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The US Army Must Revise Its Playing Cards

March 31, 2023
Via US Army.

In 2019 the US Army’s TRADOC G-2 announced the release of playing cards that will help enlisted personnel familiarize themselves with weapon systems employed by geopolitical adversaries such as China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia. The choice of topic–with a focus on land warfare to suit the US Army’s role–reflected TRADOC’s shift toward historical “Great Power Competition” rather than global deployments versus radical extremists. This trend manifested in the late 2010s and is understood as a return to a cold war not just against a single opponent, but four of them, although the US government doesn’t acknowledge this sometimes. The card decks designed and released by TRADOC are available as free downloads and, surprisingly, the contents are interesting but perhaps should have had some editorial oversight.

While the Russia card deck is very comprehensive and reflects a longstanding focus on a “near-peer” adversary the China card deck’s accompanying images–copyright free and collected from search engines–are often baffling. A common error in the deck is the presentation of Chinese weaponry that’s for export. When analyzing the PLA’s arsenal it’s useful to know that its branches have distinct weapons and equipment supplied by state-owned manufacturers who offer variants–or sometimes completely different models–for sale abroad. Of course, there are exceptions to this such as the Dongfeng EQ2050, which is an imitation of the Hummer, and is used by the PLA and by other countries.

To point out one egregious mistake: the Norinco MBT 2000 is found on the 2 of Cloves card. The problem is the MBT 2000, also known as the VT1, was never in service with the PLA and is an export model operated by at least three countries. Pakistan’s state-owned armored vehicle plant assembles an earlier Type 90 variant as the Al Khalid and Al Khalid 1. Having downloaded the entire card deck a thorough review of the media on them revealed 37 errors out of 54 cards. Considering the focus on land systems there’s only one small arm presented–the QBZ-95 bullpup–and some very recent Chinese weapons are unseen. After reviewing the card deck the errors in it fall under three categories: presenting equipment or weaponry meant for export, outdated equipment or weaponry that’s no longer in service, and publishing dated or misleading photos.

Another example of where the China card deck misses is in trying to present the artillery systems operated by the PLA. A problematic entry is found on the 4 of Diamonds card featuring the WS-3 or “Weishi” modular rocket artillery system. Variants are in service with several Chinese allies but what the PLA operate is the PHL-16. Making these distinctions are important because “long-range fires” is one category where the PLA have an advantage versus the US Army. Presenting this information in an accurate and engaging matter should be considered of utmost importance. After all, the entire US military is committed to sizing up China’s armed forces as a near-peer aggressor. It’s no use picking on an opponent whose characteristics aren’t understood very well.

The tabulation below organizes the China card deck according to type and visual media along with suggested corrections.

Ace of ClovesPLL-09
King of ClovesAH-2In limited service and being phased out and replaced by SH15.
Queen of ClovesAH-4Export model and not in service with PLA.
Joker of ClovesAR2Export model and not in service with PLA.
Joker of ClovesQBZ-95-1
10 of ClovesCSK-131
9 of ClovesCSK-141
8 of ClovesASN-209Misleading 3D image is used.
7 of ClovesHQ-9
6 of ClovesFB-6Export model and not in service with the PLA.
5 of ClovesPHL-03Wrong photo used. PHL-03 resembles BM-30 Smerch.
4 of ClovesGCZ-110
3 of ClovesGSL-130
2 of ClovesMBT 2000Export model and not in service with PLA.
Ace of SpadesPLL-05
2 of SpadesVN-10Correct designation is “ZBD-03”.
Queen of SpadesSH-1Export model and not in service with PLA.
King of SpadesFN-6
Joker of SpadesPLZ-05A
10 of SpadesPLZ-07
9 of SpadesRed Arrow-10 on WG-502Correct designation is “AFT-10”.
8 of SpadesPLZ-45
7 of SpadesRed Arrow-73Dated photo is used and not the improved tandem warhead missile.
6 of SpadesRed Arrow on WZ-551Correct designation is “HJ-9”.
5 of SpadesSH-2Export model and not in service with the PLA.
4 of SpadesSH-3
3 of SpadesSR-5Export model and not in service with PLA.
2 of DiamondsWing Loong IOnly in limited service and being replaced by Wing Loong 10/Cloud Shadow.
3 of DiamondsWing Loong II3D image is used. Export model and not flown by PLA ground force.
4 of DiamondsWS-3Export model and not in service with PLA.
5 of DiamondsWZ-523Adopted in the 1980s and now phased out from PLA ground force.
6 of DiamondsWZ-551
7 of DiamondsYitian on WZ-551Export model and not in service with PLA.
8 of DiamondsYW-531Being phased out and replaced by ZBD-series ambulance.
9 of DiamondsYW-543Being phased out and replaced by ZBD-series command vehicle.
10 of DiamondsZ-10
Joker of DiamondsZ-19
Queen of DiamondsZ-9
King of DiamondsZTL-11
Ace of DiamondsZTZ-96APhoto shows engine compartment of the tank.
2 of HeartsTiger Type.The BaoJi Tiger is delivered to friendly countries as security assistance.
3 of HeartsType 59GExport model and not in service with PLA.
4 of HeartsType 83Phased out and replaced by PLZ-05 155mm SPH.
5 of HeartsType 90BExport model. Only in limited service with SR4 and PZH-10 replacing it.
6 of HeartsType 15Photo shows export model of Norinco VT5.
7 of HeartsVN-1“VN-1” is an export designation. The vehicle is the Type 08/ZBL-09 in PLA service.
8 of HeartsVN-11The PLA ground force uss the ZBD-04/04A
9 of Hearts VN-17Export model and not in service with PLA.
10 of HeartsVN-18Export model and PLAN variant is called “ZBD-05 IFV”.
Joker of HeartsVN-3Export model and newer VN3C in service with PLAAF Airborne.
Queen of HeartsVP-10Export model and not in service with PLA.
King of HeartsVP3MRAP is for export and not in service with PLA or PAP.
Ace of HeartsWarrior“Warrior” is a truck brand of Dongfeng. This vehicle is the CSK181.
JokerGCZ-112Being phased out from PLA ground force.
JokerZTZ-99APhoto shows ZTZ-99 without “99A” upgrades.


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