“Therefore, soldiers do not have a constant position, water does not have a constant shape, and to be able to attain victory in response to the change of the enemy is called miraculous”, —Sun Zi
She (China) has identified her strategic challenges in the form of, firstly, assimilation of Taiwan, secondly, management of America’s role in Asia, thirdly, dealing with emergence of Japan’s high-technology Self Defence Force, and fourthly, securing a position of predominance in the neighbourhood. Her thrust on enhancing her overall “Comprehensive National Power” (CNP) and constructing a favourable “Strategic Configuration of Power” in the region are but means towards that end.
Integration of all aspects of war-fighting has emerged as the foundation of China’s military modernisation. Thus in a remarkable departure from the pre-Vietnam War concept that professed deployment of massed ground forces backed up with just about rudimentary support services and logistics, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is gearing up to synergise employment of her various service elements in a holistic manner to achieve her future military goals. Each arm and service of PLA therefore, is being structured to undertake newly defined roles within a profound ambit of ‘joint operations’ so as to project a conjoined and complementary force-structure. Having fixated our focus on what is formally espoused by China – ‘military modernisation’, ‘informationalisation’, and ‘localised conflicts’ – many nuances of this developments remain to be fully dissected yet.
“¦the Chinese strategist have embarked upon a potent exercise of native military intellect, glimpses of which are seen in their talks and writings”¦
Seen in its entirety by the students of military strategy, there is nothing extraordinary in the Chinese scheme of military modernisation. What, however, is remarkable, is the manner in which the Chinese leadership has contrived the scheme and focused on its planning and implementation that leaves no arm of the state – military or civil – any leeway to divert from the process. The second remarkable feature of PLA’s modernisation is the judicious manner in which the qualitative limitations of human and technological resources at her disposal have been assimilated to devise an eminently practical and implementable road map that would allow her to achieve her goals with least resistance from systemic hurdles. Full integration of the entire range of capabilities at the national as well as strategic levels, and a scaled down version of joint force-structuring at operational and tactical levels for the present – a somewhat top-down approach – is a fallout of this dispensation.
This article attempts to highlight certain fundamentals of the concept of Integrated Joint War-fighting as envisaged by Chinese strategic visionaries within the overall ambit of her thrust towards military modernisation.
Evolution of Modern China’s Military Strategy
The fundamental concept of “People’s War” with its high content of guerilla tactics was an eminently successful plank of communist philosophy that made it possible for, first the Russians and then the Chinese, followed by many others, to seize power. Consequently, China’s compulsive ideology of exporting communism beyond her borders led to revision in this form of warfare as the basic condition for success in that kind of warfare, that is indigenous support-base, could not be relied upon when operating amongst peoples of different culture. Thus the strategy shifted to war-fighting with lightly equipped and manpower intensive army formations swarming to overwhelm the opponent in order to secure victory. This version of the ‘People’s War’ was characterised by near-complete dependency on ground forces of numerous strength with infantry, light artillery and engineers dominating the proceedings, while other arms, including air and naval forces, were assigned to peripheral roles. Correspondingly, the logistic support was far behind what was considered essential for war even in those days. Moored at the availability of their national resources at that time, this strategy paid good dividends in invasion of Tibet, the Korean War, the border war with India and the Vietnam War. However, following the Sino-Vietnam War of 1979, realisation of the need to review their stale doctrine downed upon the Chinese strategists.
Very little of authenticated information is available on the specifics of the current Chinese military doctrine. China watchers, therefore, have to depend upon her identifiable courses of military schemes, corroborate these with what articulation of strategic matters that are published, and join the pieces together to arrive at logical conclusions.
The 1980’s saw major changes in Chinese thinking about war. During the Sino-Vietnam War, China found an adversary who, well adapted to irregular as well as conventional warfare, managed to put the PLA juggernaut to severe test. The stage was also set for evolution of new policies with the passing away of Chairman Mao and his generation of ‘people’s fighters’. With the appearance of Deng Xiao Ping on the scene, the idea of “Four Modernisations” was born thus. However, in a marked departure from the past norms, thrust on “Military Modernisation” was accorded a back-seat in preference to economic, agricultural and industrial sectors, much to the chagrin of the old school. Indeed, this departure from traditional thinking was a fallout of visualisation among the policy makers – the Politburo and the Central Military Commission (CMC) – that military modernisation could not be sustained without a strong economic-technological-industrial foundation. Deng’s stature and his past service in the PLA may have influenced this new way of thinking in the CMC even when its membership was dominated by military men. China’s concept of what may be termed as “Integrated Joint Warfare” (IJW) is an outcome of that momentous development.
Very little of authenticated information is available on the specifics of the current Chinese military doctrine. China watchers, therefore, have to depend upon her identifiable courses of military schemes, corroborate these with what articulation of strategic matters that are published, and join the pieces together to arrive at logical conclusions. To that extent, while the latest thinking on what China experts describe as “Fighting Local Wars Under Conditions of Informationalisation” is somewhat well known, the specific nuances of application of IJW under this doctrine can only be but informed guesswork. Indeed, for such guesswork to be on mark, it is important to appreciate the native aspirations of the Chinese strategists. Towards this end, we may attempt to identify the spirit of military modernisation in China and to draw logical inferences that might indicate a glimpse of her thinking on the IJW.
China’s Politico-Military Goals
Aspiration of gaining the status of a great power is fundamental to the Chinese culture. She is well on course towards that goal. She has identified her strategic challenges in the form of, firstly, assimilation of Taiwan, secondly, management of America’s role in Asia, thirdly, dealing with emergence of Japan’s high-technology Self Defence Force, and fourthly, securing a position of predominance in the neighbourhood. Her thrust on enhancing her overall “Comprehensive National Power” (CNP) and constructing a favourable “Strategic Configuration of Power” in the region are but means towards that end.
Introduction of a veiled programme of “˜cyber warfare, aimed at inducing collapse in the adversarys civil as well as military data network.
In Chinese scheme of political articulation, military power has always been assigned a major role, and accordingly, her version of Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) is aimed at quantum upgrade of her military establishment. In this, the excellence of joint operations undertaken by the Coalition Forces during the Gulf Wars as well as the air-dominated engagement in Kosovo are seen as a beacon, while the conceptual basis for her thrust towards IJW is constructed around a judicious mix of American military technology which promotes the concept of ‘joint warfare’, and the traditional Chinese military thought which motivates posturing, positioning, surprise, intelligence and deception.
Indeed, the Chinese strategist have embarked upon a potent exercise of native military intellect, glimpses of which are seen in their talks and writings, besides some amongst their rare publications, prominent among these being the “National Military Strategy Guidelines for the New Period” of 1993 vintage, supposedly updated recently. A study of Chinese thinking on IJW must, therefore, be based on a ‘fact-trend-capability’ analysis. Accordingly, in the following discussion, in the interest of retaining focus, listing of details of activities and acquisitions has been deliberately avoided and only the broader aspects concentrated upon – at two distinct levels : national and military.