to a certain extent."
“808.2 billion Yuan (US$131.33 billion)! ”
Liu Yaguo, director of the logistic department of an air defense brigade of the PLA, knows everything about the number of this year’s military budget of the brigade. But when asked: “How much does a soldier’s individual equipment cost?” Liu kept scratching his head.
Since 2008, there are claims from the Western research institutes that China's military spending went up to the second place in the world. But in fact, the second place did not bring Chinese soldiers more sense of security.
According to news report from the Xinhua News Agency in March 2014, China’s military spending increased 88 billion Yuan (US$14.3 billion) this year, while the soldiers’ individual equipment cost which is related to the life and death on the battlefield remained the same as what was five years ago.
In 2014, the U.S. military spending is almost five times than that of China. However, the U.S. soldiers’ individual equipment cost is over ten times than that of China.
According to estimation from the reporter, the cost of a set of PLA soldier’s standard individual equipment at battlefield only equals two entry-level iPhone6. But the cost of a set of U.S. soldier’s standard individual equipment at battlefield equals to the value of a mid-level car, almost the price of 20 high-level iPhone6.
So the question is, “How is in the PLA soldiers’ individual equipment?”
In 1994, the QGF02 helmet, China's first non-metallic helmet was successfully developed. The material of the helmet is Kevlar, featuring a lower weight but high anti-bomb rate. In an experiment conducted by China’s military, the QGF02 helmet outperformed the U.S. military's PASGT helmet.
As the helmet becomes soft, the PLA’s combat thought is also changing. No head-on, but focus more on strategies including “keeping a low profile” and “overcoming hardness by softness”.
One of the most significant changes on the battlefield in the new century is the high degree of information in soldiers’ individual equipment. But apparently, the QGF02 helmet was not designed to adapt to the change, and there are no default interfaces for electronic equipment and fixtures while the U.S. PASGT helmet has. It is just a helmet. “A helmet that only has the lowest level of protection”, said a military fan.
However, even though the QGF02 helmet was developed 20 years ago, it is still the advanced equipments for a minority of soldiers. Two years ago, the company where Soldier Wang Fujian serves was equipped with this “new type of helmet”. Soldiers of other companies were very jealous.
“It's a lot more comfortable than the old helmet.” When Wang Fujian’s cervical vertebra enjoyed the comfortableness from the 1,580-yuan helmet, he was about to bid farewell to the barracks.
Wang Fujian, a soldier who has joined the army for 16 years, still loves the GK80 helmet. And for those veterans who had participated in the 1979 border war of self-defense, GK80 is a belated “savior”.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the helmet is considered as “equipment of the weak” and was not included in the list of armaments for Chinese soldiers.
Thus, in the 1979 border war of self-defense, PLA soldiers without helmet paid a terrible price: death rate caused by head and neck injuries reached 50.8 percent, 1.6 times than that of U.S. soldiers in the World War II.
The blood of these soldiers prompted the development and production of the PLA’s first helmet “GK80”, which was rushed to the battlefield for soldiers. In the subsequent battles, GK80 helmet has significantly lowered the PLA’s casualty rate.
The GK80 helmet uses bullet-proof steel and weighs 1.25 kg. Every time a soldier wears the helmet, it feels like he is putting three bottles of mineral water on his head.
The weight can reduce battlefield mortality but increase the probability of cervical vertebra injury in training fields.
In addition, although the thermal effect of the steel is convenient for soldiers to use the helmet as cooking pot in wartime, but in the summer and winter, it might become a disaster. And it is easy to become the enemy’s target of shooting.
In the wave of information warfare, the PLA finally upgraded its helmets into "information module helmet" with interfaces and fixtures. But at this time, the U.S. military has been considering how to make the helmet more intelligent and how to make the helmets the "second brain" of soldiers.
Keep the “root”
In the soldiers’ individual equipment system, body armor is more important than the helmet. The generation gap in helmet between China and the U.S. also appears in the body armor.
In 1997 when China's military committed to spend big money for PLA Hong Kong Garrison for better equipment, they only found that PLA soldiers don’t even have body armor which is very common in most countries.
Later, the PLA’s Quartermaster Equipment Institute conducted experiments on the body armor bought from foreign countries and finally produced the “patron saint” body armor of its own.
However, the body armor is still very mysterious to grassroots officers and men of the PLA.
“Body armor? I do not know if our unit has that. Currently our company does not give it to us,” said a company commander on the phone. Wang Fujian experienced the bulletproof vest for only once and that was in the end of 2013.
However, in the international market, China’s body armor is famous for its low price and reliable performance. Compared to an average price of $800 for foreign body armor, China’s body armor is only $499, which makes it extremely competitive.
Today, China is the largest exporter of body armor. China is the third country that has the one-stop production of body armor, from raw materials to production, after Netherlands and the United States.
Statistics showed that 80 percent of all deaths on the battlefield are caused by stray bullets and shrapnel. With the body armor, stray bullets and shrapnel can be effectively blocked and 58 percent of the casualty rate can be reduced. Since the effect is so significant, why it is difficult for Chinese soldiers to wear body armor?
Cui Xianwei, instructor of a joint logistics division of the PLA, argued that it is not about money, rather, it is about the idea. In a team where the spirit of soldiers is stressed, the plethora of protective equipment will consume soldiers’ strength and also weaken the soldiers’ fighting spirits. “Some leaders think that it is too indulgent to wrap soldiers with too many equipment.”
“Soldier’s individual protective equipment should be much more important than the cannon,” said Liu Honghui, an equipment assistant. “If a soldier on the battlefield has the body armor and the helmet, then, psychologically speaking, he will feel a sense of security. This is good for the soldier and can provide confidence for him. This does not conflict with the fighting spirit.”
Liu’s view has been recognized by a PLA political officer. "We educate soldiers that we shall neither fear hardship nor death. But if we provide him with advanced protective equipment, he will feel very assured and as a result, he will have more confidence to win the war.” The introduction of body armor is not only a care for life, but also the protection of combat effectiveness.
In recent years, due to the need from the battlefield, the U.S. soldiers are equipped with knee pads, elbow pads, mask and wind glasses, in addition to helmets, gas masks and body armor.
Now, in order to eliminate the complaint from the U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan that “we have helmet for head protection and the body armor, but nothing for our lower body”, the Pentagon provided each soldier with a bulletproof underwear to help them keep the “root”.
A soldier’s equipment list (Picture by Xiang Chun)
Underwear: 18 yuan
Socks: 10 yuan
Training Shoes: 68 yuan
Quilt: 280 yuan
Mattress: 95 yuan
Sheet: 55 yuan
Pillow: 45 yuan
Hat: 15 yuan
Collar Badge: 18 yuan
Soft Label: 10 yuan
Arm Badge: 24 yuan
Desert Camouflage Clothing: 178 yuan
Camouflage Coat: 500 yuan
Waistband: 120 yuan
Tooth Cup: 12 yuan
Towel: 12 yuan
Triangular Binder: 13 yuan
Washbasin: 18 yuan
"Liberate" the Liberation Army
A 95 rifle that costs about 4,300 yuan (US$698.75) is the most expensive equipment for Wang Fujian. This price is lower than that of an iPhone6 which the soldiers have been talking about these days, but it does not stop the soldiers from loving the 95 rifle.
"It is so cool! It just makes you look very much like a special operation member!" The soldiers like the 95 rifle, because it is "much cooler" than the 81 rifle that has been popular for 30 years.
Of course, the fascinating 95 rifle is more than beautiful. In terms of the gun design, the U.S. military requires a gun to be able to kill the enemy from the longest distance possible, while the former Soviet Union emphasized a weapon's durability so as to launch continuous attacks. The 95 rifle has combined both the American-style and the Soviet-style design concepts, so to speak, and is more accurate and reliable in operation.
The 95 rifle has been among the top chat topics of the soldiers since Wang Fujian joined the army, only second to the topic of pay rise. He had thought that he would leave the army only with a bullet shell of the 95 rifle and regret. Fortunately, he had the opportunity of carrying a 95 rifle on his chest before he left the military barracks.
Though he had touched the 95 rifle that he had been earnestly longing for, Wang Fujian was not happy. In his eyes, the undersized trigger guard alone would lead to a fatal defect of the 95 rifle in an actual combat.
"It's acceptable for those soldiers in tropic zones and temperate zones, but for those in Tsitsihar of Heilongjiang Province who wear thick cold weather gloves and perform duties under the temperature of minus 40 degrees centigrade or lower, the designer has given them a tough choice. Should they take off their gloves?"
Such problems are not exclusive to guns.
To carry such articles as grenade bag, haversack, chest ammunition container, gas mask bag, canteen, knapsack and fire arms, a soldier may need to put a dozen of shoulder straps on his shoulder.
These straps not only interfere with each other, but also need to be readjusted if the soldier needs to take a sip of water, which is "like a nightmare" for the old soldiers of that generation.
Before the 1990s, there was no such thing as design for the outfit of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA), not to mention human engineering or system engineering. However, individual outfits not only should ensure carrying of supplies, but also guarantee that the soldier's movements are not hampered.
"The things you carry will not fall to the ground while you run, and you can take out what you need quickly and accurately. It is not easy to achieve this goal, which is very challenging," said Ma Baoming, head of Military Affairs Section of a PLA troop.
The PLA soldiers have typical military review images, such as straight posture and raised chest, but they have a motley variety of combat dressing and do not have a unified image, and there is no military standard for individual outfits, a military officer of Combined Service Force Department told the reporter.
In the eyes of those professionals who care about the development of military equipment, the PLA has long been focusing on "strengthening national defense research and development of high-tech weapons and equipment", which has had an impact on the development of individual outfits.
"It's necessary to develop high-tech weapons and equipment," said Ma Baoming. "China’s main weapons and main equipment have caught up with those of the top countries, but what about our individual equipment? It not only concerns soldiers' vital interests, but affects the outcome of a war to some extent," he added.
Changes are taking place now, little by little. The 07-style carrying outfit developed by the PLA is liberating the soldiers of a new generation. The number of ropes that used to tie a soldier has been cut from a dozen to less than five, and Wang Fujian's recruits will no longer have to suffer the pain of "being tied up".
Old soldier's new suit
Wang Fujian recently joined a "large-scale collaborative exercise" in Ningxia organized by a PLA Military Area Command (MAC), which is his farewell to the army.
For this time, Wang Fujian is sure that he would not be as awkward as when he was a recruit in that emergency muster. He will not have to worry about the rope of his big underpants which would loosen suddenly but could never be untied when he wants to answer the call of nature. Now the soldiers have put on more comfortable and breathable underpants which, above all, have the elastic cord.
He no longer has to worry that his knapsack which is packed in a hurry would abruptly break up during a rapid march. Though the new knapsack still has some way to go before it meets the body mechanics requirements, at least there are no a dozen of ropes which tie him like a zongzi (a traditional Chinese rice-pudding).
All he gets is 4 ropes, which are for the canteen, gas mask, gun belt and haversack respectively. At the bottom of the knapsack is the raincoat which not only prevents bedclothes getting wet, but also can be used as the chemical-proof suit.
At the outer side of Wang Fujian's knapsack are two pockets in which slippers and rubber shoes are put. On the two sides of the body are the haversack, canteen and gas mask.
The combat serviceable items are at the right side due to actual combat consideration, and fortunately Wang Fujian is not a lefty. The canteen has changed its appearance three times over the past 16 years, but still has no straw, which means soldiers still have to keep their heads up to drink water, and that gives away their positions more easily.
New camouflage clothing, new haversack, new helmet, new weapon, new ammunition carrier, new army boots... everything is new at the end of the army life, except for Wang Fujian himself.
For now, he is the oldest soldier in the company. The company commander in front of him who graduated from a military academy only four years ago may be considered as a "recruit", as compared with him who has served the army for 16 years.
Fully armed, Wang Fujian's whole body from the inside out is of the military quality and worth about 9,387 yuan (US$1525.39). He has to lead other 7 soldiers to keep up with the troop, because his helmet is not equipped with the micro radio equipment, speaker or earphone like that of an U.S. soldier.
There are no radio sets either. For the whole company, there are only two radio sets which are used by the company commander and political instructor to keep in touch with the higher authority. Up to this day, "communication basically relies on yelling", just like the situation 16 years ago, only that it is a childish recruit who yells this time.
Even an 80-yuan compass can not be found inside Wang Fujian's pocket. Only few people in the squad have such compass. The antitank grenade, which costs 380 yuan each, is not deployed on a large scale because it is used only in actual combats. In the command post behind him is the only one night-vision device, and he looks as if he has nothing on as a result of the optical effect.
There is still a long list of what he hasn't got: glare flashlight, night-vision device, wireless communication equipment, knee pad, elbow pad, exercise and training bag, bulletproof underpants, silencer, optical sight…