PLA joint cyberwarfare drill to show new strength and sophistication

Massive, multi-pronged military exercise to test electronic and conventional capabilities - and send a clear message to Tokyo and Manila

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 May, 2013, 8:08am

The People's Liberation Army will conduct its first joint combat drills involving cyberwarfare, special troops, army aviation and electronic countermeasures units next month to test the integration and co-ordination of its land and air forces, state media reported yesterday.

Eight military academies will also join the exercises. Military experts said the high-profile drills were aimed at showing the world China had successfully narrowed the gap with Western countries in terms of modern warfare strategies.

Xinhua said the joint exercises would be staged at the mainland's biggest military training area, at the Zhurihe base inInner Mongolia , late next month.

It quoted the PLA's general staff department as saying that forces from the 38th and 65th combined corps of the Beijing military area command and academies including those focused on special operations, army aviation and defence information, and the air force's early-warning school would take part.

It would be the first PLA exercise to focus on different combat forces and using digital technology in a modern warfare scenario, Xinhua said.

The drill will simulate "non-contact assaults" alongside conventional operations.

"'Non-contact assaults' means digital operations, including cyberwarfare, electronic warfare and intelligence warfare systems, as well as others," said Xu Guangyu , a former general who is now a senior researcher at the Beijing-based China Arms Control and Disarmament Association.

"'Assault operations' doesn't mean the PLA will stage a 'pre-emptive strike' drill, but [is] based on the existing 'active defence strategy' to simulate how to fight back if our country is invaded," he said.

Antony Wong Dong, of the Macau-based International Military Association, said the participation of the eight academies meant the drill would also test some military theories.

"It's a rare, massive drill, covering so many different kinds of combat troops and military researchers, with the institute of special operations and the air force's early-warning school being new military research organisations," he said. "It also indicates the PLA is trying to catch up with the US Army in integrating digital operations into different combat forces on the land and in the air."

Shanghai-based military commentator Ni Lexiong said the unprecedented joint exercise showed that the PLA's air and land forces wanted to show the world - and especially neighbouring countries involved in territorial disputes in the East and South China seas - their military muscle following a recent focus on the mainland's naval buildup.

Last week, the PLA Navy also carried out a rare joint exercise involving its three fleets - the North Sea, East Sea and South Sea fleets - in the South China Sea as disputes drag on between Beijing and Tokyo over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea and between Beijing and Manila over Second Thomas Shoal 80 miles off the Philippines, which China sees as part of the Spratly Islands.