Saturday, March 3, 2012

Improved living conditions on PLAN ships

For the past number of years, China has always made the announcement that it is using the increased defense budget to not only pay for purchases and training, but also to raise the wages and living standard of the armed forces. The latter point often gets ignored by the China threat crowd, but I think it's something important to look at.

Kanwa defence has often talked about the much more significant improvements in the PLA living quarters compared to that of India's armed forces. It really is a stark contrast when one considers the amount of investment both countries spend on procuring new weapons.

The improved wages and living condition of PLA service members is a general reflection on the changing dynamics of the Chinese society. As a result of the vastly improved quality of lives in China, PLA also has to improve its living conditions to attract new recruits. When one considers that PLAN is shifting toward a blue water style navy, PLAN sailors will have to spend longer time away from home than ever before. As with the other three services, PLAN is looking to recruit higher educated and more technologically proficient personnel in order to operate the newer ships that it has been building. The recruitment process cannot be easy for PLAN. Not only does it have to compete with all of the companies around the country, but it also has to compete with the other three services of PLA. There is already a growing population crisis in China due to the extremely tilted male to female ratio of the current generation of youth. The increasingly blue water demand for PLAN will result in longer trips away from home for the sailors. The life style of having to spend long period away from home naval base is not appealing to most young men, who have to think about finding wives. As a result of this, PLAN has moved away from Soviet style of treating sailors like robots to actually allowing sailors to have more enjoyment on ships. If they do not do this, PLAN would have a really hard time to retain the NCOs that it recruited. Chinese news websites have documented the improvements in sleeping areas, seating and food for submarines and other ships that are making long deployments. We have seen pictures of larger basketball courts and improved cafeteria on Type 071 LPDs. The most interesting part of this movement is the commissioning of the No. 88 Life Style ship as shown below.

Since China does not have any official overseas naval base, No. 88 was launched to address crew fatigue. It should also be able to give sailors medical attention. While this is not as luxurious as a cruise ship, it is still quite an interesting ship.

First we have special female cabin with more spaces and head board that can be lowered to become a desk.

Other cabins come in the form of high quality single person cabin, single person cabin, 2 people cabin, 4 people cabin and 6 people cabin. Some cabins apparently also hold retractable hammocks (for additional personnel I guess).

They have the first ever super market on a PLAN ship. Aside from this, they also having automated vending machines.

I think I may have seen work out room like this on Type 071, but this is probably the largest one on any PLAN ships.

It has a full size basketball court on the deck with a 300 meter track around it.

We have a modern conference room that can hold 200 people. With advanced audio visual equipment equipment, this can achieve multiple purposes: to organize cultural and sports party, serve as a maritime cinema. You can also unicom via video transmission system to the main compartment of the ship with a remote network information sharing.

It has a large multipurpose cafeteria.

And finally, it even has a cafe on board.

So, the living conditions on PLAN is definitely improving. While this "life style" ship is an anomaly, we should see more living style improvements and food quality improvements on PLAN war ships in the future. That not only increases the morale of sailors, but also will help PLAN recruit and retain college grads.