The People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force (PLASSF) has a new commander. On July 5, General Ju Qiansheng was promoted to full general and was named the new commander of the PLASSF. He is the third PLASSF commander in almost six years, succeeding General Li Fengbiao and General Gao Jin, who assumed command in 2019 and 2015, respectively.
Ju has long kept a low profile. He was cited in 2019 reporting as the commander of the PLASSF Network Systems Department (NSD). In this position, he probably was dual hatted as a PLASSF deputy commander. Unverified Chinese media source claims that Ju was born in May, 1962, and was a deputy director of the former PLA General Staff Department (GSD) Technical Reconnaissance Department. Today, the Technical Reconnaissance Department, also known as the GSD Third Department, or 3PLA, likely constitutes the backbone of the NSD. In the 2009-2010 timeframe, Ju directed the former GSD Technical Reconnaissance Department 12th Bureau, which likely had a space mission.
What does Ju’s promotion imply? There may be at least three key takeaways.
First, Ju is the first PLASSF commander to be promoted from within, which suggests the new force’s own organizational development may have achieved a key milestone. The inaugural PLASSF commander, Gao Jin, has deep roots in China’s strategic missile force, now known as the PLA Rocket Force. He was a central player in the formation of the PLA’s conventional ballistic missile force in the 1990s. His portfolio certainly overlapped with military space, but Gao had not had operational-level assignments within the PLA’s space, technical reconnaissance, or electronic countermeasures communities prior to his PLASSF appointment. Neither did Li Fengbiao, Ju Qiansheng’s predecessor. Li commanded China’s airborne corps before taking on senior leader positions at the Theater Command level. Were internal promotion to become the norm for the PLASSF going forward, it may be speculated that one of the senior leaders of the PLASSF Space Systems Department (SSD) will likely become a candidate for the next PLASSF commander. There’s one important caveat: Given the strategic significance of the PLASSF and its mission, that candidate must prove himself to be a staunch loyalist to Chairman Xi Jinping.
Second, Ju’s promotion may reflect the disproportional influence of the NSD – essentially the streamlined former GSD Third Department – within the PLASSF, and perhaps even within the entire PLA. Besides carrying out well-documented offensive cyber activities, the NSD likely shoulders the critical mission of operationalizing the PLA’s “integrated network, electromagnetic operations and psychological warfare” doctrine. The NSD likely also plays a significant role in requirements development and acquisition of strategic electronic warfare and computer network systems.
Finally, details about Ju Qiansheng released by official Chinese sources remain scarce, if not absent. The same can be said about the current PLASSF political commissar. General Li Wei was quietly transferred from Xinjiang Military District to the PLASSF in December 2020. Ju’s replacement for the commander of NSD as well as Li Fengbiao’s next appointment also remain unknown. Indeed, the exact mission and force structure of the PLASSF remains largely shrouded in mystery, almost six years after the force was established. The PLA is likely convinced that maintaining secrecy and ambiguity pertaining to the PLASSF has certain deterrence value, and it is in no rush to offer greater transparency anytime soon.