Abstract. This paper examines China’s approaches to conducting information warfare in present-day conditions. It dwells specifically on the role and place of information warfare as seen by Chinese military experts in the area of national security. Besides, it assesses specific measures taken by the Chinese leadership to strengthen the cyber security of the Chinese state.

Based on Assessments of Chinese military theorists, information is a strategic national resource in the modern world. At the same time, the rapid and continuous improvement of information technologies, their penetration into all spheres of life caused a number of problems.1 The most important among them was the need to ensure information security.2 Given the growing importance of the information environment as a sphere of military confrontation, information warfare has become increasingly important in China’s military doctrine.3

In China, information warfare is considered as a set of actions directed at destroying and neutralizing the adversary’s information systems, as well as to protecting own systems. It assumes the active actions aimed at winning the ini­tiative in the information environment and hence at ensuring information superiority.4

Chinese experts point out that the attaching of information superiority depends not only on a well-prepared technological reserve, but also on the tactics used. Thus, 21st-century operations will focus on delivering deep thrusts at adversary command and control (C2) posts, cross-links and combat support systems. In addition, the destruction of adversary’s computer systems, without which its precision weapons quickly become of little use, is envisaged.

According to the Chinese experts’ assessment, one of the types of informa­tion warfare is a “cyber war” (a war in the virtual information environment called “cyberspace”). The term “cyberspace” refers to an information environment modeled with the help of computer technologies, where there are certain objects and symbolic representation of information – a place where computer programs operate and data circulate. Thus, a cyber war is based on the identification of vulnerable links in the infrastructure of an adversary state and the actions aimed at destroying, blocking, or modifying information in its informational, telecommunications, and electronic computer systems through computer attacks or so-called “cyber attacks.”

According to Chinese military information warfare specialists, there are a number of fundamental principles for achieving victory in cyberspace wars, the most important of which are the following:

  • defeat or seizure of the adversary group’s main computer power supply system;
  • striking against remote reconnaissance, troop and weapon command and control systems, communications hubs, electronic computer centers, and other key segments of adversary’s information network;
  • creation of artificial conditions for “overloading” adversary’s computer network allows to gain a direct control of information flows in the control systems of troops, materiel, and energy resources;
  • infecting the adversary’s computer network is one of the most effective ways to destroy the computer network of adversary’s command centers;
  • using achievements in the field of software for the purpose of unauthorized, secret penetration into the control network of the adversary.5

Besides, according to Chinese military analysts, two important elements must be created in order to win an information war: a digital battlefield and “computerized” troops.

The digital battlefield is a complex network system that spans the entire operational space. It consists of communication, control, and monitoring sys­tems, of passing reconnaissance, of a combat computer database and user termi­nals that can provide comprehensive operational information in real or near real time. The purpose of this network system is to apply information technology for receiving, exchanging, and using digital information in real time, to quickly gather information at the request of the command or personnel of combat and support units for clear and precise understanding of the conditions on the battlefield, for developing and implementing operational plans.

The Chinese military experts believe that the impact of implementing the concept of information wars on the nature of combat actions (operations) in the future will be as follows.

First. Information wars will cause an especially strong rivalry in the field of information superiority. The presence and development of troops combat efficiency will be mainly based on the gathering, analysis, transmission, and use of information.

Second. Information wars will broaden the scope of military operations, which will manifest itself mainly in two areas:

  • complication in attaining victory in wars, as in the information age it will be necessary not only to eliminate the “material base” that provides adversary to wage a war, but also to take control and destroy adversary’s information systems, which will be the primary targets for strikes;
  • extension of war borders to outer space (the key information systems for data transmission, location, guidance, and communication will be placed in outer space).

Third. Reducing the duration of hostilities, because, on one hand, weapons will be highly accurate and, on the other hand, in the information age, compared to the industrial one, the objectives pursued by the belligerents will not be relat­ed to the complete entourage and destruction of the adversary, they will assume a political character.

Fourth. Imparting the character of integrity to combat operations. It is worth noting because the information will be transmitted quickly and will not depend on the type of troops or time constraints. Future wars will unprecedentedly unfold on full display (all combat operations on land and at sea, in air and space will be concise, which will be characteristic of both large-scale wars and low-intensity armed conflicts, and the border between strategic, operational, and tactical levels will become indistinct).

Fifth. Changing in the essence the concentration of forces. So, the concentration of mainly manpower will be replaced by the concentration of mainly firepower and information, and the quantitative side of the concentration of troops and weapons will be replaced by the qualitative one.6

According to Chinese military theorists, in view of the requirements of information wars, these changes are expected to go in the following directions: in terms of the ratio of power of the Army, Air Force, and Navy, the proportion of Land Forces will decrease with a simultaneous increase in the share of the Air Force and the Navy; in addition, technical equipment will be improved; the number of officers compared to the rank-and-file will increase; the number of officers with technical training will increase and the number of officers with command and staff one will decrease.7

The Chinese media note that the military and political leadership of China is steadily implementing practical measures in the field of organizing and conduct­ing information warfare in three main directions:

  • personnel training;
  • improvement of forms and methods of information wars during the PLA operational and combat training;
  • directly conducting and countering information and psychological opera­tions.

The analysis of the Chinese military periodical press leads to the conclu­sion that a special training program for three categories of military personnel has been developed to train qualified personnel in the field of information superiority.

The first category is the highest link of PLA C2 personnel. As a rule, these are persons whose age is over 40. The main task of their training is to study the basics of information technologies and the concepts of information warfare.

The second category is commanders of Chinese military units and forma­tions. They are mainly persons whose age ranges from 30 to 40. The main task of their training is to study the techniques of information warfare and the basic principles of information systems functioning.

The third category is officers with knowledge of the basics of computer sci­ence and programing, whose age, as a rule, does not exceed 30. The main task of their training is to study in detail the strategy, techniques of information warfare, and their subsequent application in crisis situations. Unlike the first two groups’ terms, the period of training of this group is longer.

In addition, the following issues are more or less included in the curriculum for each category:

  • strategy and tactics, methods and techniques of information warfare activ­ities;
  • computer modeling;
  • basic information technologies;
  • principles of telecommunications running systems;
  • ensuring the security of own information and countermeasures designed to neutralize the technical reconnaissance equipment of foreign intelli­gence services.

At present, there are a number of training centers for information warfare specialists in China. The PLA Communication Command Academy (Wuhan, Hubei military command region) is the main training center. New methods and techniques of information warfare are being developed at the institution. The training centers also operate at the PLA Information Engineering University (Zhengzhou, Henan military command region), the PLA University of Science and Technology.

In addition, a web-based center for military education was set up at Tianjin University to disseminate military knowledge and information on military con­struction. Work is under way to establish its own computer networks for data transmission in the shortest possible time.

China is also making many efforts to attract competent specialists who have been trained abroad. For example, a policy of returning to China with further employment in their specialty is being developed among the Chinese citizens who have been trained and are living after graduation in the United States.8

Some categories of Chinese citizens are directly involved in information operations: secret agents, graduates of specialized higher educational institutions of the Armed Forces and the Ministry of public Security (MpS), such as the People’s Liberation Army Foreign Language Institute (PLAI) in Luoyang City, Henan province, and the Institute of Cadre Management of the Ministry of public Security in Suzhou City, Jiangsu province, and graduates of various civilian higher educational institutions.9

China’s military leadership regards information technology training in its troops as a strategic task. Teaching and training are based on the requirements and real conditions of present-day warfare. Today, the armed forces regularly receive training and exercises on information warfare, one of the main tasks of which is to develop practical measures to conduct and repel “cyber attacks” in local and global information networks.10 In the context of information wars, the role of secret services, which gather, process, analyse, and download military, political, military-technical, and economic information to the country’s leadership, and maintain information-psychological operations, increases significantly. In this regard, the leadership of China pays great attention to their development.

A number of practical measures have been taken by the Chinese military and political leadership to improve the information warfare capabilities of the national armed forces.

In particular, as part of the large PLA Special Operations Forces deployed in each of China’s joint commands, special units of electronic countermeasures have been created, which have modern assets of breaking into adversary’s computer networks on its territory and transmitting the captured information to own com­mand via troposphere and satellite communication channels. The units are apt to transmit viruses in adversary’s computer networks, capable of disrupting the oper­ation of its ACS C2 systems, and to protect own information networks. Comput­er countermeasures units can also be used to wage psychological warfare.

The PLA leadership believes that military units should be provided with modern equipment for outreach activities. To this end, a modern automated troop and weapon C2 system, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) control system, and a computer network communication system are being developed.11

The PLA leadership considers the following types of information-psycho­logical weapons to be the most promising:

            computer virus weapons (CVW);

  • the means to allow for intruding into the broadcast of radio and television programs;
  • acoustic jammers;
  • disposable and reusable generators of different types of electromagnetic energy, such as magnetic explosion and magnetic-hydrodynamic explo­sion generators, and beam-plasma oscillators.12

PRC’s military academic circles give an increasing role to the development of software and electronic impact on information resources stored or circulating in computer information-driven systems. At the same time, the main focus is on the use of computer virus weapons (CVW) in information warfare.

The main CVW features are considered:

  • the relative cheapness of its production when paired with high efficiency of impact;
  • secrecy of application, autonomy, long operating time;
  • possibility of transformation, a variety of ways of introduction;
  • the ability to disable practically all modern systems of troop and weapon C2. The main tasks to be solved through the use of CVW are as follows:
  • obtaining information being a state or military secret of an opposing party;
  • misleading the adversary, paralyzing its C2 systems, interfering in its troop and weapon control process.

In order to efficiently realize the CVW power, the PLA leadership is expect­ed to develop a theory and principles of CVW warfare in the near future, and to form special troop units.

Thus, China’s military and political leadership, while considering the con­sistent introduction of information technologies in the military field by Western countries as a challenge to China’s national security, has intensified military and theoretical research on information warfare issues, and has adopted and contin­ues adopting practical measures to provide a modern information infrastructure for the state and to increase possibilities for information operations.

The intensification of developments in mounting and maintaining such oper­ations gives all grounds to believe that they will soon be widely spread in China. In the future, this will contribute to the realization of the main goal of China’s military and political leadership: building a state capable of successfully coun­tering any adversary in the 21st century.

At present, the people’s Republic of China is developing a system of orga­nized information impact on the consciousness and psyche of the military and civilian population, which is regarded as a key element of military power. China’s existing information infrastructure and mass media, which are mainly under control of the Communist party and the state, allow the Chinese leadership to fully utilize them in the information confrontation. China’s cyber operations forces are capable of both defensive and offensive operations. At the same time, the PLA leadership is ready to use cyber units in any conflicts that affect the national interests.


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Translated by Valery Samoshkin