- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 29, 2013

China next month will stage military exercises using computer-equipped units that combine traditional firepower and electronic warfare capabilities, state media reported Wednesday.

The upcoming drills will demonstrate the strides Beijing has made in adopting U.S.-style technological warfare, stoking concerns among the U.S. and its allies about China’s cyber capabilities.

The exercises will be held in late June at the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Zhurihe training base in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Beijing’s largest military training facility, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported.

They will involve “digitalized units, special operations forces, army aviation and electronic counter forces,” Xinhua said.

The announcement comes ahead of a summit next week between Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Obama, who will raise U.S. concerns about Beijing’s relentless campaign of cyberspying and the widespread theft of U.S. military and industrial secrets through online espionage.

Cybersecurity “is an issue that we raise at every level in our meetings with our Chinese counterparts and I’m sure will be a topic of discussion when the president meets with President Xi,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday.

The Washington Post reported this week that a confidential assessment by the Defense Science Board — a Pentagon advisory panel — found that plans for more than two-dozen U.S. weapons systems, including the most advanced jewels in the military’s technological crown, had been stolen, likely by Chinese hackers.

Analysts say such computer penetrations are part of a long-running PLA campaign to close a technology gap with the U.S. military.

Larry M. Wortzel, a member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, said the capabilities demonstrated by the U.S. military in the 1990s had spurred the Chinese to try to catch up.

“The big shock to them was when they saw what we could do in the Balkans and the [first] Gulf [War],” Mr. Wortzel said, adding that the PLA had been working ever since to emulate the technological capabilities of the U.S. military.

“The principal objective of the Chinese military today is to successfully integrate information technology into every aspect of their operations,” he said. “This is not just about cyber [attacks on enemy forces]. It is about the way you can process and share information on the battlefield.”

Richard D. Fisher, a China scholar at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said the very nature of next month’s exercises — involving air and ground forces units from two different army groups — shows how far the Chinese have come.

“This ability to combine units from differing army group commands to achieve one objective has been the goal of a decade’s work” in informationalization, Mr. Fisher said.

Mr. Wortzel said PLA officials acknowledged that not all forces had been “informationalized” and, in those units that had, the capabilities often did not extend to lower-echelon units.

“It doesn’t extend all the way down like in the U.S. military,” he said of the PLA’s modernization. In the U.S. military, he said, “pretty much every vehicle, every squad” is networked so it can communicate and share information in real time.

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