Deception – Fundamental Key to the Chinese War Strategies
“The essence of deception is that it lets the enemy convince himself that the misleading picture presented is valid” Michael I. Handel (Professor of Naval Security and Strategies at US Naval War College)
Though deception as an integral component of war is being increasingly used since ancient times but China has become the past master of using it in many ways to have decisive edge over its adversaries in war and destabilizing its adversary in multiple ways. Various examples like Trojan War, Alexander’s crossing the Indus river at night, Zimmerman Telegram in the warfare history exemplify the power of deception to gain advantage, supremacy, creating confusion and including surprise element, and securing the victory with least human and economic resources.
Chinese strategic culture that comprises Sun Tzu’s literature on over use of deception, espionage, intelligence, psychological warfare to demoralize and smoking the adversary in addition to the military treaties like Art of War, Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, 36 stratagems , ‘Wei Qui’ games that lays emphasis on – outwitting an opponent through positioning and expansion deeply impacts its warfare strategies.
More importantly, by constantly observing a nation in all dimensions such as its socio-economic- politico dynamics, lack of effective and decisive leadership to tackle crisis, China builds-up perception and employs appropriate deceptive tactics to wage war against its adversary in multiple facets. In addition, deception is very strategic tool used effectively by China in political and diplomatic maneuvering.
Objectives of Employing Deception
In accordance with the US army deception includes “those measures designed to mislead an enemy by manipulation, distortion or falsification of evidence to induce him to react in a manner prejudicial to his interests”. To understand its applicability for a nation and its military, it is highly required to explain various objectives for which deception is employed by a nation like China.
First, deception is used especially to affect the decision making process of enemy’s military so that its military operations that entirely depend upon the exactness and quality of the decisions. Therefore, misleading the enemy’s military to waste its precious resources and in turn benefiting its own efforts in war is the main objective of employing the deception.
Second, employing the deception successfully to deceive the enemy’s military for demoralizing it at the beginning of any operation brings initial success. Third, to ‘gain more with less’ necessitates the application of deception. For instance, during ‘Operation Desert Storm’ by convincing Saddam Hussein that the coalition force will attack from Southern direction (into Central Kuwait), it attacked Iraq from Western side and achieved their operational objectives with less efforts.
Fourth, to gain ‘Force Multiplier Effect’ as was witnessed during Kargil War. Fifth, for creating ambiguity and uncertainty and hence thickening the overall fog of war for adversary’s military to make it more helpless and dislocating its psyche in taking quick and right decision.
Application of Deception by China
In its multi-dimensional application, deception has been the main component in Chinese’s war strategies. Having high belief in Sun Tzu’s philosophy, China applies deception in manipulating adversary’s own understanding with respect to its own capabilities. Furthermore, Chinese PLA believes in manipulating the whole situation to further degrading the enemy’s military capabilities coupled with creating ambiguity and uncertainty to leverage maximum space for strategic maneuvering.
China always believes in employing deception in its military planning and national security policy. There are many scenarios in the past that show how China employed deceptive measures in its military strategies. These scenarios are as follows –
“Show yourself to intimidate the enemy.” This tactics has been used by Chinese PLA in Indian Ocean by deploying a submarine equipped with formidable assault power at certain point of time or a place to pose a high psychological threat to its adversaries in such a way that they cannot even think to attack or prevent them to take necessary military actions.
“Show the false to confuse the enemy”. It is one of the best strategies used by China to guard down its enemy’s preparedness and alertness in a war. By deploying ‘deliberately’ few submarines in non-principle battle areas to divert enemy’s attention while employing more submarines covertly and strategically to the main battle field to ‘surprise and harass’ the enemy.
“Deceive to obstruct the enemy”. If Chinese PLA’s submarine is unable to realistically arrive at the main operation area due to its slow speed, it applies deceptive measures by divulging wrong information to deter the warships of all adversaries including those having very poor anti-submarine capabilities.
Despite of widespread use of deception in its military operations, there are a very few evidence of using deceptive measures by Chinese PLA. The reason is that China is a very opaque country that believes in hiding very crucial information pertaining to its national security strategy and military planning. By applying Sun Tzu’s principles in its national security strategy and military planning, Chinese PLA has developed and employed several tactics in its military operations. These techniques are as follows.
Two types of decoys- inflatable and solid are used frequently by China to imitate any object or phenomenon to deceive enemy’s surveillance and misleading the enemy’s evaluation. According to the Chinese PLA’s military experts, successful and effective application of modern decoys in battle space enhances the strength of army many times. For instance, during 1987 NATO exercise, pilot of surveillance helicopter reported that how he was fooled by a MCCD (Multispectral Close Combat Decoy) while hovering very close to the place where exercise was happening. He wasted so much time to report the position of real tanks but remained unsuccessful to do so.
Chinese’s PLA is very expert in simulating wide range of equipments comprising ballistic missiles launch vehicles, tanks, aircraft, artillery, and other several types of military equipments and vehicles. As per the evidences, Chinese PLA also appears to employ decoys based on smaller vessels. Some decoy units are even designed to fool infrared sensors by utilizing heat to imitate the infrared signature of a missile launch. Many decoys are mobile by nature and can be interspersed and move in tandem with real equipments.
PLA Rocket Force Deception Measures (PLARF)
To ensure nuclear deterrence and ensuring its capability to launch the ballistic missile and anti-ship missiles successfully, Chinese PLA strongly believes in employing deceptive measures very extensively. For doing so, PLARF has its own special engineering and camouflage units that undertake several varieties of disguise and camouflage activities. For instance, PLARF disguises its equipments as civilian vehicle for safeguarding them from enemy’s surveillance. DF-21 ballistic missile launchers are often disguised as ubiquitous blue fuel trucks, and DF-10 launchers are disguised as common cargo.
Even PLA goes so far in applying deceptive measures like adding company names, contact numbers to deceive the enemy’s surveillance activities. PLA also disguise military trains carrying military equipments as ordinary passenger trains to avoid any chance of detection. To confuse enemy’s reconnaissance, Chinese’s PLA employs entire unit of ‘fake troops’ and equipped it with same special-purpose vehicle to enhance its authenticity. When real unit moves or changes its position, along with it, ‘fake unit’ also moves in order to cause high confusion to enemy’s reconnaissance efforts.
More importantly, China has developed local militia to employ deception and camouflage activities to support PLA’s military operations. Local militia deploys camouflage protection team to apply decoys, provide camouflage support, and assists in executing displays, demonstrations, and ruses. It creates large smoke screen to hide targets from laser-guided weapons and destroying enemy’s reconnaissance efforts and confuse enemy radar by deploying chaff. Local militia comprises teams such as camouflage protection team that includes the experts from high-tech industry that use simulation technologies very effectively. More importantly, it helps the Chinese PLA by utilizing civilian talent and commercial technologies. As per the evidences, this unit developed new technologies and materials to help camouflage important targets such as oil depots, power plants, and bridges.
Despite the fact that deception is being applied to advance or fulfillment of its objectives by nations since ancient times, still, it has been an enigma for persons having simple and straight forward mental framework. As the competitions and conflicts are going to be intense for carving out hegemony over regional and global level, the art of deception ought to be studied in its various forms and applications by the nations and its military for countering successfully its adversaries’ military operations. Even countries like India that subscribe to the philosophy of peaceful rise in accordance with its foreign policy, it has often been seen that peace comes through advance preparedness for conflict resolution that necessitates very deep study of unconventional means especially the application of deception in multiple dimensions by Chinese PLA in its military operations by India’s military that lacks the desired shrewdness to match the warring capabilities of its staunch rival.
Yadav, Kunendra (2021). “The Conception of Deception and its Applicability in India-China Framework”. Center for Land warfare and Strategies, Available on:
https://www.claws.in/static/IB-298_The-concept-of-Deception-and-Its-Applicability-in-India-China-Framework.pdf [Accessed on: 25 Nov, 2022].
Jensen, Aaron (2020). “Deception is Key to Chinese Military Strategies”. The Diplomat,
Available on: https://thediplomat.com/2020/08/deception-is-key-to-chinese-military-strategies/
[Accessed on: 25 Nov, 2022].
Jaidka, Pradeep (2020). “Deception, Denial, Distortion and Disinformation (D4) by China”. Vivekananda International Foundation, Available on:
https://www.vifindia.org/article/2020/november/17/deception-denial-distortion-and-disinformation-d4-by-china [Accessed on: 25 Nov, 2022].
Metcalf Mark (2017). “Deception is Chinese Way of War”. U.S. Naval Institute, Available on: https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2017/february/deception-chinese-way-war [Accessed on: 25 Nov, 2022]