The Snow Leopard Commando Unit is an elite military unit of the People’s Liberation Army specializing in mountain combat. They are trained to operate in the snow-covered terrain of the Tibetan-Qinghai Plateau, which is mostly inhabited by ethnic Tibetans and belongs to China.
How did this elite unit come about? Here, are 10 things you might not know about them.
The Snow Leopard
The Mongols refer to a “mountain cat” as a snow leopard. The Snow Leopard’s place of operation is the Tibetan-Qinghai Plateau, which is home to the highest mountain in the world, Everest. It is the only unit of its kind in China.
The unit’s mission is to engage in mountain combat and conduct reconnaissance missions.
The Snow Leopard Commando Unit has an insignia consisting of a snow leopard on a red background. It is organized into three battalions, each consisting of three companies.
The Snow Leopard Commandos
Founded in 1969, the Snow Leopard Unit was originally comprised of a platoon-sized unit of about 100 soldiers. In 1979, the unit was expanded to a regiment-sized unit, and in 1985, it was expanded to a division-sized unit.
In December of 2016, the Snow Leopard Unit became an independent brigade-sized unit. The Snow Leopard Brigade is now comprised of five battalions and three independent companies, totaling over 3,000 troops, similar to the size of the modern-day Navy SEALs.
The unit is stationed in Tibet and has participated in many training exercises in the region. It also has participated in international peacekeeping missions but that sounds like an oxymoron to us.
It was one of the first armed forces units to be created after the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
The unit was composed of 21 members who were sent to Tibet to assist the local military in fighting against rebels. But by the end of 1959, the rebels were pushed back and the unit was no longer needed.
The Leopard unit wasn’t reactivated until 1983 when it was merged with the now-defunct Snow Leopard Liberation Unit. The combined unit has since gone on to serve in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, and Sudan.
They are mostly used for counter-terrorism operations, reconnaissance, and hostage-rescue ops. Similar units in the U.S. would be Delta Force, and SEAL Team Six.
Members of this elite military unit undergo rigorous training at a specialized selection school. Training takes place in a remote area in China’s northwest province of Gansu. Operators are mainly Tibetans from the Tibetan Autonomous Region.
In the 1980s, the PLA’s General Staff Department sent a delegation to study the U.S. Army’s Ranger School, where they discovered some valuable insights. The PLA trained the first batch of Snow Leopard Commando Units in 1987 and they have since undergone rigorous training and selection.
Snow Leopard commandos are selected from volunteers who have all passed grueling physical and mental tests. The training process includes:
1) Basic Training: A two-week course that includes physical fitness, live ammunition shooting, unarmed combat, winter survival skills, and combat skills.
2) Advanced Training: A three-month course that includes physical fitness, winter survival skills, unarmed combat, combat skills, and an exercise in a cold-weather environment.
3) Skills: A two-month course that includes: winter survival skills, unarmed combat, combat skills, and a military exercise in a cold-weather environment.
4) Operational Exercise: A two-week exercise that includes: physical fitness, winter survival skills, unarmed combat, and combat skills.
10 Things You Might Not Know About The Snow Leopards
1. They are the only all-volunteer army unit in China;
2. They are trained to operate in the snow-covered terrain of the Tibetan-Qinghai Plateau;
3. They are mostly made up of ethnic Tibetans. A surprise to us;
4. Their motto is “Dare to Win” a play on “Who Dares Wins” from the British SAS;
5. They are designated as the former 11th Group Army Unit;
6. Their commander up until 2009 was General Wang Qingli;
7. They are partly funded by the Tibet Autonomous Region;
8. The average age of their operators is 22 years old;
9. It is rumored they kill their own wounded soldiers to avoid them being captured. A new way to look at, “No man left behind…”
10. Snow leopards are a symbol of wisdom and courage in Tibetan culture, and the unit is named after them because they are masters of fighting in snowy terrain.
We hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about Special Operations units in China.