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Xi Jinping Reorganizes China's Military, Thinks How to “Fight and Win” Future Wars

Xi Jinping Reorganizes China's Military, Thinks How to “Fight and Win” Future Wars

(CNN) — China has embarked on the biggest overhaul of its military in nearly a decade, focusing on technology-driven strategic forces equipped for modern warfare, as Beijing competes with Washington for military supremacy in a region rife with geopolitical tensions.

In a surprise move last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping disbanded the Strategic Support Force (SSF), a military branch created in 2015 to integrate the space, cyber, electronic and psychological warfare capabilities of the People's Liberation Army.

In its place, Xi inaugurated the Information Support Force, which he said is “a brand new strategic division of the PLA and a key pillar of the coordinated development and application of a networked information system.”

The new force will play an important role in helping the Chinese military “fight and win modern warfare,” he said at a ceremony last Friday.

On the same day, At a press conferenceA spokesman for China's Ministry of Defense said the SSF is divided into three divisions — the Information Support Force, the Space Force and the Cyberspace Force — which report directly to the Central Military Commission, the military's chain of command headquarters. Led by Xi.

Under the new structure, the PLA now has four services — the army, navy, air force and rocket force — and four arms: the SSF and the three divisional divisions of the Joint Logistics Support Force, according to spokesman Wu Qian. Ministry.

The restructuring increases Xi's direct control over the PLA's strategic capabilities and underscores China's ambitions to develop AI and other new technologies for what he calls the country's “smart war.”

It follows Xi's major scandal at the PLA last year, which implicated powerful generals and shook an elite faction overseeing China's nuclear and ballistic missile arsenal expansion.

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The Information Support Force will be headed by senior generals of the defunct SSF.

SSF vice commander Bei Yi was appointed commander of the new division, while Li Wei, the SSF's political commissar, will take on the same role in the information support force, state news agency Xinhua reported.

No new appointment was mentioned for SSF commander Zhu Qiansheng, whose figure sparked speculation when he disappeared from public view amid a wave of military purges before reappearing at a conference in late January last year.

Xi Jinping oversees the inauguration of the People's Liberation Army Information Support Corps during a ceremony in Beijing on April 19, 2024.  (Credit: Xinhua News Agency)

Xi Jinping oversees the inauguration of the People's Liberation Army Information Support Corps during a ceremony in Beijing on April 19, 2024. (Credit: Xinhua News Agency)

Better visibility

Senior PLA observers say the recent restructuring is unlikely to be the result of recent corruption crackdowns, but rather a reflection that the SSF is not an ideal organizational form for the Chinese military.

“This shows that the SSF is not a satisfactory arrangement. It has reduced the visibility of Xi's critical operations and has not really improved coordination between space, cyber and network security forces,” said Joel Woodnow, a senior researcher at the National Defense University. pentagon.

Before its disbandment, the SSF consisted of two main divisions: the Aerospace Systems Department, which oversaw the PLA's space and reconnaissance operations, and the Network Systems Department, which had cyber, electronic, and psychological warfare capabilities.

“I think the new system will give Xi a better view of what's going on in space, cyberspace and network management. These activities will now be overseen at his level and not through the strategic support force that served as an intermediary,” Woodnow said.

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This lack of visibility can pose great risks, especially in times of heightened tension and deep mistrust between Beijing and Washington.

Last year, the US shot down a Chinese observation balloon after it passed over the US. The incident sparked a fresh crisis between the two powers and plunged bilateral relations into a deep freeze for months.

Although US intelligence services said the balloon was part of a wider surveillance program run by the Chinese military, Xi was unlikely to be aware of the mission.

US President Joe Biden announced last June that the Chinese leader was unaware of the balloon's existence and felt “very embarrassed” when it veered off course towards US airspace and was shot down.

S. in Singapore. Researcher James Sir of the Rajaratnam School of International Studies said it would have been the responsibility of the SSF's Aerospace Systems Department to carry out strategic intelligence during the spy balloon incident.

It is unclear whether the balloon incident contributed to Xi's decision to disband the SSF.

Woodnow of the National Defense University said the newly created Information Support Corps will handle communications and network security for the military.

“It's critical for the military to do these things well in any future conflict, and they can look closely at these operations and draw lessons from the war in Ukraine for their own organization,” he said. Neighboring Russia.

“So the president makes sense [de la Comisión Militar Central] A more direct role should be played in that area.

“Intelligence Warfare”

According to Sar, the recent restructuring may be the result of an ongoing review of how the military can best meet the ruling Chinese Communist Party's strategic goals.

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“I think the reorganization best reflects the emphasis the military has placed on accelerating the development of intelligence warfare,” which has brought about a new round of technological and industrial advances, he said.

The concept of “intelligence warfare” gained attention in a 2019 Chinese defense white paper that highlighted the military use of cutting-edge technology such as AI, quantum information, big data and cloud computing.

“The landscape of international military competition is undergoing historic changes. New and high-tech military technologies with information technology are advancing day by day, and there is a major trend towards developing precision weapons and long-range, intelligent equipment. , stealth or unmanned,” the white paper said.

“Warfare is accelerating its evolution toward computerized warfare, and intelligence warfare is on the horizon.”

The creation of the Information Support Force as a new branch directly under the Central Military Commission underscores the importance of information dominance in modern warfare.

A commentary published in the PLA Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese military, described networked information technology as the “biggest variable” in improving combat capability.

“Modern wars are contests between systems and structures in which control of information equals control of the war effort.”

The importance of information dominance and “smart warfare” has significant implications for future conflict in the Taiwan Strait.

The Chinese Communist Party considers Taiwan part of its territory, and although it has never controlled it, it has vowed to seize control of the island by force if necessary.

According to Char, in the event of a conflict in Taiwan, the Information Support Force “could take over as an initiative to support the military's efforts to dominate the information space before Beijing's adversaries do so.”