PLA acknowledges the vital role electronic data plays in a war In the wake of the war in Iraq, the Chinese military has come to recognise that electronic information technology is just as crucial as bullets and bombs. The military's interest in information technology has been disclosed by two official publications, one from the Communist Party and one from the military. The latest issue of the party's Outlook Weekly, in reviewing the Iraq war, stresses the importance of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets in modern warfare, known in military circles as C4ISR. Quoting Jia Maorong, a navy air commander in the Eastern Sea Fleet, the article said the PLA was now using 22 to 30 per cent of its weapon procurement and development budget on electronic information technology. At present, the military is using almost half of its weapons budget on missiles, something that should be changed, the article said. 'The Chinese army is now at the initial stage of building an information-driven military,' it said. 'When compared with developed countries, there is an apparent gap in this regard.' But the military's Defence Daily said that while digital information was important, traditional war strategy should not be abandoned. Larry Wortzel, vice-president and director of the Heritage Foundation Davis Institute for International Policy Studies in Washington, said the Outlook article reflected the PLA's general trend in developing its war fighting capabilities. 'The PLA is moving in the right direction if their goal is to make their armed forces more efficient and more capable of deterring the United States,' Dr Wortzel said, adding that the key to US military strength and that of its allies was the C4ISR capability. Outlook Weekly predicted computer systems and inter-related information networks would be widely applied in explosives, soldiers' equipment, intranet and various electronic-guided weapons. Zhang Jun, an associate professor with the Nanchang Ground Troop Academy, said a computerised information network would act like a brain in a war, collecting, transmitting and analysing data. The PLA's war strategy during Mao Zedong's era in the 1950s and 1960s relied heavily on the size of the military. A modernisation programme initiated by Deng Xiaoping when he assumed command in the 1970s led to more than one million soldiers being made redundant. But what the military lacked in manpower was made up for by purchasing better weapons. Chen Shijun, a deputy commander of Chengdu Military Command Region, was quoted by the weekly as saying that although the PLA's programme to build the military using automatic weapons was still in progress, it must now embark on the next stage - the introduction of information technology. Ma Ding-shing, a Hong Kong-based PLA expert, said the Chinese military was now at a crossroads in deciding its direction. 'At some point they must decide to abandon the people's war strategy completely and embrace modern information technology warfare,' Mr Ma said. June Teufel Dreyer, chairwoman of the political science department at the University of Miami, said information warfare 'seems the most logical approach' for mainland defence planners to focus on, given budget constraints and the limited potential of a people's war strategy. 'One cannot expect these efforts to elevate the PLA to parity with the US military in the near future,' she said. Citing the example of the US knocking out Saddam Hussein's radars before starting bombing Iraq, she said the stronger, more technologically sophisticated side could employ information warfare techniques at least as effectively as the weaker side. 'Info-warfare has become a virtual mantra,' said Dr Dreyer, who is a commissioner of the US-China Economic and Security Commission. 'The trouble is this assumes one's enemy hasn't thought of similar techniques.'