The Complex

China Has a New Propaganda Machine -- and This One Can Fly

In a move straight from the U.S. Air Force's playbook, China is now fielding its very own flying propaganda broadcast plane.

Chinese state-run media is reporting that the People's Liberation Army Air Force has modified one of its planes -- what appears to be a Y-8 airlifter (basically, Beijing's version of the U.S.-made C-130 Hercules) -- to carry the kind of broadcast equipment capable of taking over a country's radio and TV channels. It's another sign that the Chinese military is slowly starting to close the enormous advantage that the U.S. Air Force has over it in the skies.

The new plane, dubbed the Gaoxin 7, will "give the enemy nervous breakdowns" as it flies through the skies, according to a hype-ridden article by the Chinese state-run Global Times.

Not impressed yet? What if we told you that the Gaoxin 7 will also (according to a translation of the Global Times article in Hong Kong's South China Morning Post), "limit the spread of enemy propaganda, affect the morale of the enemy's army, sow seeds of rumor and confusion, and send all enemy troops from soldiers to officials into a state of nervous breakdown, achieving victory without soldiers even having to fight?"

"After that," the paper says, "[dealing with] dropped enemy pamphlets and other propaganda items will be a piece of cake."

The Global Times article on this new "weapon of mass persuasion" has received its fair share of mockery from Chinese Internet users for its breathless tone (see this overview in the South China Morning Post). But as the article notes, the United States has a long history with these kinds of PsyOps tactics -- and they're a little more sophisticated than they might at first appear.

The Chinese plane appears to be modeled after U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command's EC-130J Commando Solo.

The Harrisburg, Pa.-based Commando Solos carry massive amounts of VHF, UHF, AM, FM, and military communications-band broadcast equipment capable of overriding the broadcasts being watched or listened to by the target audience and replacing them with a message of the U.S. government's choosing. Uncle Sam literally takes over your television.

We've been using Commando Solos and their predecessors -- the EC-121 Coronet Solo -- for decades to broadcast messages of doom for our enemies and love for our allies. They flew over Southeast Asia in the early 1970s, and traveled to the Persian Gulf in the early 1990s for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, during which they flew around playing messages designed to convince Iraqi soldiers to surrender. They made news again in 2011 for their role in the Operation Odyssey Dawn mission in Libya.

You can listen to one of the messages (broadcast in both English and Arabic here) directed at sailors in the Libyan navy here ("If you target NATO vessels, you will be destroyed," it says). But it's not all threats and bluster: in post-9/11 Afghanistan, the planes were dispatched to play Afghan pop music for a population that had been music-less for years under Taliban rule.

Useful? Maybe. The source of mass nervous breakdowns and surrender? Not quite. To be honest, we don't really know how much these PsyOps are aiding the U.S. cause; as Wired has noted, one of the issues with this kind of operation is measuring its effectiveness. We also don't yet know what China has in mind for its new plane. But if America's history here is any indication, we've got a long way to go before a flying propaganda machine manages to achieve victory without any fighting.

China Defense Mashup

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