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Postwar Development

The chief changes in PAVN after April 1975 were enormous growth, augmented by increased war-making capability and fire power, and development away from a guerrilla-oriented infantry toward a more orthodox modern armed force. Hanoi's public statements indicated there would be a significant demobilization of PAVN immediately after the war and that many PAVN units would be converted into economic development teams. Within a few weeks, however, PAVN units were engaged in a border war in Cambodia with one-time ally the Khmer Rouge (see Glossary) and were preparing to defend Vietnam's northern border against China.

Following the end of the Second Indochina War, PAVN was in worse condition than was generally realized. Having been decimated by ten years of combat, it was in organizational disarray, with a logistics system that was nearly worn out. Both PAVN and the country were suffering from war weariness, and restructuring and rebuilding were hampered in part because the war's sudden ending had precluded planning for the postwar world. Vietnamese military journals acknowledged at the time that the new situation required the transformation of PAVN from an army of revolutionary soldiers fighting with guerrilla tactics into an orthodox armed force that could defend existing institutions and fixed installations from internal and external threats. It was a new and broader task, and Ho Chi Minh's observation made at the end of the First Indochina War was frequently quoted: "Before we had only the night and the jungle. Now we have the sky and the water."

Several problems had to be addressed. These included the dual-control system, i.e., the ill-defined division of authority between the military command structure and the party leadership within the armed forces, or between the military commander and the political commissar; the lack of esprit de corps among the rank and file, a general malaise termed "post-war mentality"; and the officer corps' inadequate military knowledge and insufficient military technological skills for the kind of war that had emerged in the 1970s. There were also policy conflicts over the conduct of large-scale combined or joint military operations and the nature of future military training, a lack of standardization of equipment, materiel shortages, administrative breakdowns, general inefficiency and lack of performance by basic military units, and an anachronistic party structure within PAVN stemming from an outmoded organizational structure and inappropriate or out-of-touch political commissars.

By 1978 the effort to restore PAVN had developed into the Great Campaign. This was a five-year program with five objectives: to increase the individual soldier's sense of responsibility, discipline, dedication, attitude toward solidarity, and mastery of weapons, equipment, and vehicles; to encourage more frugal expenditure of fuel, supplies, and materiel; to improve PAVN's officer corps, particularly at the basic unit level; to improve military-civilian relations and heighten international solidarity; and to improve the material-spiritual life of soldiers. Of these, the most important was the program to improve the PAVN officer corps, the heart of which was a four-part statute called the Army Officers' Service Law, drafted in 1978 and officially promulgated in 1981. The Service Law, as it came to be called, established systematic new criteria for the selection and training of officers; defined PAVN officers' rights and military obligations; and overhauled, upgraded, and formally instituted a new PAVN reserve officer system. It also set up new regulations concerning officer promotions, assignments, and ranking systems.

The reorganization was a deliberate effort to professionalize the PAVN officer corps, in part by codifying the military hierarchy within PAVN, which had never been officially approved. Previous emphasis on egalitarianism had led to virtual denial of even the concept of rank. There were no officers, only cadres; no enlisted personnel; only combatants. Uniforms were devoid of insignia, and references to rank or title were avoided in conversation. With professionalization, distinctions emerged between officers and enlisted troops. Accompanying the basic law were directives from the Council of Ministers that dealt with PAVN ranks, uniforms, and insignia. A thirteen-rank officer system with appropriate titles was instituted. There were new designations for navy flag rank, which had previously carried generals' titles (although apparently navy officers below flag rank continued to bear army ranks). Under the new regulations, PAVN officers were distinguished as either line commanders, staff officers, political officers, administrative officers, or military-police officers. The new regulations additionally stipulated the use of unit insignia--bright red for infantry, sky blue for air force and air defense force, dark blue for navy, green for border defense, and light gray for specialist technicians--in all twenty-five separate services, each of which had its own emblem (see fig. 16).

Technological improvements for PAVN were instituted chiefly under the Great Campaign. Intensive technical training programs were begun. Heavy emphasis was placed on the training of surface-to-air missile (SAM) battery commanders, advanced air defense technicians, fighter pilots, radar technicians, communications-systems operators, and naval officers. The program was fully supported by the Soviet Union, which provided military aid and technical advisers and trainers. A costly developmental effort, it had not been long under way before events began to conspire against it.

Shortly after the Great Campaign was launched in 1978, Vietnam's disputes with Cambodia and China sharply intensified. On March 5, 1979, the government issued a General Mobilization Order that established three "great tasks" for Vietnam: to enlarge the national defense structure, meaning to increase substantially the size of PAVN; to increase agricultural and industrial production in support of the war; and to develop better administrative systems in the party, PAVN, and the economic sector. The emphasis was on young Vietnamese, who were called to perform separate "great tasks," i.e., "annihilate the enemy, develop the paramilitary system, do productive labor, insure internal security, and perform necessary ideological tasks." The order required all able-bodied persons to work ten hours a day--eight hours in productive labor and two hours in military training. It also required universal participation in civil-defense exercises.

Data as of December 1987

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