Skip to main content

Modernising the Chinese military in an age of information


10 September 2019

Author: Richard A Bitzinger, RSIS

China has released a White Paper on defence — its first such report in four years — reiterating three broad strategic goals for the modernisation of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) over the next 30 years.

The first goal is to ‘generally achieve mechanisation by the year 2020 with significantly enhanced informationisation’. The second goal is to ‘complete the modernisation of national defence and the military by 2035’, including the ‘modernisation of military theory, organisational structure, military personnel, and weaponry and equipment’. The third goal is to ‘fully transform’ the PLA into a ‘world-class force’ by the middle of the 21st century (generally interpreted to mean 2049, the centenary of the People’s Republic of China).

The next 15 years or so (2020–35) will be the most crucial phase of this modernisation process. In this regard, the concept of informationisation is central to understanding what China means by the ‘complete military modernisation’ of the PLA. The PLA appears to be progressing towards becoming a truly ‘informationised’ armed force — that is, one capable of ‘fighting and winning wars in the information age’.

Central to ‘informationisation’ is de-emphasising the PLA’s traditional ‘army-centric mindset,’ and instead placing greater priority on sea power and airpower. As a result, the PLA Navy is ‘speeding up the transition of its tasks from defence on the near seas to protection missions on the far seas, and improving its capabilities for strategic deterrence and counterattack, maritime manoeuvre operations, maritime joint operations, comprehensive defence, and integrated support’.

Concepts of ‘informationised warfare’ also put a much greater emphasis on both space and cyber operations. The 2019 White Paper bluntly states that ‘outer space is a critical domain in international strategic competition’. The weaponisation of space is increasingly a fact of life and a key future battlespace regarded as ‘a key area for national security, economic growth and social development’. China plans to develop the capacity to ‘enter, exit, and openly use outer space’.

The PLA is nearing the end of a unique ‘double construction’ effort that begun in the early 2000s of simultaneously pursuing both mechanisation and informationisation. On the one hand, the PLA began to upgrade its current arsenal of conventional ‘industrial age’ weapons through upgrades and retrofits, including improved communications systems, new sensors and seekers and better precision-strike capacities. At the same time, the PLA began to build informationised capabilities by putting greater effort and resources into command and control, communications, computing infrastructures, surveillance and reconnaissance systems, networking, and information warfare.

It is difficult to gauge the PLA’s progress when it comes to implementing informationisation. It has acquired — or is continuing to acquire — much of the hardware associated with informationisation, particularly systems relating to command, control, communications, computing, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Chinese warships and combat aircraft have been outfitted with modernised electronics and avionics. China’s capacity for electronic warfare and cyberwar has also progressed. Finally, the PLA is improving in the ‘kinetic’ side of informationisation, with new systems for stand-off precision striking such as GPS-guided bombs, longer-range anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles, and hypersonic weapons.

But from a relative standpoint compared to the US military or other regional armed forces (particularly Japan or Australia), the PLA’s development of informationised capabilities has been modest. Most progress has basically been ‘catching up’ to the technological standards of warfare set by the West. The informationised capabilities of the PLA have basically moved from the 1960s into perhaps the 1990s.

Nor does China appear to be moving from a platform-centric to a network-centric PLA. Hardware is still more important to the PLA than informationised systems, with a continuing emphasis on acquiring new surface combatants, submarines, fighter jets, tanks and armoured vehicles. Truly modern weapons that replace aging or even obsolete systems are still a minority in PLA inventories. And the PLA is still very much a ground-force dominated military, with nearly one million soldiers in the army.

Chinese military modernisation is still basically synonymous with the ‘pockets of excellence’ assessments of the 1990s and 2000s, although it has added some new ‘pockets’, particularly in space-based systems. Fully implementing informationisation — and reaping its intended benefits — will, of course, take time. This is why the PLA does not envision becoming a ‘world-class force’ until 2049.

When it comes to predicting China’s success in informationising its military, it is important to remember two well-worn sayings about the country: ‘China has come a long way’ and ‘China has a long way to go’. Although these platitudes are approaching being cliches, they are still useful with regards to the order in which they are used. That order speaks volumes as to how we interpret Chinese progress in raising the level of its military relative to global standards. Both are truisms, but one must inevitably be truer than the other.

Richard A Bitzinger is a Visiting Senior Fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore.


Popular posts from this blog

SSG Commando Muddassir Iqbal of Pakistan Army

“ Commando Muddassir Iqbal was part of the team who conducted Army Public School operation on 16 December 2014. In this video he reveals that he along with other commandos was ordered to kill the innocent children inside school, when asked why should they kill children after killing all the terrorist he was told that it would be a chance to defame Taliban and get nation on the side. He and all other commandos killed children and later Taliban was blamed.
Muddassir Iqbal has deserted the military and now he is  with mujahedeen somewhere in AF PAK border area”
For authenticity of  this tape journalists can easy reach to his home town to interview his family members or   ISPR as he reveals his army service number”
Asalam o Alaikum: My name is Muddassir Iqbal. My father’s name is Naimat Ali. I belong to Sialkot divison (Punjab province), my village is Shamsher Poor and district, tehsil and post office  Narowal. Unfortunately I was working in Pakistan army. I feel embarrassed to tell you …

CPEC Jobs in Pakistan, salary details

JOBS...نوکریاں چائنہ کمپنی میںPlease help the deserving persons...Salary:Salary package in China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in these 300,000 jobs shall be on daily wages. The details of the daily wages are as follows;Welder: Rs. 1,700 dailyHeavy Duty Driver: Rs. 1,700 dailyMason: Rs. 1,500 dailyHelper: Rs. 850 dailyElectrician: Rs. 1,700 dailySurveyor: Rs. 2,500 dailySecurity Guard: Rs. 1,600 dailyBulldozer operator: Rs. 2,200 dailyConcrete mixer machine operator: Rs. 2,000 dailyRoller operator: Rs. 2,000 dailySteel fixer: Rs. 2,200 dailyIron Shuttering fixer: Rs. 1,800 dailyAccount clerk: Rs. 2,200 dailyCarpenter: Rs. 1,700 dailyLight duty driver: Rs. 1,700 dailyLabour: Rs. 900 dailyPara Engine mechanic: Rs. 1,700 dailyPipe fitter: Rs. 1,700 dailyStorekeeper: Rs. 1,700 dailyOffice boy: Rs. 1,200 dailyExcavator operator: Rs. 2,200 dailyShovel operator: Rs. 2,200 dailyComputer operator: Rs. 2,200 dailySecurity Supervisor: Rs. 2,200 dailyCook for Chinese food: Rs. 2,000 dailyCook…

Historical relationship between Kurd and Baloch.

The Kurds are the ethnical group living in a region known as Kurdistan which is divided into Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran. They  are struggling for an independent region since decades and they are famous for their female guerrilla fighters.        On 25 September 2017, the referendum for an independent Kurdish region  was held in Iraq with a turn out of 72 %.   On this important occasion, the historical relation between Kurd and Baloch people is worth discussing.       When it comes to history, every nation tends to find its roots and origin. Same goes with the Baloch people. The Baloch people are always curious  about  finding their roots in history. Even if you  talk to a shepherd in Balochistan, he will be curious to talk about his  tribal or ethnical roots.      The Balochs have always conveyed the history to the next generations in different mediums like poems etc. No Baloch before 20th century had written books on  history  or origin of the Baloch nation .