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Chinese Information Operations Capabilities

'China’s military planners are working to incorporate the concepts of modern warfare attributed to the RMA and have placed a priority on developing the technologies and tactics necessary to conduct rapid tempo, high-technology warfare in Asia. On balance, PLA authors assess that the current RMA holds the potential for producing radical new forms of warfare, enhanced information warfare, networks of systems, and “digitized” combat forces. At the same time, however, based on observations and lessons learned from the Gulf War and Operation ALLIED FORCE, Beijing perceives certain weaknesses in what it considers U.S. over-reliance on technological advances offered by the RMA.'

July 2003

B. Key Developments


Information Operations/Information Warfare (IO/IW)

o China’s application of IO/IW stresses control, asymmetry, computer warfare, network warfare, temporal-spatial analysis, knowledge warfare, information protection, and electronic security. It also includes an unusual emphasis on a host of new information warfare forces instead of the information superiority and “system of systems” approaches popular in the United States.

o Specialized IO/IW reserve units are active in several cities developing “pockets of excellence” that could gradually develop the expertise and expand to form a corps of “network warriors” able to defend China’s telecommunications, command, and information networks, while uncovering vulnerabilities in foreign networks.




F. Information Operations/Information Warfare (IO/IW)

Chinese concepts of information operations/information warfare (IO/IW) include elements such as combat secrecy, military deception, psychological warfare, electronic warfare, physical destruction of C2 infrastructure, and computer network warfare. China views IO/IW as a strategic preemptive weapon for use outside of traditional operational boundaries. IO/IW is to be used substantially as an unconventional weapon at the beginning of a conflict. China is particularly sensitive to the potential asymmetric applications IO/IW can have in any future conflict with a technologically superior adversary.

The Academy of Military Science, the National Defense University, and the Wuhan Communications Command Academy have published several books addressing this subject. These writings suggest a growing sophistication in the PLA’s understanding of all aspects of IO. In addition to developing wartime applications for its robust information control and perception management capability, China is pursuing IO/IW development as part of its overall military modernization.

The PLA has increased the amount and complexity of IO/IW components in military exercises. Efforts initially focused on increasing the PLA's proficiency in defensive measures, most notably against the threat of computer viruses. Recent exercises have incorporated the concept of IW between the opposing command posts at the start of a conflict. Special information warfare units could attack and disrupt enemy C4I, while vigorously defending PRC systems. While the enemy is blinded or disrupted, PRC military forces would attack. Defensive concerns apparently are driving anti-viral and network security research and development within the PLA and military-supported academia. The research is facilitated by the dual-use nature of information technology (IT) and the growth in China's technology base. Increases in network defense likely will enhance China's understanding of virus propagation and behavior, creating a solid knowledge base not only for computer network defense (CND), but potentially also for computer network attack (CNA).

In an effort to improve its skill base in the IT field, the PLA has been setting up recruiting programs for technical specialists. Specialized IO/IW reserve units are active in several cities developing “pockets of excellence” that gradually could develop the expertise and expand to form a corps of “network warriors” able to defend China’s telecommunications, command, and information networks while uncovering vulnerabilities in foreign networks.

China has the capability to penetrate poorly protected U.S. computer systems and potentially could use computer network attacks to strike specific U.S. civilian and military infrastructures. This anti-access strategy is centered on targeting operational centers of gravity, including C4I centers, airbases, and aircraft carrier battle groups located around the periphery of China.

Role of Nationalistic Hacking

Nationalistic hacking is likely to occur during periods of tension or crises. Chinese hacking activities likely would involve extensive web page defacements with themes sympathetic to China. Although the extent of Chinese government involvement would be difficult to ascertain, official statements concerning the leveraging of China’s growing presence on the Internet, and the application of the principles of “People’s War” in “net warfare,” suggest the government will have a stronger role in future nationalistic hacking.

Source: Annual Report on the Military Power of the People's Republic of China, 2003

See also:

Chinese Information Warfare: A Phantom Menace or Emerging Threat? by Mr. Toshi Yoshihara (November 2001). As a step to clarify the future direction of Chinese information warfare (IW) and to identify new areas for further research, this monograph explores Chinese perspectives of IW through a sampling of the burgeoning open literature circulating in China. The author provides a preliminary assessment of these Chinese writings and analysis, and demonstrates some linkages and parallels to America's current debates on IW, the Soviet-U.S. competition, Clausewitz's classic dictums, and Chinese strategic culture. He concludes with implications of future developments in Chinese IW for American policy.

Like Adding Wings to the Tiger: Chinese Information War Theory and Practice by Mr. Timothy L. Thomas , Foreign Military Studies Office, Fort Leavenworth, KS

Unrestricted Warfare by Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui (Beijing: PLA Literature and Arts Publishing House, February 1999)