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China Establish New Military Force, Changes Space Operations Structure

China has taken a significant step in its military restructuring which is set to have far-reaching implications for the command structure of its space forces.

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Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Tue Apr 23 2024Written by Zac Aubert

China has taken a significant step in its military restructuring with the establishment of the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Information Support Force (ISF), which was announced by President Xi Jinping on April 19.

This move is set to have far-reaching implications for the command structure of its space forces.

Replacing the Strategic Support Force (SSF), the ISF is positioned as a strategic branch of the PLA, emphasizing its crucial role in coordinating the construction and application of the network information system, according to Chinese state media.

The reorganization delineates four services within the PLA: the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Rocket Force. Among these, the Aerospace Force (ASF) now emerges as the senior force, succeeding the SSF in commanding China’s space forces.

Brendan Mulvaney, director of the China Aerospace Studies Institute, highlighted the Chinese perspective on the "Information Domain" as a domain of warfare equal to traditional physical domains such as air, land, sea, and space. This underscores China’s strategic focus on information operations.

The restructuring marks the most significant organizational change within the PLA since the creation of the SSF in 2015, consolidating space, cyber, electronic, and psychological warfare capabilities under one umbrella. By introducing the ISF, China aims to enhance operational efficiency and integration, particularly in information operations, including space.

The move could also be linked to addressing reported corruption issues within the PLA, as evidenced by the removal of senior officials from China’s main space contractor in recent months.

Regarding the impact on PLA space forces, uncertainties remain regarding the ISF’s operational framework and its command over specific forces and capabilities. However, the strategic shift towards prioritizing information warfare is expected to influence cyber operations, electronic warfare, and space-related activities such as satellite communication and reconnaissance.

The reorganization may affect command and control mechanisms over space assets, potentially influencing satellite operations, space surveillance, and other military activities in space.

China’s response to global developments, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the use of Starlink by Ukrainian forces, underscores its growing emphasis on satellite reconnaissance capabilities. 

Plans to establish a low Earth orbit communications megaconstellation and a space-ground integrated information network further demonstrate China’s strategic ambitions in space.

As geopolitical competition intensifies, the reorganization of China’s military forces, particularly in space operations, is expected to influence its ability to protect its own space assets and develop capabilities that could challenge adversaries’ space-based systems. Coordination with other branches of the PLA, including the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Rocket Force, will be crucial in shaping China’s approach to space operations in the coming years.