BEIJING (Reuters) - China's increasingly sophisticated military will establish a joint operational command structure for its forces to improve coordination between different parts of the country's defense system, the official China Daily reported on Friday.
China has been moving rapidly to upgrade its military hardware, but military analysts say operational integration of complex and disparate systems across a regionalized command structure is a major challenge for Beijing.
In the past, regional level military commanders have enjoyed major latitude over their forces and branches of the military have remained highly independent of each other, making it difficult to exercise the centralized control necessary to use new weapons systems effectively in concert.
The English-language newspaper, citing the Defense Ministry, said that China will implement a joint command system "in due course" and that it has already launched pilot programs to that effect.
"Setting up the system is a basic requirement in a era of information, and the military has launched positive programs in this regard," the report said, quoting a ministry statement. It provided no further details.
In November, the ruling Communist Party announced the establishment of a new national security commission, to enable the country to speak with a single voice on crises at home and abroad, as part of a slew of mostly economic reforms announced at the end of a key party meeting.
China currently has seven military regions traditionally focused around ground-based army units, but China's changing security interests, including over claims to potentially rich energy reserves in the East and South China Seas, has highlighted its need to focus more on air and naval forces.
China and Japan are engaged in an intensifying standoff over a set of uninhabited disputed islands, and the Japanese government appears to be ready to ramp up military spending and adjust its nominally pacifist stance to a more confrontational one as the two militaries circle each other.
China is engaged in similar disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines.
The China Daily said that the navy could be the top priority for the new command system.
"China has built an iron bastion in its border regions. The major concern lies at sea," said Li Qinggong, deputy secretary-general of the China Council for National Security Policy Studies, as quoted in the report.
Beijing unveiled a 10.7 percent rise in defense spending last year to 740.6 billion yuan ($120 billion), part of a pattern of double-digit increase which have worried the region.
China has advertised its long-term military ambitions with shows of new hardware, including a first test flight of a stealth fighter jet in early 2011 and the launch of its first aircraft carrier - both trials of technologies needing years more of development.
Beijing is also building new submarines, surface ships and anti-ship ballistic missiles as part of its naval modernization, and has tested emerging technology aimed at destroying missiles in mid-air.
However, the country's forces are largely untested in real combat situations, and Beijing has no experience of conducting the types of complex integrated operations the United States has done in places like Iraq.
"Both the navy's development and the military's structural reform will take time," the paper quoted Lin Dong, a professor at National Defence University, as saying.
($1 = 6.0506 Chinese yuan)