Throughout the modern War on Terror, the United States has increasingly relied on its special operations troops to conduct a wide variety of combat operations. And as China has worked to modernize its People’s Liberation Army into a force that can stand toe to toe with the West, it’s taken notice of how effective this sort of war fighters can be. While China’s first “special forces” units were established in the 1990s, the 2000s saw a surge in emphasis on special operations troops, to the point that now every People’s Liberation Army Group has its own dedicated special forces unit attached to it.
In 2002, China even founded their own equivalent to the Navy SEALs, known as the Jiaolong, or “Water Dragons.” Unlike much of China’s sprawling but slow-moving military, the Jialong has seen some action in recent years: they were called on to evacuate foreign nationals from Yemen in 2015 and to re-capture a hijacked freighter in the Gulf of Aden in 2017. The PLA’s Air Force now also has its own SOF unit comprised of elite paratroopers known as Leishen, or “Thunder Gods.”
Over this last summer China put its special operations troops through a series of exercises that, while featuring a number of SOF staples for the press, like conducting night-time raids and the like, was likely really about determining how effective China’s SOF command and control elements can be in a realistic combat environment. The former is good for motivational (propaganda) videos like this one below, while the latter is essential for preparing for a technologically advanced opponent like China would find in the West.