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Along the Border and in the Ktchen: Army Goes Digital
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Nowadays Chinese soldiers can reach readily for a digital device as electronic equipment such as computers are omnipresent.

The Chinese army started its IT revolution in the 1990s.

In Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in south China, the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) digital technology allows commanders to electronically monitor the borders right around the clock even while cooks in the barracks are rustling up some tasty grub using a recipe from an e-Book consulted on a screen in the kitchen.

Intelligent command and control systems have been installed in remote border posts along the 2,600-kilometer-long sea coasts and land borders of this south China region, vastly improving information management over the huge territory. According to the district's political department, sentries and border patrols are equipped with intelligent IC cards and electronic sentinels function 24 hours a day.

Lu Guangyou works as an instructor at the Faka Mountain sentry post. He said that when he arrived in July 2005, conditions were more sophisticated than he had expected. The PLA had set up a local area network (LAN) in 2004 and military personnel could access it at any time.

"Soldiers used to pack pans and bowls into their luggage when they went out on patrol," said Junior military officer Yang. "Today they carry laptop computers, digital cameras and GPS devices."

Soldiers out on patrol swipe their IC cards as they move across the terrain, funneling information back to headquarters. Digital visual and audio communication technologies link headquarters to command teams that may be thousands of miles away.

Deng, a company commander, said that the main passes in the Guangxi military region have been equipped with monitors, alarms, infrared night vision cameras, enabling 24-hour real-time monitoring.

The real-time surveillance system has improved the army's ability to deal with emergencies, he said.

Information management has improved the quality of border patrol and also had an impact on logistics, rest & recuperation, and that eternal friend of the soldier -- a square meal.

With most regiments in Guangxi far from towns, soldiers used to have to travel a long way just to buy a tube of toothpaste.

But in January 2007, an online shopping site appeared on the district's military LAN -- and now a soldier staring out at the hillside in a remote border post can simply click on a website to whistle up his favorite brand of rice cakes.

According to Kuang Zhiwen, political commissar of the border regiment, shopping transport costs of almost 1,000 yuan (US$130) a week have been cut to less than 300 yuan (US$39) because army vehicles now truck goods in twice a week to posts stationed along the borders.

"Shopping online is convenient and fair, we know exactly how the money is being spent," said a soldier.

Meanwhile, the regiment has worked with the National University of Defense Technology to set up "an online menu system". A range of tasty morsels can be ordered from a menu on the website for delivery to a border post way out in the Guangxi hills.

On the system's homepage, cooking tips, recipes and other bits of culinary know-how are available as e-Books and video clips. Kitchen staff looking for a new taste treat can consult these resources when they order their food online.

(Xinhua News Agency June 10, 2007)

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