“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.
Landmarks of China’s Military Modernisation at the National Level
Having embarked upon the process of first three ‘modernisations’ and gaining a lead of nearly two decades for the economic and technological developments to be firmly set on course, China utilised this period to chart a road map to revamp her military establishment in tune with her current political aspirations. Thus the Chinese strategists have set the stage for a well considered process of military modernisation over the past decade and a half. Notable landmarks of this process at the national level have been identified by China experts as follows:-
- Upgrade of military-industry based on indigenous technological research and development. This effort is bolstered up with import of dual-use technologies, mainly from US, Europe, Israel, and duly underscored by transfer of military technology from Russia.
- Thrust on scientific education among the Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers to transform an essentially peasant soldiery into techno-savvy war-fighters. This effort is catalysed by introduction of strong incentives towards enlistment of technically competent candidates into the technical arms of the PLA.
- Wide ranging restructuring and expansion of military as well as quasi-military industrial base to include the entire range of technologies – nuclear, aviation, missile, space, ship-building, communication, engineering, down to small arms and other wherewithal of war.
- Sustained increase in defence budget with an average growth of 11.8 percent, going up to 19.47 percent in 2007 and sustained at 12-15 percent thereafter. It is estimated that the actual expenditure on defence may be approximately twice over the declared figure of $ 91.5 billon.
- Notably, substantial reforms in military logistics, aimed at institutionalising an ‘Integrated Logistic System’ to support intra-service as well as inter-service joint operations, has been instituted.
- Initiation of high-technology space and counter-space programmes which have latent military usability under the potential for ‘dual-use’ activation. This effort is characterised by thrust on development of reconnaissance, navigation and communication satellites, satellite interception technology, and finally, the lunar orbit mission.
- Accelerated pace of development of short, intermediate and long range nuclear tipped ballistic as well as cruise missiles, each with ground, air and sea variants of higher accuracy.
- Introduction of a veiled programme of ‘cyber warfare’, aimed at inducing collapse in the adversary’s civil as well as military data network.
- Constitution of the current CMC, with its collegiums extended to commanders of the General Armament Department (GAD), PLA Air Force (PLAF) and PLA Navy (PLAN) is another important pointer towards the Chinese thinking on IJW; so far the CMC was dominated by army generals.
The Concept of IJW at the Military Level
Far reaching steps towards modernisation is also discernible within the PLA, the term being synonymous with all the three services. These may be summarised as follows :-
“¦PLA will have the capability of undertaking conjoined and all-service operations in demonstrative, posturing and remote or stand-off modes”¦
- Restructure of higher command and control hierarchy, wherein the ‘Military Regions’ (MR) have been regrouped into just seven and are staffed by combined services officers and some techno-experts. The MRs are directly controlled by the CMC – an apex political body – and in turn, exercise substantial authority over the military industry and development establishments as well as the civil administration in their respective regions. This is a pointer towards strategic synergy in coupling military and civilian assets that promotes the concept of IJW.
- Thrust on across-the board modernisation and within its ambit, pronounced expansion of the PLAF and PLAN to infuse strategic capabilities into these two so far subservient services. Longer ranges of operation, precision strike capability and multi-dimensional architecture are the hallmarks of this development. Thus while the PLAF is slated for upgrade with newer versions of fighter–bombers, strategic bomber fleet, air defence and precision missiles, PLAN is on its way towards acquisition of modern submarines, surface combatants with over-the-horizon missiles, a dedicated carrier based air-arm and fast patrol crafts. Significantly, grouping of air-borne and marine corps of three division equivalent each with the PLAF and the PLAN respectively, as well as the inter-service character of the ‘Special Operation Forces’ (SOF), is another aspect of strategic orbatting. These developments are indicative of complimentary deployment of inter-services resources to prosecute IJW, with each service assigned to specific roles in the overall scheme of war-effort.
As regards the PLA Ground Forces, China has appreciated that it was well neigh impossible to upgrade the entire orbat of 90 odd divisions in the near future. Accordingly, under a pragmatically conceived plan, the following steps have been taken :-
Chinas military strategy stands to be reinforced with various quasi-military efforts, wherein interference with the adversarys data-information network, fact-manipulating propaganda and even recourse to imposition of her unilateral interpretation of international laws”¦
- Right-sizing to 38 odd divisions and 40 odd brigades (1.25 million men) of varying, role-specific structure. In addition, restructure of artillery aims at grouping into 23 artillery brigade equivalents.
- Conversion of most of the balance units and the dated equipment profile of these into ‘People’s Armed Border/Police Forces’ (PAP), for deployment in border management and internal security roles. This is followed up with demobilisation and redesignation of the rest; in any case, these were mostly engaged in non-military roles.
- Selective earmarking of a dozen odd divisions for comprehensive modernisation that includes designation of ‘Rapid Reaction Forces’ (RRF) and the SOF, thus creating what is termed as ‘Packets of Excellence’ (POE).
- Alignment of training in tune with the American concept of ‘Land Warrior Project’, as enunciated in their “Outline for Military Training and Evaluation”, that was issued by the GSD in 2007. Participation in UN Missions and joint exercises with US, Russian and Indian Armies are parts of this scheme.
In the overall context of military strategy, the aforesaid restructuring of the PLA Ground Forces indicates an effort towards judicious management of redundancy and conformation to the concept of IJW. In the coming days, therefore, PLA will have the capability of undertaking conjoined and all-service operations in demonstrative, posturing and remote or stand-off modes for which, in the past, it had to depend upon limited- capability, manpower-heavy and time consuming deployment of Ground Forces alone. Obviously, there would be marked improvements in the quality, depth and range of support accorded to the Ground Forces, when deployed, coming from the PLAF and the PLAN.
Finally, application of inter-services IJW at the strategic level is manifested by the following far-reaching initiatives :-
- Integration of military logistics, including ground, air and sea transportation of forces (lift of one division equivalent each), and adoption of an ‘Unified Supply System’.
- Centralised control over Information Warfare resources – reconnaissance, navigation, unmanned aerial vehicles, etc. – and regular upgrade of the ‘Second Artillery Corps’ that operates nuclear and missile forces.
The Doctrine of War Zone Campaign
Proposition of a unique doctrine – translated by experts as the “War Zone Campaign” (WZC) – is in itself a catalytic platform for IJW. This doctrine devolves upon creation of an inter-service ‘WZC Command’ functioning directly under the CMC, and imposed upon any of the mobilised MR headquarters in the war zone to direct prosecution of ‘Warfare Under Informationalised Conditions’. The purpose of creating such a need-based and add-on command structure is, firstly, to address the pitfalls of mindset amongst the traditionally conservative Ground Force dominated MR headquarters, and secondly, to manage the shortage of professional as well as technical expertise in grouping an optimal combination of various service components that may be available at their disposal to support the chosen war-strategy.
Chinese strategists have done well to confine the scope of IJW mostly to the strategic level, with limited percolation down to the operational level, that would, even then, provide for adequate potential to confront a technologically advanced and strong military power.
At the strategic level, therefore, conduct combined-service operations would reap the benefit of seamless and conjoined backing of reconnaissance and missile forces, communications, logistics and transportation – a sort of ‘single window’ and integrated, wholesome dispensation for operational tasking.
Application of IJW
It is obvious that ‘IJW’ is but the PLA’s terminology for modern multi-service combined arms and services operations. However, on account of the fore-stated qualitative constraints, it would be farfetched at the present stage to anticipate its application at tactical levels to that degree as it was seen during the Coalition Force operations in the Gulf Wars – that level of grass-root integration is far away yet. To that extent, Chinese strategists have done well to confine the scope of IJW mostly to the strategic level, with limited percolation down to the operational level, that would, even then, provide for adequate potential to confront a technologically advanced and strong military power.
Indeed, proposition of the PLA’s concepts of war-fighting in what it terms as the “New Period” is well tuned towards conduct of IJW. It is indicative of the rich strategic wisdom of China. It may, therefore, be in order to briefly mention certain important prospects of such a preposition – the connection with IJW is quite obvious :-
Stage 1. A confrontation may begin with “Domination, Deterrence and Posturing” with missile forces, SOF actions, military buildup and politico-economic impositions. The purpose would be to make the adversary see ‘reason’ and back out from military confrontation.
Stage 2. The next step could be “Gaining Initiative by Striking First” by means of pre-emptive missile strikes and long range air and naval attacks. Such recourses are to be sustained with surprise, deception and asymmetric initiatives. Besides, what is termed as ‘SOF Action’ – that actually implies trailer-like pre-emptive attack of limited scope, but hurtful nevertheless – will form part of this scheme. The purpose at this stage would be to give to the adversary a taste of the ‘medicine’ and motivate him to come to terms – China’s terms, of course.
Stage 3. At this stage, a still defiant adversary would be subjected to the next step in the escalatory ladder by fighting a “Quick Battle to Force a Quick Resolution”. Rapid concentration of POE forces would be achieved by ‘Exterior (intra-MR) or Leap Forward (inter-MR) Mobility’ in ground, air or sea modes and deployment of RRFs to overwhelm the adversary’s frontline forces.
Stage 4. In case favourable resolution of the conflict is still not forthcoming, “In-depth Strike” would follow in near-simultaneity with Stage 3, wherein gains made by the preceding echelons would be consolidated and expanded by regular ground, air or sea formations, by recourse to the concept of ‘Active Defence’ and ‘Localised War’ till the desired point of culmination is reached.
Besides the aforesaid, efforts towards development of cyber-war, space-war, and what is termed as the “Three Warfares” capabilities – psychological, media and ‘legal’ warfare – point towards a very focused and conjoined view of war among the Chinese strategists. Accordingly, China’s military strategy stands to be reinforced with various quasi-military efforts, wherein interference with the adversary’s data-information network, fact-manipulating propaganda and even recourse to imposition of her unilateral interpretation of international laws and norms would form part of her grand strategy.
Reality Check of Implications
There indeed exists a large ambition–capability gap in China’s strategy of integrated employment of all services at all levels. It is expected that this gap, given the right conditions, may become manageable by the Year 2025 or so. Till that happens, permeation of the doctrine may have to be confined only up to the theatre (MR) level. Meanwhile, for serious military operations, if necessary, the PLA may have to depend mostly on deployment of its POE forces, supported by manually executed joint battle and weapon management functions. Besides, at the tactical level, incremental improvements in conduct of combined forces operations may manifest, particularly when ground forces operations are to be undertaken.
Given the glimpses of Chinas grand strategy ““ which encompasses civilian, dual-use and purely military recourses to conduct operations at psychological, politico”“economic and military levels ““ none who she sees as her rival may afford to remain complacent.
A discussion on this theme would remain incomplete without a suo moto examination of some of the clichés which are often repeated in China’s strategic articulations. Indeed, most of such terms used by her are but ‘loaded’, as for example :-
- A glance over the geographical spread of the areas in China’s contention reveals that this spread is hardly in any way lesser than the theatres which saw action during the World War II. The term ‘Localised War’ therefore does not really mean ‘local’ as we tend to perceive.
- We have seen as to how China proposes to dovetail her individual services to prosecute IJW. In this respect, it may be simplistic to assume that she may withhold from further marshaling her war-effort with her vast quasi-military capabilities. To that extent, “Warfare Under Conditions of Informationalisation” is hardly in any way different from the Clauswitzian concept of “Total War”.
- The term “Active Defence” is similarly implied, including as it does in its ambit the option of ‘pre-emptive attack’- provocation for which may be solely construed according to her deductions.
- Lastly, her idea of “Media” and “Legal” wars are rooted at her unilateral interpretation of reasons, facts and universal laws; these are invariably and overwhelmingly self-sided.
There is thus a hint of ‘all-out war’ in the fundamental version of the Chinese thinking on IJW. Muscle-flexing in South-East China Sea, weaving a ‘string of pearls’ around the Indian Ocean, empowering a habitually irresponsible ‘side-kick’ in the region, hanging the ‘Damocles sword’ over Taiwan, nonchalant diversion of river waters and wide-spread cyber intrusions are some manifestations of that potential.
Reportedly, internal troubles in the peripheral regions of her territories have resuscitated the military hawks in China’s policy-making hierarchy. Given the glimpses of China’s grand strategy – which encompasses civilian, dual-use and purely military recourses to conduct operations at psychological, politico–economic and military levels – none who she sees as her rival may afford to remain complacent.
“Only those who have great strength, and who are perceived to be willing to unleash it, can protect their interests without use of force”, —Luttwak.
- “Chinese View of Future Warfare”, Ed Michael Pillsbury, Lancers Publications, New Delhi, 2003.
- “Unrestricted warfare”, Cols Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsu, Natraj Publishers, Dehra Dun, 2007.
- Annual Report to Congress, “Military Power of PRC, 2008”, Office of the Secretary of Defence, USA.
- Andy Chari, “PLA War Zone Campaign Doctrine”, 2008.
- “Military Capacity and Risk of war”, Ed Eric Arntee, SIPRI, Oxford University Press, 1999