(From the National Interest)
By Lincoln Davidson
China’s military reforms, which have sped up since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, are making steady progress and the latest change in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was a big one. On December 31, 2015, the Central Military Commission formally overhauled the organizational structure of the PLA, establishing three new organizations: the Army Leading Organ, the Rocket Force, and the Strategic Support Force. The big takeaway: the Third Department of the PLA, the home of China’s cyber operations and commonly known as 3PLA, may be moving to a different command.
The Army Leading Organ appears to be a centralized command hub, aiming to coordinate joint operations between different PLA branches, which has long been a goal of China’s military reforms. The Rocket Force, which has been covered extensively elsewhere, is an upgraded version of the PLA’s strategic nuclear missile force, the 2nd Artillery Corps, and seems to be an official recognition of the branch-level role the corps has long played. The new Strategic Support Force (SSF), on the other hand, has gotten scant attention in the foreign press, and is arguably the most interesting development in this round of reforms.
In his speech at the founding ceremony, Xi said that “the Strategic Support Force is a new-type combat force to maintain national security and an important growth point of the PLA’s combat capabilities.” Many news outlets have reported that the SSF is focused on cyber operations, but Chinese press reports suggest that the new force has a wider range of responsibilities.
A report by an official news outlet compared the SSF to the armed forces of the U.S., Russia, and “other developed countries,” saying that its organization is more advanced, because it involves operations that do not fit well into any existing military force, but touch on all of them. Another report emphasized that it’s “even ahead of the United States conceptually,” which still separates support functions among all the branches of the military so that “they are constantly fighting with each other for resources.” The SSF won’t be on the front lines of combat, but rather provide “information support and safeguards.” However, unlike other support forces such as logistics, it “can use its own power to damage the enemy.” According to the same report, the SSF’s responsibilities will include the “five domains” of intelligence, technical reconnaissance, electronic warfare, cyber offense and defense, and psychological warfare. Read more