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  • Elsa Kania

Incubating Innovation? — New Directions for the PLA Academy of Military Science

This May, Xi Jinping visited and inspected the PLA's Academy of Military Science (AMS, 军事科学院). In his remarks at the time, Xi called for military scientific research to concentrate on running the "engine of innovation at full speed," pursuing innovations in theory, technology, and organizations. He also highlighted the importance of "increasing the intensity of innovation in emerging domains, and strengthening the incubation of strategic, cutting-edge, and disruptive incubation of technologies." As Chairman of the Central Military Commission, Xi Jinping has consistently emphasized the criticality of military innovation against the backdrop of an evolving Revolution in Military Affairs.


During his visit, Xi Jinping also spoke to Li Deyi (李德毅), a research fellow with the AMS Systems Engineering Research Institute, who highlighted his work on unmanned systems and artificial intelligence. When not in uniform, Major General Li Deyi is also head of the China Association for Artificial Intelligence, and he is a leading thinker on the future of AI in China, from education to self-driving cars. Li Deyi, known as an expert on command automation (指挥自动化) has spent much of his career at the PLA Equipment Development Department's 61st Research Institute, which was involved in the development of the PLA's integrated command platform.



While traditionally influential in shaping PLA strategy and doctrine, AMS has started to concentrate more intensively on advancing defense innovation, particularly since its reform and reorganization in the fall of 2017. Could the combination of strategic and scientific talent that AMS is bringing together enhance the PLA's capability to develop new military theories and concepts of operations that account for the impact of emerging technologies?


Here are a few examples of recent changes at AMS that reflect its pursuit of innovation in emerging technologies.


In July 2017, AMS completed a reform and reorganization that included the establishment of the National Defense Science and Technology Innovation Research Institute (国防科技创新研究院), which has sought to recruit "first class scientific talents" for the construction of a "world-class" institution. In early 2018, AMS reportedly introduced a contingent of 120 top researchers, a significant proportion of whom had PhDs, to pursue research including military applications of AI and quantum technologies.



Under the aegis of this new institute, AMS has established an Artificial Intelligence Research Center (人工智能研究中心), which pursues research on intelligent algorithms, robotics operating systems, intelligent computing chips, big data, and cognitive radio and communications; an Unmanned Systems Technology Research Center (无人系统技术研究中心), which focuses on the design, research and development, integration, verification, and application of intelligent unmanned systems and systems of systems; and the Front-line Cross-Disciplinary Technologies Research Center ( 前沿交叉技术研究中心), which will pursue research in neuro-cognition, quantum technologies, and flexible electronics, among others.


In September 2017, the AMS National Defense Science and Technology Innovation Research Institute established the Military-Civil Fusion Intelligent Manufacturing and Engineering Collaborative Innovation Center (军民融合智能制造工程协同创新中心) through a strategic cooperation agreement with Guangzhou University. This new center will pursue research on robotics operating systems and cutting-edge AI technologies, while also undertaking joint efforts in personnel training.



In December 2017, the Beijing Quantum Information Science Research Institute (北京量子信息科学研究院) was established in late 2017 as a collaboration among the Beijing Municipal Government, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Academy of Military Sciences, Peking University, and Tsinghua University, and the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. This new institute will pursue research on a range of quantum technologies, including communications, computing, and sensing, that are prioritized for advances by 2030 pursuant to a national megaproject.



Through these partnerships, the AMS could emerge as a leader in the conceptual and technological dimensions of military innovation at a time when the PLA is seeking an advantage in future military competition.

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