Prof Stephen Rosen
, Professor, Harvard University
Prof Jacqueline Newmyer
, Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Philadelphia
Brig Arun Sahgal
, Consultant IPCS
Prof Jacqueline Newmyer
China’s military modernization and specifically China’s approach to Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) is important. RMA in the US including military technical revolution took place in the context of the Cold War. It was diagnosed by the Soviets who observed that advances in computer processing were enabling the US to develop an ability to launch precise strikes deep into Soviet territories. Enhancing and improving precision strike technology constituted the core of RMA in US military thinking. Therefore, there has been no revolution in the US per se because it has remained limited to long range strikes, precision engagement and reducing collateral damage.
The Chinese writing on what happened during the first Gulf war and Kosovo reflects a very different view. The translations of Chinese writings are quite striking for they demonstrate greater emphasis on information revolution than on precision strike. By RMA China meant information deterrence, information war and an informationized battlefield. Notion of paralysis combat and invisible forces are terms taken from the translation of PLA journals and Chinese strategic writings. Since the 90's, the Chinese have been thinking about warfare under informationized modern conditions. In fact, even the Chinese classical texts including Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War’ demonstrate an emphasis on information and managing perceptions, superior intelligence, and the idea of winning without fighting. At the same time, the Chinese are thinking of the opportunity that information revolution provides in order to further asymmetric warfare. Unlike nuclear technology which is highly protected, information technology is relatively easy to acquire. The American approach to military affairs is based on launch precision strike with reduced collateral damage. But the Chinese approach to military revolution focuses on information warfare, idea of information deterrence and information umbrella, replacing the nuclear umbrella. . It goes well beyond military spheres, cyber espionage, and cyber hacking. Further they also talk about surprise attacks, need for serialized attacks, warfare engineering, cyber attacks and use of space.
Prof Stephen Rosen
Information technology will be used in a way consistent with the general Chinese approach to the question of strategy conflict and to achieve political goals. The main aim is to win without fighting if possible, by disrupting enemies’ strategy. This strategy can be examined in a hypothetical scenario of conflict between India and China. What are the characteristics of the Chinese RMA? The first issue is the importance of activities well before the onset of military conflict. Looking at Chinese writings, the conflict begins months or even years ahead with shaping of command structure, construction of tailored military units with explicit purpose to engage in that particular exercise. So the first thing to understand is that the Chinese will involve the preparation or shaping the battlefield well ahead of time. In case of India, if a conflict occurs, in order to increase instability in the region so that the Indian army gets distracted, Chinese might look at options of proxy war by supporting insurgent groups. Proxy will be an important element of Chinese preparation of the battlefield. This will allow China to restrict the freedom of India, politically and militarily which could otherwise counter Chinese attack more successfully.
A second category of action prior to military conflict involves the use of cyber warfare. As discussed at length in PLA journals, one of the characteristic of cyber warfare is that it can come long before the onset of military conflict and may not be detected as hostile action. The second phase in this serialized campaign will be defeating the Early Warning System of Indian defence. As the Chinese literature talks about information dominance, it includes denying India the information to detect and react to Chinese movement. The cyber warfare techniques will be used to bring down the Early Warning Network. The third phase in the serialized attack could be initiating military activity but not necessarily on the ground. It could involve attack on Indian satellites, followed by precision-guided ammunition to attack airfields in the Northeast India and then further in depth at airbases in order to neutralize the airfields. Thus, the hypothetical analysis presents a situation where, firstly, a political and military distraction is created by proxies; secondly cyber warfare disrupts and denies information; and lastly, military capabilities of the adversary are degraded by precision-guided strikes. Under such circumstances, the Indian political and military command may decide that a war cannot occur because India cannot conduct a successful military operation in the region. In other words, the Chinese approach defeats the strategy of adversaries rather than defeating the forces of the adversaries.
Brig Arun Sahgal
It is important to understand the Chinese approach to RMA from the view of possible conflict contingencies in a hardcore India China military balance. Despite its growing economic and political influence, China remains a ‘geo-strategically restrained’ power. Its maritime borders in the east are limited by the first and second Island chains restrained by the US-led military alliance system. Its western and southern borders are buffered by non-Han minorities which form nine per cent of Chinese population but 60 per cent of its geographic space. Beyond this lie inimical and competitive Asian players who are in competition for strategic space in Asia. Interestingly, while China has reached accommodation with almost all peripheral states, it has resolutely avoided settlement with India and Bhutan. In breaking the logjam of its geo-strategic restraint, China appears to have come to the conclusion that southern push is more plausible than to the east and west. It carries with it an added prize of access to Indian Ocean Region and ability to dominate its vulnerable Sea Line of Communication’s, and deal with the “Malacca Dilemma.”
Major issues defining India-China relations are geopolitical factors and the perception of the Chinese leadership on India’s rise and its long term implications. The moot question is when and under what circumstances can “competition” turn into “conflict.” China is not a “status quo” power and can be expected to react should it feel threatened. Tibet could become a tipping point. India sees it as a cultural buffer; any change in status could be inimical to its interest. Both sides being civilizational states are unlikely to be accommodating on mutually acceptable terms or through coercion. The boundary issue and Tibet are likely to remain intractable. Despite improvement in relations, undercurrents of hostility are unlikely to fade in short to medium term.
Concluding Remarks: Maj. Gen Banerjee
- The levels of training in PLA have improved in both exercises and characteristics. More attention is being paid to the realistic training in PLA.
- More joint forces training are occurring and are under the situation designed to face electronic warfare.
- Level of resources and levels of activities on improving the quality of training in PLA are observable. However, the real quality of training is actually discovered in wartime.
- Many other militaries, including Indian military undertake joint exercises with China. Two joint land exercises have ben carried out in the past and the next one is scheduled in 2010. There have been limited joint air exercises with the IAF. • Chinese considers information warfare as strategic.
- The quality of PLA aircraft and pilots may not be critical, though even here the quality has improved of late. This is also not critical from a Chinese stand point, as they are investing an enormous amount in cruise and ballistic missiles . The quality of aircraft becomes secondary when Chinese can achieve their aim with ballistic missile attacks.
- Regarding Chinese defence preparedness in cyber warfare and information warfare, they are conducting exercises on how to deal with situation under informationized warfare. However, information on cyber warfare and cyber defence capability is hard to come by as they are regarded as highly classified.
- China remains vulnerable in Tibet and Xinjiang. It also faces a threat from al Qaeda, particularly in Africa and the Middle East where al Qaeda has threatened to target Chinese expatriates in retaliation against the Chinese actions against the Uygur Muslims in Xinjiang.
A qualitative change is taking place in today’s battlefield, particularly related to China. The major asymmetrical warfare capability that the PLA is developing is meant to win the war without fighting a battle. With cyber war potential and informationized warfare, battles could be fought without crossing the border. It is in this imagining of the battlefield of the future and in preparing to counter the asymmetric capabilities that the Indian Armed Forces will have to develop its resources and efforts in the future.
Research Officer, IPCS