Chinese military sets up hi-tech weapons research agency modelled on US body

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A J-15 fighter jet takes off from aircraft carrier Liaoning during a training on July 1, 2017 in China.
Li Tang | VCG | Getty Images

China's military has set up a new department modelled on the ­Pentagon's hi-tech research agency to develop state-of-the-art weapons such as stealth ­aircraft and electromagnetic ­cannons.

The Scientific Research Steering Committee was set up early this year, according to a documentary aired on state broadcaster CCTV that revealed the new department for the first time.

The committee will fall directly under the Central Military Commission (CMC), which is chaired by President Xi Jinping.

Xi has been driving an unpre­cedented military overhaul since he took the helm in 2012, with the ambition of transforming the People's Liberation Army into a nimble and modern fighting force.

The two most recent episodes of the 10-part series Carrying ­Reform Through to the End, which were broadcast on Sunday and Monday, explained the revamp and the new committee.

The broadcast suggested that the new agency was similar to the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), set up in 1957 by the Pentagon to look after breakthrough technologies to do with national security.

"As everyone knows, the internet, global positioning systems, stealth fighters, electromagnetic guns, laser weapons as well as ­other advanced technologies – most are DARPA-related," the voice-over said. "We should make greater efforts to promote scientific technology in our army if we want to win the competitive ­advantage."

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State media reported that the J-20, China's first stealth fighter, went into service with the PLA Air Force in March. Also in March, CCTV reported that leading naval engineer Rear Admiral Ma Weiming was developing a new integrated electrical propulsion system (IEPS) for PLA warships.

Ma said the IEPS was aimed at solving the problem of deploying high-energy radio-frequency (HERF) weapons on ships. HERF weapons use directed energy to damage digital equipment such as computers, and could be used in anti-missile systems. China, the US, Russia and India are developing such weapons.

The new steering committee and the CMC Science and Technology Commission will spearhead scientific and technological innovation, according to the CCTV documentary.

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Song Zhongping, a Hong Kong-based military commentator with Phoenix Television, said the committee should include scientists and leading engineers who were familiar with cutting-edge technologies.

"The steering committee will play a consultative role to help the CMC to decide on projects at an early stage," Song said. "Funding, resources and the detailed implementation of these projects will be overseen by some of the 15 functional departments under the CMC."

In one of his biggest military restructuring moves, Xi scrapped the PLA's four core command bodies and replaced them with 15 smaller units. That move was backed by more than 90 per cent of the advisers working on the overhaul, according to the CCTV documentary.

A number of jobs were also shed when more than 200 ­division-level units were cut.