Beginning in late November 2015, the PLA began to make a series of announcements about beginning to implement the long awaited major PLA structural reforms. Since these first announcements, rumors abound about changes to the ranks and grades system, a new joint officer management system, further force reductions, and further planned reorganizations, such as a reduction in the number of group armies in the PLA Army, and a renumbering of the remaining group armies. Below and on the linked pages we have gathered information about the known reforms that have already taken place.
These reforms include a restructure of the CMC and national headquarters, the reorganization of the standing theater-level commands from Military Regions (MR) into Theatre Commands (TC), and changes to the military services resulting in service headquarters focused on a army-building (建军), or a "man, train, and equip" mission in a new PLA command system described as: "军委管总，战区主战，军种主建 [CMC Manages Over-all, Theater Commands master over operations, service headquarters master of army-building]."
Full details of the final resulting PLA structure continues to evolve, but many elements are known, and the general direction of some others can be assessed with enough certainty to make looking at the changes now, even before they have been fully implemented, worth while for PLA researchers.
Prior to the announced reforms, the major elements of PLA structure from National leadership, to the basic campaign-capable military unit of the PLA (Juntuan, 军团, legion or campaign-capable organization) could be described as depicted in the graphic below:
2016 PLA Reform Vocab List:
中国人民解放军[中國人民解放軍] Zhong1guo2 Ren2min2 Jie3fang4jun1 Chinese People's Liberation Army; CPLA; PLA. This term, Chinese People's Liberation Army or PLA, refers to the armed forces of the People's Republic of China (PRC). Note: While the term 中国人民解放军 is translated using the term "Army" in English, in Mandarin there is no specific "Army [陆军]" or ground force connotation, instead the term uses a more generalized "jun [军]", referring to all military forces. When used without a modifier, the term PLA most often refers collectively to all elements of the armed forces of China, specifically: the Central Military Commission (CMC), it's 15 departments and organs (see 中央军委机关 or 15职能部门), the five primary services (see 军种), the five strategic zones (五大战略区), and all affiliated organizations and units.
The Old CMC-GHQ System:
军委总部制[軍委總部制] Jun1wei3 Zong3bu4 Zhi4 CMC-GHQ System. An abbreviation (简称) for 中央军事委员会和四大总制度部 (Central Military Commission and Four General Departments System). Prior to the PLA military reforms began on 31 December 2015, the term referred generally to the national military leadership of the CMC and General Headquarters. Following the construction of the 15 department CMC, and the dissolution of the Four General Departments system, the term is being used to describe the former PLA national leadership structure, as opposed to the new system referred to as the "军委机关制" (CMC-Organ System).
四大总部[四大總部] si4da4 zong3bu4 The Four General Departments; General Headquarters. A collective term referring to the four general departments which prior to 2016 served as the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), under the Central Military Commission. Following reform of the CMC and General Headquarters in January 2016, the four general departments were replaced by the "multi-department CMC organization system" (军委机关多部门制), consisting of 15 functional departments (15职能部门) of the new expanded Central Military Commission. The four general departments of the previous system were: the General Staff Department (GSD, 总参谋部), the General Political Department (GPD, 总政治部), the General Logistics Department (GLD, 总后勤部), and the General Armaments Department (GAD, 总装备部). Also known as the General Headquarters (GHQ), see 总部.
The New CMC-Organ System:
军委机关制[軍委機關制] Zhong1yang1 Jun1wei3 Ji1guan1 zhi4 CMC Organ System. Beginning in January 2016, the organization of the PLA national leadership and headquarters changed from the CMC-GHQ System to the CMC-Organ System. With that announcement the organization of the national headquarters began to transition from the system of a CMC and a separate General Headquarters (GHQ, 总部) made up of Four General Departments (see 四大总部), to a system of a consolidated CMC and headquarters made up of multiple functional departments of the CMC. The new CMC Organization (see 中央军委机关) has 15 departments or organizations (see 15职能部门) that report directly to the Central Military Commission.
Services of the PLA:
军种[軍種] jun1zhong3 military services. Services of the armed forces (Army 陆军, Navy 海军, Air Force 空军, etc.). Since November 2015, the PLA has five services: PLA Army (陆军, PLAA); PLA Navy (海军, PLAN); PLA Air Force (空军， PLAAF); PLA Rocket Force (火箭军, PLARF); and the PLA Strategic Support Forces (战略支援部队, 战支部队, PLASSF).
Theater Command Reform, from MR to TC:
East Theatre Command; ETC: 东部战区
Southern Theatre Command; STC: 南部战区
Western Theatre Command; WTC: 西部战区
Northern Theatre Command; NTC: 北部战区
Central Theatre Command; CTC: 中部战区
中央军委机关[中央軍委機關] Zhong1yang1 Jun1wei3 Ji1guan1 Central Military Commission Organization; CMC Organization.
Beginning in January 2016, the CMC Organization is defined as a multi-department system (see 军委机关多部门制), consisting of 15 functional departments, or further defined as 7 departments, 3 commissions, and five directly subordinate organizations. See 15职能部门.
军委机关多部门制[軍委機關多部門制] Zhong1yang1 Jun1wei3 Ji1guan1 duo1 bu4men2 zhi4 multi-department system CMC Organization.
Beginning in January 2016, the CMC Organization began to transition from the system of a CMC and a separate General Headquarters (GHQ, 总部) made up of Four General Departments (see 四大总部), to a system of a consolidated CMC and headquarters made up of multiple functional departments. The new CMC Organization (see 中央军委机关) with 15 departments or organizations (see 15职能部门).
职能部门[職能部門] zhi2neng2 bu4men2 functional department(s). See 15职能部门.
15职能部门[15職能部門] 15 zhi2neng2 bu4men2 fifteen functional departments.
A reference to the new multi-functional CMC which began to replace the previous (CMC and Four General Departments) system beginning in January 2016. Specifically the functional departments consisted of seven departments, three commissions, and five directly subordinate organizations.
The fifteen departments of the new multi-functional department CMC are:
CMC General Office (中央军委办公厅),
Joint Staff Department (联合参谋部),
Political Work Department (政治工作部),
Logistic Sustainment Department (后勤保障部),
Equipment Development Department (装备发展部),
Training Administration Department (训练管理部),
National Defense Mobilization Department (国防动员部),
Discipline Inspection Commission (纪律侦查委员会),
Political Law Commission (政法委员会),
Science and Technology Commission (科学技术委员会), and
Five Directly Subordinate Organizations:
Office of Strategic Planning (战略规划办公室),
Office for Reform and Organizational Structure (改革和编制办公室),
Office of International Military Cooperation (国际军事合作办公室),
Audit Office (审计署), and
Agency for Offices Administration (机关事务管理总局).
NEW! - Beginning in April 2017 the latest tranche of reforms has begun:
Reorganizing the Group Armies of the PLAA, check it out HERE!
The chart below is a side by side comparison of the previous PLA structure above, and the changes that have already been announced or leaked.
CMC and GHQ Changes:
The NEW multi-department Central Military Command structure, and the 15 named functional departments of the New CMC is one of that largest changes in the reforms. So far, the names and general purpose of the 15 functional departments have been announced, but little else is known. The following page 2016 CMC Reform provides some information, makes some comparisons, and takes a 'guess' at the relation between the new CMC and the known structures of the old CMC-GHQ system.
Military Services Changes:
At this point, information made public at the promotion ceremony for the Commander and Political Commissar of each of the newly formed PLA Army Headquarters, the rebranded and possibly restructured PLA Rocket Force, and completely new entity PLA Strategic Support Forces, is about all that is known. The emphasis on the reform guiding concept of "军委管总，战区主战，军种主建" means the newly restructured service headquarters will likely NOT have a major role in commanding operational units, but will take on a institution building role, similar to what the U.S. military calls the "Man, Train, and Equip" mission of U.S. service headquarters. Information about the service reforms on this page: 2016 Service Reforms.
Theater Command Structure Reform:
On February 1st 2016 the PLA announced the Five Great Theatre Commands (五大战区):
Eastern Theater Command (ETC, 东部战区),
Southern Theater Command (STC, 南部战区),
Western Theater Command (WTC, 西部战区),
Northern Theater Command (NTC, 北部战区), and
Central Theater Command (CTC, 中部战区).
At this point, the Theater Commands, their headquarters locations, the subordinate service component commands (Theater Army, Theater Navy (Fleet), and Theater Air Forces), as well as Group Army assignments are known. However, the exact areas of responsibility or subordinated units of the new theater command structure is still not fully public information. See some of what we have developed on the new Theater Commands here: 2016 Theater Reforms.