Information warfare and PLA
Speaking at the meeting of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party Central Committee in late August, President Xi Jinping called for more innovation in the country’s armed forces and a new strategy for information warfare (IW) amid a global military revolution. Xi said that China should liberate ideas and concepts, and have the courage to change fixed mindsets on mechanised warfare and establish the ideological concept on information warfare. He wanted China strive to establish a new military doctrine, institutions, equipment systems, strategies and tactics and management modes for information warfare. Though China is well advanced in IW, IW being at the forefront of the revolution in military affairs (RMA) launched during the Jiang Zemin, the remarks apparently were to address the raging competition that China has with the US in the IW sphere. In May, China had said it will take action against the US for prosecuting five PLA officers for alleged cyber espionage. In an indictment unsealed on May 19, 2014, the US had charged Wang Dong, Sun Kailiang, Wen Xinyu, Huang Zhenyu and Gu Chunhui with economic espionage linked to computer hacking of American nuclear power, metals and solar companies. In May 2014, Geng Yansheng, Chinese Ministry of National Defence, had said that online attacks from a specific country had targeted Chinese companies, its military and important websites. But China has been accused of similar cyber attacks and cyber stealing over the years.
As part of RMA, the Chinese leadership has continuously stressed using asymmetric techniques to counter more powerful nations like the US and Information Operations (IO) and IW are tools that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) uses to achieve their goals. Chinese IO and IW are based on concepts and terms similar to the US but with Chinese characteristics suiting Chinese culture and the communist doctrine.
China has adopted the idea of information from the US but her method for achieving information dominance employs the ancient methods like the ‘Thirty Six Stratagems’ to win wars: deceive the heavens to cross the ocean; besiege Wei to rescue Zhao; kill with a borrowed sword; wait at leisure while the enemy labors; loot a burning house; make a sound in the east, then strike in the west; create something from nothing; openly repair the gallery roads but sneak through the passage of Chencang; watch the fires burning across the river; hide a knife behind a smile; sacrifice the plum tree to preserve the peach tree; take the opportunity to pilfer a goat; stomp the grass to scare the snake; borrow a corpse to resurrect the soul; entice the tiger to leave its mountain lair; in order to capture, one must let loose; tossing out a brick to get a jade gem; defeat the enemy by capturing their chief; remove the firewood from under the pot; disturb the water and catch a fish; slough off the cicada’s golden shell; shut the door to catch the thief; befriend a distant state while attacking a neighbour; obtain safe passage to conquer the State of Gou; replace the beams with rotten timbers; point at the mulberry tree while cursing the locust tree; feign madness but keep your balance; remove the ladder when the enemy has ascended to the roof; deck the tree with false blossoms; make the host and the guest exchange roles; the beauty trap-honey pot; the empty fort strategy; let the enemy’s own spy sow discord in the enemy camp; inflict injury on oneself to win the enemy’s trust; chain stratagems, and; if all else fails, retreat. Perhaps there isn’t a more complete treatise on treachery and deceit but that is what Chinese strategy is all about.
Xie Guang, then Vice Minister of Science & Technology and Industry for National Defence, defined IW in December 1999 as, “IW in military sense means overall use of various types of information technologies, equipment and systems, particularly his command systems, to shake determination of enemy’s policy makers and at the same time, the use of all the means possible to ensure that that one’s own systems are not damaged or disturbed.” More than two decades ago, China began propounding theories, doctrines, policies and strategies for defensive and aggressive use of cyberspace. Recently, a student from the Institute of Systems Engineering of Dalian University of Technology in China published a research paper titled “Cascade-based Attack Vulnerability on the US Power Grid.”
If President Xi is calling for refining the IW strategy it is because China has constantly drawn upon the experience of the US and Russia whether the conflict is in Middle East, Balkans or elsewhere. The focus always is on how to strengthen China’s territorial claims and affect the course of conflicts, if and when they occur. IW has been dovetailed with psychological warfare operations electronic warfare operations, expanding the role for its legal scholars in justifying military action and territorial claims. These then go into what scholars describe as a three warfare package; media warfare, psychological warfare and legal warfare again to justify territorial claims by any which way while disregarding international treaties and norms like UNCLOS. Same is the case with China’s claims with reference to India and Taiwan. China takes IW seriously with regard to her energy security including critical infrastructure and network of oil pipelines.
PLA has already developed its Integrated Network and Electronic Warfare (INEW) doctrine for gaining superiority and information dominance. INEW combines application of computer network operations (CNO) and EW encompasses coordinated and simultaneous attack on the adversaries command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) networks and other key information systems/assets to gain information dominance. A significant addition to enable the PLA successfully operate in the electromagnetic domain is formulation of a new approach termed ‘Information Confrontation’ establishing discreet capabilities linked together under a single command structure and fully integrated into the overall campaign plan. Multiple Blue Forces IW units are being regularly rehearsed in proactive operations and the IW militia is well organised under the PLA. India needs to monitor these developments closely in order to draw lessons from them. Interestingly, President Xi in the same meeting of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party Central Committee urged all party members to be more aware of military issues, defence and military building and military preparedness, and to give more support to the country’s national defence and military reforms, which by itself is no less significant.