China’s PLA seeks to bring cyberwarfare units under one roof

Unified command would allow military to create specialised forces as well as give leaders greater control over cyberspies who may be acting on their own, experts say

China’s military chiefs are seeking to unify the country’s cyberwarfare capabilities as they build a modern fighting force that relies less on ground troops.

The plan is part of a broader shift towards a unified military command similar to that of the US to meet President Xi Jinping’s goal of transforming the People’s Liberation Army into a force that can “fight and win modern wars”.

A move to a centralised command reporting to the Central Military Commission would better organise China’s cyberwarfare capabilities, which are scattered across a variety of units and ministries.

It would further elevate the role of cyberwar within a PLA that has long prioritised the army over the navy and air force, two branches that require a high level of computerisation skills.

It could also worry the US if it accelerates the transformation of cyberwar as a military tool, given tensions over allegations China carried out significant hacks of US networks and companies.

A unified command would be “a pretty big deal” in organising domestic cyberforces to “win informationised local wars”, according to Council on Foreign Relations cyberspace programme director Adam Segal, citing a goal enshrined in China’s first white paper on military strategy released in May.

“It would be an official sign that cyberattacks would be used in a military conflict,” he said. “Theoretically, it would allow them to concentrate resources in one place and create specialised forces, and might make it easier to plan joint operations.”

It wouldn’t be surprising for China to adopt a centralised structure, said James Lewis, a senior fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. The US has also moved to better coordinate its cybersecurity strategy, with the Obama administration appointing Admiral Michael Rogers to head both the National Security Agency and the Defence Department’s Cyber Command. The PLA’s first specialised information unit was set up in July, 2010, not long after the US Cyber Command went operational.

“China already is a cyberpower and this will make them more powerful,” Lewis from CSIS said. “The PLA was carefully excluded from the Xi-Obama agreement. That’s a problem, and finding ways to engage the PLA on cyber and other areas is crucial.”

Full article: China’s PLA seeks to bring cyberwarfare units under one roof (South China Morning Post)

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