China Tests New Electronic Battlefield System
By WENDELL MINNICK, TAIPEI
China revealed its version of the “digital soldier” concept at its annual North Sword 0709 live-fire exercise, begun Sept. 18 at the Zhurihe training base in northern Inner Mongolia. According to a Xinhua press report, the exercise involved 2,000 soldiers, tanks and other vehicles equipped with electronic devices that instantly relayed data about battlefield conditions back to the command center. The system collected data on causalties, food, ammunition and supplies.
“The system could let us know the exact conditions our troops are in under combat; how much ammunition, water and food remain; and when we should support them with logistics,” said Zhang Jixiang, vice commander of the Zhurihe training base, according to Xinhua.
Richard Fisher, vice president of the Washington-based International Assessment and Strategy Center, said the system is China’s attempt at creating a digital soldier system. The system would “shrink and graft computer/satnav/digital-video connectivity to the individual soldier,” Fisher said. “The idea is for the individual soldier to be able to broadcast intimate details of his combat condition and receive data of a magnitude to give him a thousandfold more situational awareness than before. Weight, power supply and ruggedness issues have been the main technical barriers.
“In 2002, the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] revealed a limited digital soldier rig following a special forces exercise,” Fisher added. “It involved an unwieldy-looking digital camera and a small viewing screen lashed to a helmet. It did not look like it would really survive a jump from a helicopter, but it at least signaled the PLA work in that area.”
Larry Wortzel, commissioner of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, said this is part of the Qu Dian System, or Project 995 Regional Integrated Electronic System.
“This is probably a full test of the Qu Dian system,” he said. “It’s important. And it means that the PLA now has a redundant, China-wide, multilevel command-and-control system. Clearly, they have mastered the challenges of the information age. Now, when we talk about the PLA using electronic means, missiles, information warfare and anti-satellite weapons, it is no longer an asymmetric form of attack. Many of the PLA’s systems are similar to those used by the U.S. and other advanced militaries. They are a modern fighting force, even if they are somewhat behind the U.S.”
The Qu Dian system is an advanced theater-level command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, target-acquisition and reconnaissance network. As an automated battlefield management system, it combines the air force, navy and army communications networks. The heart of the system is the Feng Huo-1 military communications satellite, launched in 2000, that provides China’s military units with C-band and ultra-high frequency communications.