02 May 2024

Must-Read from CMSI’s Ryan Martinson! “The PLA Navy’s Blue Team Center Games for War”

The PLA Navy’s Blue Team Center Games for War

Naval Command College “Blue Team” experts sometimes go so far as to wear OpFor uniforms during wargames. 

By Ryan D. Martinson

May 2024

U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings

Vol. 150/5/1,455

The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has embraced wargaming with an almost religious zeal. PLAN leaders vigorously promote the use of wargaming methods throughout the service. They have studied wargaming’s many potential advantages, from helping the PLAN overcome its lack of recent combat experience to shedding light on how to employ its new weapons and platforms to maximum effect—and they want more.1

Despite its enthusiasm for conflict simulation, the PLAN is also keenly aware of wargaming’s limitations. Service leaders know that, to be effective, games must accurately represent the behavior of the putative adversary—“Blue” in PLA parlance. Since foreign militaries conceal their capabilities, plans, and doctrines, simulating Blue is no easy task. The PLAN confronted this challenge by building a corps of experts dedicated to studying China’s potential enemies to play them in wargames with as much fidelity as possible. This organization, the “Blue Team Center” (蓝军中心), is located at the Naval Command College in Nanjing, Jiangsu.2

The Blue Team Center is small and little known but has an outsized impact on how the PLAN thinks about future conflict. The insights it generates guide the judgments PLAN commanders make, with decisions about peacetime plans, training, doctrine, research, and procurement. And the PLAN expects that, in wartime, these insights will ultimately translate into success on the battlefield.

Understanding this mysterious organization is essential to the U.S. Navy’s efforts to deter or defeat Beijing’s aggression in the western Pacific.

A Star is Born

The Naval Command College is the PLAN’s equivalent of the U.S. Naval War College (NWC). It provides midcareer education to PLAN officers through two courses of study—intermediate and senior—and educates officers from the navies of China’s partners. Aside from its educational mission, it has a large research agenda and regards itself as a PLAN think tank. Moreover, it provides training support for fleet and joint force commands.3

Like its counterpart in Newport, Rhode Island, is for the U.S. Navy, the Naval Command College is the major Chinese center of wargaming excellence for the PLAN and the PLA overall. Its Naval Warfare Laboratory, analogous to the NWC’s Center for Naval Warfare Studies, holds wargames for the Navy, the theater commands, and the Central Military Commission. It also hosts simulations and games in support of the college’s intermediate and senior command courses, which culminate with a large, seven- to ten-day capstone wargame called “Sea Plan” (筹海) held every winter. 4 … … …