Chinese build a high-tech army within an army

Shi Jin wears a jean jacket, has razor-cropped hair, and seems gravely earnest. An officer in the People's Liberation Army, he was wooed from a Beijing vocational college three years ago by recruiters who talked up his technical aptitude - and his patriotism. In the past decade, China has undergone two military high-tech reforms designed to give the country a modern fighting force. To sustain that progress, it must attract many more gung-ho young engineers like Shi, who spends most of his time working on an "informational" revolution that planners hope will one day allow them to "see" a battlefield with the same depth as the US military. "I will not do any direct fighting if there is a war, but I am contributing on the technical side," he says. "We are all needed in the new Army." China's desire, often stated, is to be a great nation. Many in Beijing feel that the country's natural right is to be the major power in Asia. But China has rarely been given high marks in global military annals. It has a "brown water" Navy that doesn't navigate open seas. It can't project power by sending forces abroad. It has relied on states like Russia for jet fighters, cruise missiles, and other advanced weapons. Yet it now appears China is methodically changing this equation. In a surprisingly short time, China has accomplished two feats. One, it has focused its energy and wealth on creating an army within an army. It has devoted huge amounts of capital to create a small high-tech army within its old 2.2 million-member rifle and shoe-leather force. The specialty of this modern force, about 15 percent of the PLA, is to conduct lightning attacks on smaller foes, using an all-out missile attack designed to paralyze, and a modern sea and air attack coordinated by high-tech communications. In other words, this new modern force is designed to attack Taiwan. Second, China has taken painful but successful steps to create a "defense industrial base," or weapons-building capability. The PLA has improved its factory quality control and its ability to adapt foreign technology. It is bringing an indigenous small-wing F-10 fighter off the production line, and it is moving rapidly toward a "blue water" Navy with ships built in China.