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The PLA’s Futuristic and Hybrid Warfare Unit


The Chinese spy balloon is just one small example of the threat posed to U.S. national security by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)’s Strategic Support Force (SSF) which specializes in new, innovative, high-tech, and hybrid warfare.

In 2015, as part of his push for the modernization of the PLA, Chinese leader Xi Jinping commissioned the SSF, which centralizes space warfare, cyberwarfare, electronic warfare, information warfare, communications, and psychological warfare capabilities.

The website of the Ministry of National Defense of the people’s Republic of China describes the SSF as “a new type of combat force” and “driver for growth of new combat capabilities” comprising “forces for battlefield environment, information, communications, information security, new technology testing.”

Officially, the cyberwarfare unit of the SSF defends CCP and PLA computer systems and networks against hacking, but it could also be used as an offensive weapon. The space warfare unit is responsible for spy satellites as well as China’s GPS alternative, BeiDou Navigation. The mission of the electronic warfare unit is to disrupt enemy radar systems and communications.

The unit is known to conduct warning and surveillance alongside information-gathering activities in the South China Sea tracking U.S. vessels on Freedom of Navigation tours. The SSF has a strong presence in Wenchang on Hainan Island near the launching point for Chinese satellites. According to a PLA SSF news report, SSF is responsible for “unmanned intelligent equipment.” Not surprisingly, the group is suspected to have been responsible for the recent spy balloon incident in the United States.

Balloons are used in these types of missions because they can fly at extremely high altitudes, above conventional fighter jets, where they will be undetected. Another advantage of balloons is that they remain in the gravitational field of the earth. Different from satellites that pass over periodically, balloons are capable of fixed-point surveillance.

Epoch Times Photo
Brian Kennedy, chairman, Committee on the Present Danger: China, speaks at the event “China Threat Briefing: Unrestricted Warfare: The Chinese Communist Party’s War against America and the Free World” in Washington on May 2, 2019. (Jennifer Zeng/The Epoch Times)

The Ministry of National Defense says that the SSF is “in line with the strategic requirements of integrating existing systems and aligning civil and military endeavors,” a program that the CCP calls military-civil fusion. Consequently, the SSF is targeting recruits who would not normally have joined the military. The SSF has expanded its online presence and is recruiting college graduates and people with advanced education for skilled work while also targeting vocational and high school graduates for low-level tech positions.

The spy balloon would be a classic example of military-civilian fusion as a civilian company operated the balloon despite being loaded with sophisticated antennas that may have been conducting military surveillance. The involvement of a civilian company provides the CCP with plausible deniability. Beijing claimed that the balloon was a piece of civilian hardware on a benign civilian mission.

The SSF was born from the concept of Unrestricted Warfare, which was the title of a 1999 book written by PLA colonels Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui. The book outlines strategies of asymmetric warfare: how a country at a military, political, and economic disadvantage could take on a superpower like the United States. The book proposes a number of alternatives to direct military engagement, mobilizing competencies from multiple government and private domains. The book essentially spells out how to defeat the United States. The concept is consistent with military-civil fusion in that it integrates all aspects of society. Everything from politics and economics to culture, ideology, and psychology can become weapons.

Another related concept is “three warfare,” meaning public opinion, psychological, and legal warfare. The two basic components of public opinion are propaganda and misinformation. Propaganda pushes a desired narrative like, “The CCP is great and has your best interests at heart,” whereas misinformation attempts to convince people that something is true, such as, “The U.S. also sent spy balloons over China in the past, but China did not complain.”

This form of irregular warfare, in addition to fusing military and civilian resources, would also combine the capabilities of multiple government agencies including the PLA and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which deals with global security. It also involves CCP spy agencies the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of Public Security. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is responsible for controlling the flow of information. The United Front Work Department, which originally targeted Chinese diaspora, has evolved into a large intelligence and propaganda organ. Other organizations such as state and non-state hackers are also involved.

Ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu said, “Every battle is won before it is fought.” And this is the SSF’s strategy, which could bring all of its competencies to bear, activating its cyber and public opinion warfare before a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Right now, many Americans approve of U.S. support for Ukraine. If public opinion were to sour on Ukraine, voters would push lawmakers to stop sending money and weapons to Kyiv and the nation would fall. Similarly, the CCP could launch an unrestricted warfare campaign against Taipei in the hope of undermining U.S. support for the island nation. And this is true of any initiative that the CCP wishes to launch against the United States. They could use the SSF to soften the American people and weaken our resistance.

The spy balloon incident has Americans watching the skies, but the SSF could also be lurking in our computers, our telecommunications, our media, our schools and universities, or our political lobby groups.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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