Pentagon: China Views Information Warfare as Key to Countering U.S. Pacific Forces

Soldiers of the Chinese People's Liberation Army's honor guard battalions march during a demonstration.

Soldiers of the Chinese People's Liberation Army's honor guard battalions march during a demonstration. Andy Wong/AP

Space systems are essential to dominating the battlefield.

China views cyber warfare as the essential element to attack U.S. forces operating in the western Pacific, the Defense Department reported today in its annual analysis of that country’s military capabilities.

The Pentagon, in its report “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” said the People’s Liberation Army views space operations as “the commanding point for the information battlefield.” The report said PLA documents emphasized the necessity of “destroying, damaging and interfering” with an enemy’s reconnaissance and communications satellite systems.

If China goes to war, the report said, the country plans to control information, sometimes to seize the initiative and gain an advantage in the early phases of a campaign to achieve air and sea superiority.

“China is improving information and operational security to protect its own information structures, and is also developing electronic and information warfare capabilities, including denial and deception, to defeat those of its adversaries,” the report said.

Chinese doctrine puts a priority on computer network defense in peacetime, the report said. It views offensive information operations as an unconventional weapon, “which must be established in the opening phase of the conflict and continue during all phases of war,” with all potential adversaries. China sees the United States as particularly “information dependent,” the report said.

The report notes that China also uses cyber warfare as an espionage tool: “In 2012, numerous computer systems around the world, including those owned by the U.S. government, continued to be targeted for intrusions, some of which appear to be attributable directly to the Chinese government and military,” the report said -- a statement reinforced by David Helvey, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for East Asia, at a Pentagon press briefing today.

Computer network intrusions detected in 2012 “were focused on exfiltrating information. China is using its computer network exploitation (CNE) capability to support intelligence collection against the U.S. diplomatic, economic, and defense industrial base sectors that support U.S. national defense programs,” the report said.

China is acquiring  a range of technologies to enhance its  counter-space capabilities so in time of war it can “bind and deafen the enemy,” according to  PLA writings, the report said, while at the same time beefing up its own space systems.

In December 2012, China turned on a regional navigation system to rival GPS. It plans to launch 100 satellites through 2015. The launches include imaging, remote sensing, navigation, communication, and scientific satellites, as well as manned spacecraft, the report said.

While the report depicts an increasingly robust and high-tech Chinese military, the country’s defense budget of $114 billion announced on March 13 amounts to just over 20 percent of the Pentagon’s 2014 budget request of $526.6 billion.   

Helvey said that Defense lacks total insight  into the Chinese military budget. He estimated that it ranges between $135 billion and $215 billion.