The Creation of the PLA Strategic Support Force and Its Implications for Chinese Military Space Operations

This report explores the missions and organization of China’s military space enterprise, focusing on the organizational structure of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Strategic Support Force (SSF). Created on December 31, 2015, as part of a major reorganization of China’s military, the SSF is charged with developing and employing most of the PLA’s space capabilities. Its creation signifies a shift in the PLA’s prioritization of space and an increased role for PLA space capabilities. Chinese military strategists see military space capabilities and operations as a key component of strategic deterrence, critical to enabling the PLA to fight informatized local wars and counter U.S. military intervention in the region and essential for supporting operations aimed at protecting China’s emerging interests in more-distant parts of the world. The main function of the SSF’s space component appears to be the launch and operation of satellites to provide the PLA with command and control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities. It appears that information warfare, including space warfare, long identified by PLA analysts as a critical element of future military operations, has entered a new phase of development in which an emphasis on space and information warfare, long-range precision strikes, and the requirements associated with conducting operations at greater distances from China has necessitated the establishment of a new and different type of organization.

The research described in this report was prepared for the United States Air Force and conducted by the Strategy and Doctrine Program within RAND Project AIR FORCE.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

Permission is given to duplicate this electronic document for personal use only, as long as it is unaltered and complete. Copies may not be duplicated for commercial purposes. Unauthorized posting of RAND PDFs to a non-RAND Web site is prohibited. RAND PDFs are protected under copyright law. For information on reprint and linking permissions, please visit the RAND Permissions page.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND’s publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.

Author: Kevin L. Pollpeter; Michael S. Chase; Eric Heginbotham