PLA Restructuring – As Well As Cyber Capabilities


Cyber Technology and Security Correspondent – Max Kobrak

Strategic Support Force Likely To Enhance Chinese Cyber Capability

Executive Summary:

It is likely the creation of the Strategic Support Force (SSF) will allow China to conduct cyber warfare and espionage more efficiently. The SSF consolidates previously separate divisions, simplifying communication and collaboration to create a service that prioritizes cyber operations. The SSF also will likely benefit other branches by reducing the range of their responsibilities.


1190The SSF is the consolidation of the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) information and cyber warfare forces, which it has placed at the core of its military defense strategy.[i] President Xi Jinping announced the establishment of the SSF on 31 December 2015 as part of major restructuring of the PLA.[ii] Official state reports indicate that the SSF will be an “independent military service,” rather than a branch of the PLA, likely because it specializes in non-traditional forms of warfare centered on technology.[iii]

The main mission of the SSF is to support the PLA in areas such as intelligence, logistics, joint-operation management, and communication with civilian and defense sectors.[iv] It has three different divisions, or “forces.” The Cyber Force practices offensive and defensive hacking, the Space Force operates satellites and conducts reconnaissance, and the Electronic Warfare Force specializes in radar and communications disruption.[v]

The Cyber Force will bring together China’s different cyber entities specializing in network attack, defense, and espionage. It will likely include 3PLA’s cyber units, as well as the Technical Reconnaissance Bureau, and the Informatization Department, all of which developed separately and operated under different branches of the PLA and Chinese government.[vi][vii]

The Cyber Force will likely enhance China’s Cyber Warfare capabilities because it centralizes all cyber operations into one service, establishing a single chain of command and removing bureaucratic boundaries.[viii] Since cyber operations are a top priority for the SSF, decision makers are likely to allocate more time and resources to them. Movement of these groups to the SSF will benefit other PLA branches because it allows them to narrow their focus onto other projects.

Analytic Confidence:

Analytic confidence for this assessment is medium. The analyst used no structured methods of analysis for this project. Source reliability is high and sources corroborated each other. The analyst’s expertise is low and the analyst worked alone. Subject complexity is medium and the time available for the task was adequate.

Image, above right, People’s Liberation Army Emblem

[i] (High)

[ii] (High)

[iii]  (Moderate)

[iv] China Establishes new Rocket Force, Strategic Support Force: Military News, in sentinel reports 4 January 16 (accessed through Jane’s): “In contrast, the new Strategic support force will not have the status of a full service, but its main mission may be to “seize command of space power and cyber power”, according to Song Zhongping. Previous unofficial Chinese commentary noted that the Strategic Support Force will have a subordinate Space Force that will control military and civilian space activity and a new Electronic Information Force that will control cyber warfare plus electronic and signals intelligence. However, the existence of these sub-services has not yet been officially announced. (High)

[v] (High)

[vi] (High)

[vii] (High)

[viii] (High)


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