China's armed forces are raising the qualification and training levels of non-commissioned officers (NCOs) to build a professional corps with the ability to operate increasingly sophisticated weapon systems.
A reform plan unveiled by the Central Military Commission (CMC), China's top military authority, outlines the reforms which will affect the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and People's Armed Police Force (PAPF) by the end of this year.
The number of non-commissioned officers (NCO) in the PLA and PAPF would rise to almost 900,000 while the total number of personnel would remain unchanged, Yang Yangshen, an officer with the PLA's Headquarters of the General Staff, told Xinhua on Tuesday.
He said the rise would be small, but would not give the current number of NCOs.
New NCO posts would be offered to increase the strength of increasingly technology-intensive forces.
The NCOs would be given more responsibility for equipment that needed better proficiency and information skills in addition to assisting commissioned officers with basic training.
According to the plan, the PLA and PAPF would recruit more graduates with three-year college diplomas, who could better understand the operation of modern military weapons systems, rather than promote enlisted personnel.
The PLA and PAPF enlisted personnel are mainly high school graduates who finished 12 years of education.
The modernization of the PLA's weapon systems called for better qualified non-commissioned officers, said Yang.
Currently, the NCOs of the PLA and PAPF are ranked in six categories, starting from the lowest NCO level 1 up to NCO level 6.
According to the plan, the new ranks, from lowest to highest, will be corporal, sergeant, sergeant first class, master sergeant class four, master sergeant class three, master sergeant class two and master sergeant class one.
The reform also introduces a training system by which the new NCOs need to acquire technical qualifications, such as weapons repair and equipment maintenance.
All NCOs who want to be promoted will need to pass upgraded training courses and exams, according to the reform plan.
The plan mandates that the maximum service time for junior grade NCOs (corporal, sergeant) is six years and intermediate grade (sergeant first class, master sergeant class four) is eight years. The senior grade NCOs (master sergeant class three, master sergeant class two, master sergeant class one) could serve for more than 14 years.
It would also increase the basic salaries for intermediate grade NCOs and subsidies for all NCOs.
The PLA and PAPF introduced volunteer recruitment in 1978, which was the original model of the NCO system established in 1998when the revised conscription law reduced the compulsory service period of the enlisted soldiers from three to two years.