PLA’s “New Leap Forward” in Information-Centric Command

“Sharpening Sword 2008,” the code name for the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) month-long multi-service and multi-arm joint training counter-strike military exercise, is underway at the Zhurihe Joint Tactical Training Base under the Beijing Military Area Command in the Inner Mongolia grassland. Particular to this year’s exercise, a mechanized infantry brigade of the Jinan Military Area Command is participating in parallel operations with an elite force in the Beijing Military Area Command. The elite force in the Beijing Military Area Command is reportedly the most highly trained brigade in the PLA on fighting information-centric warfare (Ta Kung Pao, September 13). These two brigades, labeled as the “Red Army Brigade” for the Jinan Military Area Command and the “Blue Army Brigade” for the Beijing Military Area Command, were selected by Central Command in this force-on-force operation that military analysts say has significant analytic value as a prototype for the PLA’s future army and its modernization.

Xu Min, deputy director of the exercise, said that the strategic maneuvers testify to the PLA’s ongoing transition from the research-centric to the normal test-oriented stage of its modernization (PLA Daily, September 17). The Commander of the Red Army Brigade, Tang Yanfeng, remarked that the trans-regional force-on-force maneuver, which required transporting multiple regiments via railroad, highway and airway while the brigade was placed under constant “enemy” alert, was tested in 40 “enemy” scenarios that included “enemy reconnaissance, precision attack and electromagnetic disturbance” (PLA Daily, September 2).

The three distinctive characteristics of this year’s exercise are the strong emphasis on fighting under information-centric conditions, tactical combined formation and information sharing in intelligence reconnaissance, and long-distance, trans-regional force projection. The Red Army Brigade, which is comprised of three separate units (arms, airborne and electronic countermeasures), had to travel six provinces and cover more than 1,400 kilometers in two days. Peng Yubin, political commissar of the Red Army Brigade, commented that future battlefields will be dominated by information-centric conditions; in order to meet the challenges of these new conditions, operation patterns and measures have to change since the tactical terrain of the battlefield would also rapidly shift. The military exercises are meant to train commanders to adapt to the changing needs of the battlefield, streamline operation command while training them to execute simplified but diversified command on the battlefield. “The battlefield has changed, so should be the mode of command along with it,” said Chen Haiqing, deputy commander of the Red Army Brigade (PLA Daily, September 17).