The 2015 White Paper on “Chinese Military Strategy” identifies that “the form of war is accelerating its evolution to informationization”, which calls for China to build a national defence mobilisation system that can meet the requirements of “winning informationized wars and responding to both emergencies and wars”.[i] Here, the query lies in understanding: How China perceives the role of information in modern warfare? What is China doing in excelling the art of fighting ‘information warfare’?
As noted, since World War II, art of warfare transitioned from air power to that of becoming nuclear weapons dominated during the Cold War, to that of precision strike guided with the 1991 Persian Gulf War and presently, operating along the information domain based on data base drawn from diversified sources. What makes information a central feature of 21st Century warfare are two-fold factors:[ii] first, at the tactical level are the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities on which the precision centric operations are critically dependent. To suggest so, as without accurate target locations, precision-guided munitions lack efficacy. Second, the advantages of information are more significant than sensors and ISR systems, irrespective of being on manned aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles or satellites. To which, the battle networks that provide command, control, communications and computers (C4), then help to exploit the ISR, before and during operations.[iii]
Likewise, in Chinese perception, as Peng Guangqian and Yao Youzhi in their seminal texts “Science of Strategy” (2001) and “The Science of Military Strategy” (2005) argue that information superiority has not only “become a prerequisite of supremacy in the air, on the ground and at sea,” but has “become the priority mission of modern warfare”.[iv] More importantly, degrading the opponent’s information resources acts as “a decisive factor in the fighting power of modern weapons and equipment”.
China’s shift towards network centricity is driven by three main factors: First, what the Chinese military calls the “form of war” or conduct of warfare in a given period of time, has changed.[v] The application of information technology in all aspects of military operations is even more prominent. As the 2015 White Paper pointedly notes that “the form of war is accelerating its evolution to informationization”.[vi] To which, China aims to build a national defense mobilization system that can meet the requirements of “winning informationized wars and responding to both emergencies and wars”. Second, is the factor of preparation for military struggle (PMS), which has constantly evolved with the changing “form of war” and the national security situation. To which, the basic point of PMS has adjusted from being “winning local wars in conditions of modern technology, particularly high technology” in 1993 to “winning local wars under conditions of informationisation” in 2004 and currently calls for “winning informationised local wars” in 2015. Third, the Chinese perception of the increasing security challenges, which has prompted a shift towards changing the “fixed mindsets of mechanised warfare and establish the ideological concept of information warfare”.[vii]
Given these shifts in Chinese perception, an essential part of PLA’s approach to future wars is the need to secure “information dominanace (zhixinxiquan; 制信息权)”- which encompasses not only information systems but also the cognitive and decision-making aspects of military and political command. In concurrence, the 2015 White Paper notes: “[To persevere] in information dominance […] China’s armed forces will speed up to upgrade weaponry and equipment, and work to develop a weaponry and equipment system which can effectively respond to informationized warfare and help fulfill the missions and tasks”. Here, China’s ‘military missions and tasks’ involves joint military operations across land, sea, air, cyberspace and outer space, and the application of advanced technology, especially information technology.[viii] Thereby, to undertake such missions, what kind of capabilities China seeks to expertise?
Aiming for transformation towards informatisation, China seeks to enhance its capabilities for system-vs-system operations based on information systems, which entails: more efficient utilisation of information resources, strengthening the building of the systems of reconnaissance, early-warning and command and control, develop medium- and long-range precision strike capabilities, and improve the comprehensive support systems.[ix] As the Chinese argue, it entails expertising “combat operations in a high-tech battlefield environment” in which “both sides use information-technology means, equipment, or systems in a rivalry over the power to obtain, control and use information”. [x] Applying the strategic guideline of ‘active defence’, China seeks to implement an integrated combat force in “system-vs-system operations featuring information dominance, precision strikes and joint operations”.[xi] Here, combat is aimed at: seizing the battlefield initiative; with digitized units as its essential combat force; the seizure, control, and use of information as its main substance; and all sorts of information weaponry [smart weapons] and systems as its major means.[xii] This makes the Chinese strategy of information warfare focused on the use of what China calls ““strategems” to build and maintain information superiority”.[xiii] These strategems encompass efforts to create cognitive errors and to influence the contents, process, and direction of thinking of an adversary. More specifically, cyberspace operations are used to achieve information dominance through reconnaissance and espionage, conducting network intrusions to steal and possibly alter data. This is well-witnessed in China’s practice of “Three Warfares” san zhong zhanfa by: use of strategic psychological operations; overt and covert media manipulation; and carrying out legal warfare- justifying China’s war by other means.
How is China stepping up to fight and win information warfare? For Chinese, the significance lies in the need of “gaining mastery by striking first”.[xiv] Here, the crux lies in achieving information superiority, which is seen as the precondition for achieving and maintaining battlefield supremacy. Owing to this objective, China’s informationization operates at three levels: the newly formed Joint Staff Department’s Information and Communications Bureau, takes responsibility for high-level command and control; the PLA Strategic Support Force (SSF), which is focused on information support capabilities and information operation; and, CMC’s Equipment Development Department, which is invested in research. Of which, the most significant role is played by PLASSF, operating under strategic information support and strategic information operations. Wherein, SSF’s strategic information support role entails: centralising technical intelligence collection and management, providing strategic intelligence support to theatre commands, enabling PLA power projection, supporting strategic defense in the space and nuclear domains, and enabling joint operations.[xv] While on the other end, SSF’s strategic information operations role involves: coordinated employment of space, cyber, and electronic warfare to “paralyze the enemy’s operational system-of-systems” and “sabotage the enemy’s war command system-of-systems” in the initial stages of conflict.[xvi] In fighting an information warfare, PLA SSF, as described by Xi Jinping is a “new-type combat force to maintain national security” and “an important growth point” for the PLA’s “new quality operational capability”.[xvii]
In an overall assessment, it can be stated that although China is still at its nascent stage of excelling the art of information warfare, but this shortfall is mainly in relation to United States. However, for India the concerns loom large. For in this case, China has an upper hand given India’s lack of expertise in the domain of information warfare. Thereby, with China stepping up itself for the next generation warfare, it makes it imperative for India to pay significant attention to mastering its skills in fighting the modern warfare under informationised conditions. To argue, as information superiority over India will enable China to more effectively employ its conventional military capabilities, in upping the ante against India along the dispute boundary.
The State Council of The People’s Republic of China (2015), “China’s Military Strategy”, 27 May 2015, URL: http://english.gov.cn/archive/white_paper/2015/05/27/content_281475115610833.htm (Accessed on 12 April 2019).  “Countering Enemy “Informationized Operations” in War and Peace”, Centre for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2013, pp. 6-7, accessed at http://www.esd.whs.mil/Portals/54/Documents/FOID/Reading%20Room/Other/Litigation%20Release%20-%20Countering%20Enemy%20Informationized%20Operations%20in%20Peace%20and%20War.pdf  Ibid.  Quoted in “Countering Enemy “Informationized Operations” in War and Peace”, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2013, p. 34, URL: https://www.esd.whs.mil/Portals/54/Documents/FOID/Reading%20Room/Other/Litigation%20Release%20-%20Countering%20Enemy%20Informationized%20Operations%20in%20Peace%20and%20War.pdf (Accessed on 20 April 2019).  M. Taylor Fravel (2015), “China’s New Military Strategy: “Winning Informationized Local Wars””, China Brief, Vol. 15, Issue 13, accessed at https://jamestown.org/program/chinas-new-military-strategy-winning-informationized-local-wars/ The State Council of The People’s Republic of China (2015), No. 1. Adriana Wan (2014), “Xi Jinping urges China's military to create ‘information warfare’ strategy”, South China Morning Post, 30 August 2014, URL: https://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1582004/xi-jinping-urges-chinas-military-create-information-warfare-strategy (Accessed on 21 April 2019).  Dean Cheng (2011), “China’s Active Defense Strategy and Its Regional Impact”, The Heritage Foundation, 01 February 2011, URL: https://www.heritage.org/testimony/chinas-active-defense-strategy-and-its-regional-impact (Accessed on 14 August 2018).  The State Council of The People’s Republic of China (2015), No. 1.  Senior Colonel Wang Baocun and Li Fei (1998), “Information Warfare”, in Michael Pillsbury (eds.) Chinese Views of Future Warfare, New Delhi: Lancer Publishers, p. 328.  Ibid.  Ibid. “Information Warfare: Issues for Congress”, Congressional Research Service, CRS Report R45142, 05 March 2018, p. 11, URL: https://www.everycrsreport.com/files/20180305_R45142_c92c6be5763f84c05aee8a79ebe1727814d8da8d.pdf (Accessed on 12 April 2019).  Timothy A. Walton (2012), “China’s Three Warfares”, Delex Special Report 3, 18 January 2012, URL: http://indianstrategicknowledgeonline.com/web/Three%20Warfares.pdf (Accessed on 21 April 2019).  John Costello and Joe McReynolds (2018), “China’s Strategic Support Force: A Force for a New Era”, China Strategic Perspectives 13, October 2018, p. 2, URL: https://ndupress.ndu.edu/Portals/68/Documents/stratperspective/china/china-perspectives_13.pdf (Accessed on 21 April 2019)  Ibid.  Quoted in Kevin L. Pollpeter et al. (eds.) (2017), “The Creation of the PLA Strategic Support Force and Its Implications for Chinese Military Space Operations”, RAND Corporation, p. 14, URL: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR2058.html (Accessed on 20 April 2019).