The newly-established Strategic Support Force of the People's Liberation Army will take charge of the military's space, cyberspace and electronic warfare operations, according to a senior PLA expert.
In an article published by the PLA Daily on WeChat, Yin Zhuo, director of the PLA Navy's Expert Consultation Committee, said the Strategic Support Force's mission is to ensure that the PLA's military superiority is maintained in space and on the Internet.
"To be specific, the service's responsibilities include targeted reconnaissance and tracking, global positioning operations and space assets management, as well as defense against electronic warfare and hostile activities in cyberspace," he said. "These are all major factors that will decide whether we can win a future war."
The Strategic Support Force will form an essential part of the PLA's future joint operations, Yin said, as it will provide reconnaissance, early warning, communications and battlefield command and control for combat units, in addition to helping government departments protect China's interests on the Internet.
Shao Yongling, a military strategy professor at PLA Rocket Force Command College in Hubei's Wuhan, told China Daily that in the past each branch of the PLA had its own combat support unit, resulting in overlapping functions and repeat investment.
By handing these responsibilities to the Strategic Support Force, the military can avoid such redundancies, become better integrated and improve joint operation capabilities, she said.
President Xi Jinping, also chairman of the Central Military Commission, announced the establishment of the Strategic Support Force on Dec 31 as a key part of the ongoing overhaul of the PLA, which started in September when he declared that China will cut troop numbers by 300,000.
He described the new branch as a "new-type combat force" and tasked it with boosting integration among the PLA's support systems and between civilian and defense sectors.
The PLA Daily also reported that researchers with the Strategic Support Force were focusing on cutting-edge technologies such as big data applications, cloud computing, 3D printing and nanomaterials. It quoted an unidentified researcher as saying that members of the Strategic Support Force should always prepare for "tomorrow's warfare".
Vasily Kashin, a senior analyst at the Moscow-based Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, told Russia's Sputnik news agency that the PLA Strategic Support Force's "unique structure" will bring together the Chinese military's whole scope of capacities in waging "special operations and information warfare".
The expert speculated that the Strategic Support Force would be responsible for technical reconnaissance, human and technical intelligence, electronic warfare and psychological operations.
Such an unparalleled concentration of intelligence and information warfare units in one branch will allow the PLA to exploit every resource to its maximum capacity, he said.