Secretive China Army Apes US Military, Invites Civilians for Innovative Tech Ideas

With the push to expedite technological innovation in the military, China has been recruiting civilians from the tech industry and research institutes

In 2016, the Chinese government outlined a strategy for a civilian-military collaboration that would drive innovation both ways. It also announced recruitment of 150 civilians for the National Innovation Institute of Defense Technology (NIIDT) to expand the idea further. Now, the Chinese military is inviting the civilian sector to hear suggestions that could further expedite innovation.

On Saturday, the Chinese military began a monthly one-day event that saw civilians from high-tech companies, research institutes and universities exchanging ideas for military technological innovation. On the first day, 44 participants joined the summit, China's Science and Technology Commission (STC) of the Central Military Commission said on Sunday.

The aim of the collaboration is to bridge the gap between civil and military technologies as the Chinese military believes that the long exclusion of civilians has created a vacuum. In other countries, governments have ensured a steady partnership between military and civilian institutes for the joint development of technologies. Their militaries often invite civilian engineering and industrial leaders to develop military hardware and software. A prime example is the U.S. military.

Hence, China doesn't want to fall behind. Since the STC announced the scheme in July, 755 scientific research teams have confirmed participation and have submitted innovative ideas that would contribute to national defense.

Map of China
Chinese PLA wants civilian participation in military to drive technological innovation Wikimedia Commons

Civilian Recruitment

Until recently, the Academy of Military Science (AMS) was exclusive for uniformed personnel. But as China's civilian tech industry has steadily grown, more and more students leaned towards joining the companies instead of joining the People's Liberation Army (PLA). Hence, while the civilian tech industry has grown rapidly, its military innovation remained stagnant. Thus, President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) decided to open NIIDT's door to civilians.

After announcing the civilian recruitment plan in 2018, it had a target of hiring 50 research candidates in 2020. But then, the push for innovation and match the might of the U.S., it has announced the hiring of 100 more research personnel.

'Testing Field'

To take the initiative forward, AMS has become the "testing field" for PLA which wants a civil-military fusion. The Chinese military has recognized eight research institutes to address medicine, defense engineering, system engineering, chemical defense, innovative defense technologies and military law. PLA has also sought civil participation in war studies and military-political studies, as per a report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISC).

Chinese military is recruiting civilians and active cadres with PhDs and master's degree for technology innovation and research in the military (representational image) Wikimedia Commons

While the emphasis is on recruiting civilians, the AMS first looks at active PLA cadres who have a professional scientific background. Since the reforms began in 2017, AMS has recruited over 200 qualified active cadres for civilian research. Of the 200, at least 84 percent have at least a master's degree. The NIIDT, on the other hand, has recruited over 120 active PLA cadres with PhDs in innovative technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), unmanned systems and bio-electromagnetics.

However, the push also has a negative side. In recent times, many Chinese students studying in the U.S. have been subjected to expulsion. Many Chinese students studying in U.S. universities with ties to the military have been asked to leave the country.

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