Chinese Information Warfare: A Phantom Menace or Emerging Threat?

An effective command and control capability requires a wide range of information technologies aimed at increasing the reliability of remote sensing and reconnaissance systems. One author predicts that, “The 21st century will see broad use of high-resolution photography in surveillance satellites, combined air-ground early warning systems for guided missiles, infrared detection systems, deep strike surveillance and control planes, and much use of unmanned reconnaissance planes.”40 The specific tools of offensive and defensive IW include: (1) physical destruction; (2) dominance of the electromagnetic spectrum; (3) computer network warfare; and (4) psychological manipulation. Interestingly, these capabilities almost mirror U.S. doctrine on IW. While the views on specific types of IW differ somewhat between various analysts, several discrete IW applications have dominated recent discourse from the late 1990s to the present. The following briefly discusses the four main aspects of IW:

  • Precision Strike Warfare. The Chinese envision “hard” weapons that would physically destroy the enemy’s headquarters, command posts, and C2 facilities. Smart, stealthy, and over-the-horizon weapons would be able to perform precise and “clean” deep strikes. The delivery systems include guided bombs, guided artillery shells, cruise missiles, and antiradiation missiles. Sound waves, electric waves, visible light, infrared waves, lasers, and gases would guide the weapon’s sensors.41
  • Electronic Warfare. The Chinese concur that the contest for the electromagnetic spectrum to gain battlefield initiative is a crucial phase of warfare. The objective is to dominate the spectrum while denying the enemy’s effective use of electronic equipment. For the offense, one would utilize electronic jamming, electronic deception, directed-energy weapons, and electromagnetic pulse weapons. Hardening of facilities, dispersion, countermeasures, and physical retaliation would constitute the defense. Microelectronics will become a key technological area for investment.42
  • Computer Network Warfare. Chinese strategists cover a wide range of technologies and capabilities in computer warfare. Networked computers would digitize the battlefield, increase the transparency of the battlefield to commanders, and provide real-time data. Computer warfare can manifest itself in more exotic forms such as cyber and hacker wars. Analysts discuss virtual warfare as a means to deceive enemy forces with simulated false commands.43 Virtual simulations would also prepare Chinese forces prior to actual combat.44
  • Psychological Warfare and Deception. This mode of warfare involves the transmission of information or misinformation to influence the intended audiences’ emotions, mode of thinking, and ultimately their behavior.  Aimed at both the military and public as the audience, psychological warfare would exert pressure and weaken the enemy’s will to carry on the fight.45 The primary tools include media propaganda (television and radio), leaflet distribution, e-mail, and other forms of communication.

While the existing literature lacks details on specific programs, some recent articles hint at Chinese interest in developing certain technologies, particularly in the areas of remote sensing and reconnaissance. A Chinese researcher at the Huabei Photo-electronics Technology Research Institute offered a rare interview on the military utility of photo-electronics. The researcher outlined various ongoing projects in photo-electronic technologies that would aid China in future conflicts. These include the display of clearer imagery; increase in information transmission speed; higher storage densities; miniaturized photo-electronic devices and systems; and fusion of microwave technologies with photo-electronics.46

Another article revealed Chinese interest in airborne and space-based synthetic aperture radar. The system would be used to detect enemy dispositions and to assess battle damage to enemy forces. According to the author, China is expected to launch its first space-based radar in 2003.47 A Liberation Army Daily published an extensive interview with experts on military mapping. This distinguished group of engineers, professors, and researchers discussed remote sensing and navigation satellites; multi-resolution, three-dimensional digitized imagery; and all-weather, real-time reconnaissance capabilities, among other topics.48 Clearly then, remote sensing and reconnaissance, a central component of modern command and control, have attracted increasing attention within the Chinese scientific and defense communities.