Military-Civil Fusion and Electromagnetic Spectrum Management in the PLA

Publication: China Brief Volume: 19 Issue: 18

Yin Tiehua (military uniform, fourth from left), then-director of the PLA Reserve EMSM Center, conducts an inspection tour of the facilities at the Ji’An City (Jiangxi Province) Radio Management Agency in November 2014. (Source: Jiangxi Province MIIT Office)

Introduction: EMSM as a Key Element of “Military-Civil Fusion”

Modern battlefield environments will contain a greater proliferation of electromagnetic emitters than ever before—including but not limited to radars, communications networks, and jamming systems—employed by many different platforms across multiple warfare domains. As a result, electromagnetic spectrum management (EMSM) is a discipline growing steadily in importance for modern military forces. The U.S. Department of Defense defines EMSM as “planning, coordinating, and managing joint use of the [electromagnetic spectrum] through operational, engineering, and administrative procedures… [intended] to enable EMS-dependent capabilities and systems to perform their functions in the intended environment without causing or suffering unacceptable interference.” [1]

Amid the course of Chinese military modernization and reform, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is well aware of the importance of electronic warfare in modern battlefield environments (China Brief, April 9, 2018; China Brief, February 1). PLA writers are also fully aware of the importance of electromagnetic spectrum management (电磁频谱管理, dianci pinpu guanli), and have stated that “electromagnetic space is the ‘sixth domain of battle’ alongside the land, sea, air, space, and internet, and is of critical function for victory or defeat in war.” [2]

Official Chinese media sources have identified EMSM as a key component of broader efforts by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to implement a policy of “military-civil fusion” (军民融合, jun-min ronghe) throughout both the PLA and civilian industry: as stated by one source early in 2017, “EM spectrum management is an important realm for deepening the development strategy of military-civil fusion” (Zhongguo Jun Wang, February 23, 2017). Accordingly, the PLA is engaged in an ongoing effort to coordinate with civilian officials regarding shared use of the EM spectrum. It is also engaged in creating specialist EMSM reserve units intended to leverage the material resources and skilled personnel resident in civilian industry.

Who Bears Responsibility for Military EM Spectrum Management?

National-level policy direction for military EMSM is a joint effort that, as early as 2006, was coordinated by the predecessor organizations of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) (工业和信息化部, Gongye he Xinxihua Bu) and the PLA Joint Staff Department (GSD) (联合参谋部, Lianhe Canmou Bu). [3] The two successor organizations appear to maintain this shared role. Furthermore, this parallel civilian-military responsibility is mirrored at local levels: per press coverage of a spring 2018 EMSM planning conference in Hainan, provincial-level MIIT offices [省工业和信息化厅, sheng Gongye he Xinxihua Ting] and provincial-level military districts [省军区, sheng junqu] coordinate on local implementation of higher-level policy guidance for EMSM (Hainan Provincial Government, February 9, 2018).

In many Chinese-language references regarding EMSM, the process of coordinating military and civilian resources is also referred to as “military-local radio management” (军地无线电管理, jun-di wuxiandian guanli), with the two terms used interchangeably (see image below).[4] Per the People’s Republic of China Radio Management Regulations published in 2016: “In establishing radio management coordinating mechanisms, military and local officials will share the division of radio frequencies, and consult on and resolve both military system and civilian system radio management arrangements.” [5] Personnel and resources from the civilian “radio management system” [无线电管理机构, wuxiandian guanli jigou] of the area in question are key to this process. These regional radio management centers report to the National Radio Spectrum Management Center (国家无线电频谱管理中心, Guojia Wuxiandian Pinpu Guanli Zhongxin) in Beijing, which itself is subordinate to MIIT. [6]

Image: An April 2018 conference convened in Haikou (Hainan Province) to discuss the coordination of “radio management” between regional civilian and military officials. The conference was organized by the Hainan Radio Supervision and Management Agency, and reportedly included representatives from 13 agencies, including: the PLA Southern Theater Command, Hainan Military District, the South Sea Fleet, provincial People’s Armed Police, fire fighters, frontier guards, and the maritime police. (Source: Hainan Provincial Government)

The PLA Reserve Electromagnetic Spectrum Management Center

Over the past decade, the PLA has carved out a prominent role for its reserve component in working with issues related to EMSM. One of the PLA’s most prominent institutions for EMSM issues is the “All-Army Reserve Electromagnetic Spectrum Management Center” (全军预备役电磁频谱管理中心, Quanjun Houbeiyi Dianci Pinpu Guanli Zhongxin) (hereafter “EMSM Center”), which was established in Beijing in January 2010. The EMSM Center has a mission to “advance the development of military-civil fusion, promote the important innovation and initial practice of our army’s reserve troops restructuring and reform, [and] to safeguard the security of electromagnetic space, deepening preparations for military struggle” (PLA Daily, January 26, 2010). The EMSM Center is widely engaged in organizing training drills and exercises for EMSM-oriented reserve units (see discussion further below).

The EMSM Center also appears to play a role in fostering coordination between provincial and local-area civilian and military officials. In April 2017 the EMSM Center organized a conference in Beijing—alongside representatives of MIIT and the radio management departments of Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, and Inner Mongolia—to discuss the delineation of roles between military and civilian agencies. An official PLA news website described this conference as an important event that “clarified the methods and way forward for inspecting regions and managing electromagnetic space in actual combat.” Coverage of this conference emphasized a leading role for the civilian radio management departments: “Local radio management departments are [to be] responsible for spectrum resource distribution, and clearing the regional EM environment and other missions; working in tandem with provincial and city radio management departments to be responsible for key frequency protection, and investigation and resolution of harmful interference.” Furthermore, “leadership by MIIT radio management bureaus is a clear requirement” to coordinate efforts among work units, and “to evaluate local EM space management and control abilities in combat exercises.” [7]

Electromagnetic Spectrum Management PLA Reserve Units

Pursuant to its effort to merge military and civilian resources for EMSM, the PLA is actively engaged in creating “reserve frequency management units” (预备役频管部队, yubeiyi pinguan budui), which are intended to help the PLA successfully navigate the complex electromagnetic pitfalls of both major peacetime events and potential future conflicts. These units have been employed in recent field training exercises across multiple regions of China (see discussion further below). PLA sources have touted such units as “our army’s first new model of reserve units relying on the national enterprise system” (Zhongguo Jun Wang, June 2, 2018)—thereby implying that they represent a vanguard for future units in other specialty areas, which will similarly draw upon the resources of state-controlled industry.

These units appear to be closely linked to, and to share resources with, regional civilian radio management centers. For example, in November 2014 Yin Tiehua (尹铁华), then-director of the EMSM Center, made an inspection tour of the radio management agency in the city of Ji’An, Jiangxi Province (see accompanying image). Local government coverage of this visit indicated that the center is associated with the provincial EMSM reserve group (省预备役电磁频谱管理大队, sheng yubeiyi diance pinpu guanli dadui), and that the agency’s facilities host the “Reserve Force Ji’An Monitoring Station” (预备役吉安监测站, Yubeiyi Ji’An Jiance Zhan). [8]

It is standard practice for PLA reserve units to contain a core cadre of active-duty personnel, [9] and this is true as well for the reserve EMSM units. One article about such units described in positive terms a “radiation effect of 10 active duty soldiers and 100 reserve officers and soldiers” (十余名现役军人+百余名预备役官兵的辐射效应, shi yu ming xianyi junren + bai yu ming yubeiyi guanbing de fushe xiaoying), with the implication that reservists will benefit from exposure to the presumed greater professionalism of active-duty personnel. This same source also quoted an official from the EMSM Center as saying that “military-civil fusion is a lever [by which] ten active-duty soldiers can leverage 100 reserve soldiers; these 100 reserve soldiers are all radio industry expert personnel, and they leverage broader resources” to achieve successful results (Zhongguo Jun Wang, June 2, 2018).

Profile of a PLA Reserve EMSM Unit 

One illustrative example of a PLA reserve force EMSM unit is the Guangdong Reserve EMSM Group Mobile Monitoring Third Unit (广东预备役电磁频谱管理大队机动监测三队, Guangdong Yubeiyi Dianci Pinpu Guanli Dadui Jidong Jiance San Dui). This unit is composed primarily of personnel from the cities of Shantou, Meizhou, Shanwei, Jieyang, and Chaozhou. Many unit members are employees recruited from state-owned companies in the telecommunications sector—to include China Telecom (中国电信, Zhongguo Dianxin), China Mobile (中国移动, Zhongguo Yidong), China Unicom (中国联通, Zhongguo Liantong), and China Tower (中国铁塔, Zhongguo Tieta)—as well as “radio enthusiasts from eastern Guangdong.” This unit conducted training drills in December 2018 associated with a marathon race in Shantou; the unit activities focused on “simulating the emergence of major incidents, setting up and safeguarding emergency communications and power supplies, simulating searches for origins of [signals] interference, and UAV operations.” [10]

Image: Members of the Guangdong Reserve EMSM Group Mobile Monitoring Third Unit pose for a group photograph, December 2018. (Source: Shantou City Government)

Image: The “UAV Control First Detachment,” a component of the Guangdong Reserve EMSM Group Mobile Monitoring Third Unit, conducts UAV operations during training activities near the city of Shantou, December 2018. (Source: Shantou City Government)

Conferences and Exercises Seek to Develop EMSM Proficiencies

Military-Civilian EMSM Conferences

The PLA and civilian authorities are also seeking to advance coordination and share EMSM best practices via national conferences. One of the earliest such conferences was convened in October 2013, when approximately 90 representatives drawn from “information technology departments under the headquarters of various military area commands and various services and arms of the PLA” convened in Chengdu (Sichuan Province). In the course of the discussions, “the information technology departments under the headquarters of the Shenyang [military area command], the Nanjing [military area command], and the Second Artillery Force exchanged their experience of military-civilian monitoring network interconnection and [EMSM] information services… and the [EMSM] center of the PLA’s reserve force introduced its achievements based on China’s radio industry” (China Military Online, October 16, 2013).

In addition to the April 2017 conference organized by the EMSM Center (see previous discussion), at least one other national conference was held in 2017: the “National Radio Management Work Forum” held on February 17, 2017 in Nanning (Guangxi Province), which involved representatives from 12 provinces and municipalities. During this event, representatives from Hebei, Inner Mongolia, and Hainan shared experiences on matters such as battling “black broadcasts” (黑广播, hei guangbo) and safeguarding frequencies for the safe operation of military and commercial aviation. MIIT officials were specifically mentioned as exercising a leadership role in the conference (Zhongguo Jun Wang, February 23, 2017).

EMSM Military Exercises

The PLA has been increasingly engaged in organizing EMSM training drills and exercises, in which the Reserve EMSM Center plays a prominent role. Many EMSM exercise activities described in official media revolve around the use of mobile monitoring teams to track down local area sources of inadvertent EM interference with military transmitters (PLA Daily, May 10, 2016). Additionally, one of the missions of the regional radio monitoring centers and their reserve units is to “uphold social harmony and stability” (维护社会和谐稳定, weihu shehui hexie wending).[11] This point suggests a potential overlap of missions for EMSM reserve units—to include not only preparations for military conflict, but also civil defense and domestic surveillance—a supposition reinforced by EMSM reserve units conducting training in conjunction with major public events.

Two recent exercises serve as illustrative examples. In early December 2018, the EMSM Center organized the “Ice Sharpens the Sword” (冰雪砺剑, Bing Xue Li Jian) exercise in the vicinity of Arxan (阿尔山), in eastern Inner Mongolia. The field exercise was reportedly part of an effort to train EMSM personnel for military operations, as well as to provide cold weather training for EMSM missions to be organized in support of the 2022 Winter Olympics. Personnel from 12 provinces or municipalities participated, including both active-duty and reserve PLA personnel. Coverage of this exercise also mentioned participation by expert civilian technical personnel: this included not only civilian “local personnel” (地方人员, difang renyuan) drawn from Inner Mongolia’s radio management bureaucracy, but also observing experts such as Zhao Yang (赵杨), a PhD faculty member from the PLA National Defense Technology University (Zhongguo Guofang Bao, December 14, 2018).

Images: Photos of PLA EMSM personnel taking part in the “Ice Sharpens the Sword” exercise held in early December 2018 in the vicinity of Arxan (阿尔山), eastern Inner Mongolia. (Source: China National Defense News)

In August 2019, the EMSM Center hosted another exercise and competition in the vicinity of Korla (库尔勒) in central Xinjiang. Per the official National Defense News, this event involved a mix of 25 military and civilian work teams, to include participants from unidentified foreign countries. For purposes of the training exercise, the EMSM Center commandeered usage of eight local fixed ultrashort wave frequency monitoring stations and four mobile vehicles from local authorities. The EMSM Center also borrowed the use of two UAV control vehicles from the Xinjiang Radio Management Agency in order to watch for and identify unidentified aircraft (such as small UAVs) that might make unauthorized entrance into the exercise area—thereby indicating potential plans by the PLA to employ reserve EMSM units to assist with clearing physical airspace, as well as monitoring the EM airwaves (Guofang Bao, August 15).


The PLA’s paradigm for civil-military EMSM coordination appears to be an evolving process. Media coverage of recent PLA conferences and exercises suggests that regional radio management agencies, under the overall cognizance of MIIT, will bear responsibility for frequency allocation and deconfliction between military units and civilian transmitters. However, if this is true, civilian agencies would be called upon to exercise a limited measure of command and control over PLA units—at least in the specific area of EM frequency assignment—and the specific mechanisms by which this would be accomplished remain unclear.

Questions also remain regarding the future operational deployment of EMSM reserve units. Recent exercise and training activities indicate that these units are, at a minimum, being prepared to monitor for sources of EM interference that could impact PLA and civil defense operations during wartime, natural disasters, or major public events. However, the serious attention given to these units—and the fact that technical experts from civilian industry, to include the telecom sector, are being actively recruited—suggests that they may be called upon to perform more ambitious roles in the future.

The prominence given to EMSM issues in official media, and the widespread effort on the part of the PLA and civil institutions to build mechanisms for EMSM coordination, indicate that the Chinese government is serious about EMSM—both as a practical requirement for effective military operations, and as a proof of concept for the high-priority MCF policy initiative advocated by the Party leadership. Progress in the field of EMSM could provide both a significant step forward in PLA capabilities, as well as a successful test model for the pursuit of MCF in other disciplines.

The author is grateful to Larry Wortzel (Col., U.S. Army, retired) and Dennis Blasko (LtCol., U.S. Army, retired) for their comments on an initial draft of this article. Any errors or omissions are solely my own responsibility.

John Dotson is the editor of China Brief. Contact him at:


[1] U.S. Department of Defense, Joint Publication 6-01: Joint Electromagnetic Spectrum Management Operations (March 2012), p. viii.

[2] “All-Army Reserve EMS Management Center Organizes the ‘Ice Sharpening the Sword’ Practical Combat Exercise” [全军预备役电磁频谱管理中心组织“冰雪砺剑-2018”实战化训练], PLA Daily, Dec. 14, 2018.

[3] The former PRC Ministry of Information Industry (信息产业部, Xinxi Chanye Bu) was incorporated into the current PRC Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (工业和信息化部, Gongye he Xinxihua Bu) in 2008. The former PLA General Staff Department (总参谋部, Zong Canmou Bu) was reorganized as the Central Military Commission Joint Staff Department (中央军委联合参谋部, Zhongyang Junwei Lianhe Canmou Bu) in 2016. For discussion of the two predecessor organizations conducting coordination on EMSM issues, see: “2006 Military-Local Radio Management Joint Conference is Convened in Beijing” [2006年军地无线电管理联席会议在北京召开],, May 23, 2006,

[4] The author encountered many examples of this in the research for this article. To cite but one example, see: Hainan Province Convenes a Symposium on Military-Local Radio (Electromagnetic Spectrum) Management Work in Haikou” [海南省军地无线电(电磁频谱)管理工作座谈会在海口召开], Hainan Provincial Government, Sep. 2, 2018,

[5] “People’s Republic of China Radio Management Regulations” [中华人民共和国无线电管理条例] (section 2, article 11), joint publication of the PRC State Council and the Central Military Commission, Dec. 1, 2016, . [Original text: “第二章, 第十一条 军地建立无线电管理协调机制,共同划分无线电频率,协商处理涉及军事系统与非军事系统间的无线电管理事宜。无线电管理重大问题报国务院、中央军事委员会决定。”]

[6] “Center Introduction” [中心介绍], PRC National Radio Spectrum Management Center, undated,

[7] “Do You Understand Military-Civil Fusion in the Domain of EMSM?” [电磁频谱管理领域的军民融合 你了解吗], Zhongguo Jun Wang [中国军网], April 26, 2017,; and “All-Army Reserve EMSM Management Center: Training to Accomplish Great Tasks with Clever Actions” [全军预备役电磁频谱管理中心:四两拨千斤这样炼成], Zhongguo Jun Wang, June 2, 2018.

[8] All-Army Reserve EMSM Center Director Yin Tiehua Arrives to Inspect and Guide Work in Ji’An” [全军预备役频管中心尹铁华主任一行莅临吉安局视察并指导工作], Ji’An City (Jiangxi Province) Radio Management Bureau, Nov. 28, 2014.

[9] Dennis J. Blasko, The Chinese Army Today: Tradition and Transformation for the 21st Century (Routledge, 2012), p. 26.

[10] “2018 Guangdong EMSM Group Mobile Monitoring Third Unit Training Assembly Successfully Completes Shantou Marathon Radio Security Drill Activities” [2018年广东预备役电磁频谱管理大队机动监测三队集训暨汕头马拉松无线电安全保障演练活动成功收官], Shantou City Economic and Informationization Office [汕头市经济和信息化局], Dec. 19, 2018.

[11] All-Army Reserve EMSM Center Director Yin Tiehua Arrives to Inspect and Guide Work in Ji’An” [全军预备役频管中心尹铁华主任一行莅临吉安局视察并指导工作], Ji’An City (Jiangxi Province) Radio Management Bureau, Nov. 28, 2014.