The People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force

Chinese Tactics > PART ONE: People’s Liberation Army Forces > Chapter 3: People’s Liberation Army Joint Capabilities > The People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force


 3-24. In 2016, the PLA established the People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force (PLASSF). The PLASSF is a unified command with responsibility for national-level space, cyber, and EW missions, along with national-level intelligence support to military operations and information operations. There is not a U.S. equivalent to the PLASSF. It mixes capabilities taken from numerous military and nonmilitary government agencies under a single command, much of which is controlled directly by the Central Military Commission (CMC).

 3-25. The PLASSF represents the evolution of several basic Chinese warfighting principles into a unified command structure. It combines numerous capabilities along the competition continuum and seeks to employ them in a more structured and coherent way than the largely piecemeal approach previously used by the PLA. The PLASSF emphasizes system warfare as its underlying operational principle, seeking to find asymmetric approaches to neutralizing or otherwise offsetting highly capable enemy systems.

 3-26. The PLASSF was likely developed to help reduce the PLA’s acknowledged shortcomings in joint operations, particularly joint intelligence collection and distribution. It echoes the general PLA trend to centralize capabilities that are deemed insufficient or immature, with the intent of managing them more effectively at a national level. The PLASSF also supports the PLA’s initiative toward Military-Civil Fusion. The intent is to enhance cooperation between the PLA, nonmilitary organizations, and industry. This initiative is most clear when it comes to space capabilities: the PLASSF will likely work very closely with the China National Space Administration and the country’s space industry partners to develop dual-use space capabilities. The advantage to this approach is that it allows military space development while being minimally provocative internationally, as all initiatives have a legitimate civilian purpose.

 3-27. The other major change driving the PLASSF is the integration of national intelligence. China’s intelligence apparatus is enormous, complex, and almost completely opaque to outsiders. It consists of numerous and occasionally competing intelligence organizations that focus on both domestic and international intelligence gathering. The PLASSF integrates electronic intelligence (ELINT), signals intelligence (SIGINT), long-range surveillance, and information operations capabilities under a single command. China believes this greater centralization will result in better use of national intelligence assets while expediting critical intelligence information—such as targeting data—to commanders and weapons systems that need it.

3-28. The PLASSF likely used the PLARF as the blueprint for its organization. National-level assets are retained at the top level of command, while lower-level assets are allocated to TCs as missions require. PLASSF intelligence operations are split into strategic intelligence and tactical intelligence. Strategic intelligence consists of collection efforts focused on long-term issues of national importance. Tactical intelligence is composed of collection efforts that directly support PLA operations, such as ground intelligence, air- and space-based surveillance, deep ELINT, and tactical-level information operations.


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