Changes meant to improve PLA high-tech warfighting
A recent Chinese military reorganization is increasing the danger posed by People’s Liberation Army cyber warfare and intelligence units that recently were consolidated into a new Strategic Support Force.
The announcement of the military reorganization made on Dec. 31 by the Chinese government provided few details of what has changed for three military intelligence units formerly under the now-defunct General Staff Department.
However, U.S. officials and China analysts say the major cyber warfare and intelligence-gathering groups were elevated into the new Strategic Support Force, a military service-level force equal in standing to China’s army, navy, air force and missile services.
They include the 3rd Department, or 3PLA, that is believed to have as many as 100,000 cyber warfare hackers and signals intelligence troops under its control. The group includes highly-trained personnel who specialize in network attacks, information technology, code-breaking, and foreign languages.
Five members of a 3PLA hacking group were indicted by the Justice Department for commercial cyber attacks against American companies in 2014.
The 4th Department, China’s separate military electronic intelligence and electronic warfare service, is also part of the new support force. Additionally, the traditional military spy service devoted to human spying known as 2PLA was combined into the new support force.
“From a strategic perspective, the PLA will now be able to move forward with the concept of integrated network electronic warfare and better manage the use of satellites for [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance],” said former military intelligence officer Larry Wortzel.
James Lewis, a cyber specialist with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the new force will enhance the capacity of the PLA.
The 3PLA was identified by the National Security Agency as one of China’s most aggressive cyber spying agencies.
Classified documents made public last year revealed that the NSA estimates 3PLA hackers conducted more than 30,000 cyber attacks aimed at gathering defense industrial secrets. More than 500 of the cyber attacks were gauged to involve “significant intrusions” of defense networks.
Compromises included the theft of secrets regarding the F-35 and F-22 jets, the B-2 bomber, and space-based laser systems.
The NSA learned details of the operations by conducting its own cyber penetration in 2009 of a network connected to 3PLA computers.
Adm. Mike Rogers, commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, said large-scale hacking has numbed many Americans to a threat that is growing.
“If you look at the trends, if you look at the activity, for example, that we see within critical infrastructure in the United States, power and other things, you see nation states, individuals, and actors within those systems,” Rogers said last week.
Full article: Chinese Military Revamps Cyber Warfare, Intelligence Forces (Washington Free Beacon)