Testimony of Dr. Michael Pillsbury
before the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
Overview: Need for Estimates to 2015 for the Pentagon
My testimony is based entirely on a book of translations I did for Mr.
Andrew Marshall, the Director of Net Assessment in the Pentagon which has
been published as a book by the National Defense University entitled Chinese
Views of Future Warfare. Many believe (mistakenly) that military intelligence
collection and analysis is entirely a short-term problem of providing warnings
and immediate support to policy makers. In the post Cold War period,
however, future weapons systems may have a life of many decades, and may
take more than decade to develop. This means the U. S. intelligence community
has been trying to look ahead a decade or more in order to contribute to
Pentagon assessments of the future. Both the Pentagon and the intelligence
community now try to make estimates about the likely future capabilities
of other major nations as far ahead as 2010 or 2015. Congressional oversight
of intelligence perhaps should include how well these questions are being
handled by the intelligence community.
In the case of China, it is at present impossible to know with confidence
what the ultimate significance of Chinese writings about future warfare
may be, in part because much more needs to be known about how Chinese military
publications may (or may not) be related to Chinese strategy and to research,
development and acquisition programs. One thing is for sure: current PLA
writings about the subject of future warfare do not fit the recent direction
of China’s observed modest program of military modernization. They are
surprising and perhaps even alarming.
The Pentagon’s View of Future Warfare to 2015 in the QDR
The U.S. Defense Department is now using a much broader time horizon for
its planning and looks out to 2010 or 2015 in its public presentations.
Indeed, defense decisions taken in recent years will have very far reaching
consequences. Since its peak in 1985, the US defense budget has dropped
by at least one third, the procurement of new weapons has been cut by 63
percent, and active forces have been reduced by 750,000 people. The
trend is toward further reductions and a focus on small scale operations.
Shortly before resigning, Secretary of Defense William Perry said, “We
cannot and should not reduce below the force structure we have now.” However,
Secretary of Defense William Cohen proposed in the May 1997 Quadrennial
Defense Review (QDR) to reduce forces by at least another 60,000 people,
including reductions of Navy ships, Air Force aircraft, and Army combat
What is the logic behind such reductions and the current Pentagon
view of future warfare? In the QDR, Secretary of Defense Cohen laid out
what he called three alternative “paths” that US defense strategy could
follow from now to 2015. Path 1 was the status quo, which he rejected as
too static; Path 2 would be “aggressively” to pursue the Revolution in
Military Affairs (RMA), but to cut sharply the current forces. As Secretary
Cohen reported in the QDR to the Congress, “The dominant challenge on which
this (second alternative ) path is focused is the possible emergence,
after 2010-2015, of a regional great power or global peer competitor, as
well as more stressing combinations of asymmetric threats.” Path 2, in
budget terms, would mean a 20 percent further reduction in current US forces
in order to raise funds for up to $35 billion annually in new research
as well as at least $65 billion annually for new weapons procurement.
Path 3: Secretary of Defense Cohen Will Pursue the Revolution in Military
According to the QDR report to Congress, Secretary Cohen rejected Path
2. He selected instead a compromise between Path 1 and Path 2 that he called
“Path 3", which he said “will continue to exploit the Revolution in Military
Affairs. . . . but not as quickly as Path 2.” In other words,
the Pentagon is committed to pursuing the Revolution in Military Affairs
at a pace consistent with the premise that no threat of a new regional
great power or global peer appears likely before 2010 to 2015, a period
of thirteen to eighteen years from today.
“China is Our Friend, Not Our Enemy” Secretary Albright Stated
In August 1977
The QDR contains an implicit premise in its insightful discussion
of the future security environment up to and beyond 2010-2015 that another
nation may challenge the United States as a peer or at least “regional
great power,” but that this challenge will not arise until after 2010.
The QDR also hints that “asymmetrical threats” could pose severe challenges
to US military forces. These asymmetrical threats are not defined in the
QDR, but the report suggests that a regional great power which also uses
asymmetrical strategies or capabilities would “stress” the United States.
There is absolutely no mention of China in the QDR, either as a potential
regional great power or an asymmetrical threat, nor has the Pentagon
publicly described China as a future military threat to the United States.
On the contrary, Secretaries of Defense Perry and Cohen have stated China
is not a threat. The State Department is totally in accord with Defense.
As People’s Daily reported August 10, 1997, Secretary of State Madeline
Albright told General Fu Quanyou, PLA General Staff Director, in her office
that China is America’s friend, not an enemy.
Chinese Research to Identify The List of Future US Military Vulnerabilities
However, open source Chinese military writing on future warfare, including
some articles translated in Chinese Views of Future Warfare, suggest
that China may not be as friendly to the Pentagon as the Pentagon is to
China. Indeed, numerous Chinese books and articles suggest an active research
program has been underway for several years to examine how China should
develop future military capabilities to defeat the United States by exploiting
the Revolution in Military Affairs more effectively and more rapidly than
the US, particularly by tailoring new technology to “defeat the superior
with the inferior” with a strategy of asymmetric warfare.
These two subjects, the RMA and asymmetric warfare, are closely related
in some PLA writing. A book published in May 1996 by Major General Li Zeyun,
Foreign Military Studies Director at the National Defense University, contains
articles by 64 PLA authors which describe in detail an extended list of
the weaknesses of the US Army, Navy and Air Force. This book represents
a common theme in PLA views of future warfare -- America is proclaimed
to be a declining power with but two or three decades of primacy left.
US military forces, while dangerous at present are vulnerable, even deeply
flawed, and can be defeated with the right strategy, namely “defeating
the superior with the inferior.” Part of the recommended asymmetric approach
in some of this PLA writing is the requirement for “the inferior” to pre-emptively
strike the “superior” in order to paralyze his nerve centers and block
Asymmetrical Warfare Against the US: How the Inferior Can Defeat the
The second aspect of PLA views of future warfare is the requirement
to exploit the Revolution in Military Affairs so that China can even more
rapidly and effectively “defeat the superior with the inferior.” One statement
never found in PLA open source writing is any declaration that China will
one day be the world’s leading military power. Rather, the eventual end
state of the current Post Cold War transitional period is always proclaimed
to be “multi polarity” among five equal powers each of which will have
its own sphere of influence. One bold author explains that by mid-21st
century, even the declining United States will still be left its own sphere
of influence, namely Latin American and Canada. Several PLA articles and
a book published by the Academy of Military Science provide equations with
which to calculate the future trends in “comprehensive national power”
that will lead to this world of five equal powers.
China’s RMA Advocates: Undetected From 1988 to 1995
To understand the RMA and to develop innovative defense programs, China
announced in May 1996 that it had formed a strategic research center that
would combine research on traditional Chinese statecraft with studies and
experiments designed to generate innovative military operational concepts.
Several national conferences have been convened to assess the implications
of the RMA for China, including whether traditional or ancient statecraft
can be applied to exploit the RMA and asymmetrical strategy. The announcement
of the new center in 1996 specifically praised several books by PLA
authors that were previously published in the 1980's about the application
of ancient strategy to future warfare. Earlier, China
announced formation of an Institute of Grand Strategy with responsibility
for assessing other major powers’ approaches to security issues in the
Both these new institutions (and several existing ones) take a task
force type of approach by assembling experts from a variety of Chinese
military institutions to examine strategic alternatives more than one or
two decades ahead. Credit for some of these initiatives is sometimes given
to Qian Xuesen who made a speech in 1985 that brought to the attention
of China’s senior military leadership the prior Russian work on the RMA.
Qian is also credited as the father of China’s missile programs and, with
a Ph.D. from Cal Tech, actually participated in the late 1940s in
the first major U.S. Air Force study of future warfare for which he authored
several sections on future missile warfare.
The contrast is striking between the orthodox authors who since 1985
have advocated “active defense’ and “local war” programs and the new articles
since 1994 by Chinese military authors who advocate that China must
be the first or among the first in the world to exploit information technology
and stealth technology to acquire an entirely new type of armed forces
which bear no resemblance to the 1985 program laid down by Deng Xiaoping.
The Proposals and Programs in China?s RMA: What China Wants
My examination of nearly 200 books and journals published by several military
publishing houses in China suggests that at least 50 military officers
now write about future warfare and the RMA. Some propose specific programs
for China, such as developing means to counter US stealth aircraft. Others
suggest more general approaches that propose new doctrine and new weapons
programs, or offer broad warnings about what will happen to China if it
ignores the RMA. For example, General Wang Pufeng, after quoting Andrew
W. Marshall, urges that China develop three new systems : a strategic reconnaissance
and warning system, a battlefield information network that brings all military
branches into a single network for combat coordination, and long range
precision strike systems, including tactical guided missiles. General
Wang emphasizes that “in comparison with the strength of its potential
enemies, the information technology and information weapons of the Chinese
Armed Forces will all be inferior for quite some time.” He also warns
about the need to be the first to exploit a revolution in military affairs:
Those who perceive it first will swiftly rise to the top and have the
advantage of the first opportunities. Those who perceive it late
will unavoidably also be caught up in the vortex of this revolution.
Every military will receive this baptism. This revolution is first
a revolution in concepts.
Some articles by these "RMA advocates" seem to be reports of task forces
formed within single service research institutes. The Air Force Command
Institute authors focus on the crucial future role of space forces
and praise the Israeli pre-emptive dawn attack which destroyed most of
the Egyptian air force on the ground as an example of the “inferior” defeating
the “superior” through surprise attack. Similarly, Navy Research
Institute authors state that the submarine will become the most important
ship in the 21st century because of its stealthiness and its ability to
destroy the large surface ships of a “superior” enemy navy. Space
warfare will be conducted by navy ships which can destroy satellite reconnaissance
and other space systems. Tactical laser weapons will be needed for
anti-ship defense. Long range precision strikes at sea will cause “both
sides to strive to make lightning attacks and raise their first strike
PLA authors seem to have begun to assess the RMA almost ten years
ago, even before the concept was well known in United States. Some senior
officers of the Academy of Military Science (AMS) have since the mid 1980s
repeatedly referred to the “third military technical revolution” without
actually footnoting the Soviet military journals which had been discussing
the same subject. RMA articles by AMS authors began at least as early
as Wu Qunqiu’s seminal article in China Military Science, Autumn 1988.
Also in 1988 AMS Vice President General Mi Zhenyu published his Chinese
National Defense Development Concepts. It seems that Chinese interest in
the RMA did not begin in the 1990s. Indeed, by the mid 1990s, what was
new was the depth of interest and genuine enthusiasm. The Liberation Army
Daily, official newspaper of the PLA, began to publish almost weekly articles
about the RMA and its implications for China. This early interest in the
RMA may be significant. If these early open source articles somehow influenced
the weapons acquisition process of the Central Military Commission and
COSTIND, then some RMA-type research and development efforts could have
been initiated a decade ago.
It is time to turn to several representative articles and book chapters
by the Chinese RMA advocates before discussing the implications of this
writing in the final section.
Weapons Development for the 21st Century: How China Can ?Be Ahead of Everyone?
Many observers believe that Chinese concern with the RMA and future warfare
dates only from the Gulf War in 1991. However, as stated, one of
China’s most important studies of future warfare was published as early
as 1988 by a team under the leadership of General Mi Zhenyu, a Vice President
of the Academy of Military Science, entitled China’s National Defense Development
Concepts. They suggest:
? China is in long term competition with other major powers.
? The gap between the weapons we now possess compared to those
of advanced countries is twenty to twenty-five years.
? If our objective is merely to shrink this discrepancy to ten
to fifteen years, then from the point of view of effectiveness, it would
seem to be higher than others. But from the point of view of competitive
effectiveness, it would only be an impractical increase in quality, perhaps
even a decrease.
? When we compare the discrepancy of a half generation of weaponry
in the year 2000 with the two to three generation discrepancies today,
the difference in competitive effectiveness could be greater.
? If we do not start today to plan to be better, to be
ahead of everyone, how can we possibly make use of the opportunities, and
become latecomers who surpass the old-timers? (Emphasis added.)
Asymmetric Strategy: A Chinese Boxer Brings His Opponent to His Knees With
High Power Microwave Weapons, Information Superiority, and Attacking Satellites
In his article “Weapons of the Twenty-first Century,” Mr. Chang Mengxiong,
the former Senior Engineer of the Beijing Institute of System Engineering
of COSTIND, suggests that “we are in the midst of a new revolution in military
technology” and that in the twenty-first century both weapons and military
units will be “information-intensified.”
Chang has a keen eye for spotting American military weaknesses and
suggesting asymmetric approaches in which “the inferior can defeat the
superior.” Chang writes that future CI systems will be crucial, so
that “attacking and protecting space satellites, airborne early warning
aircraft and electronic warfare aircraft and ground command sites will
become important forms of combat.” Like many Chinese authors, Chang
sees new concept weapons such as lasers and high powered microwave weapons
to be the best way to conduct asymmetric attacks.
In terms of asymmetric warfare, one of Chang’s most vivid
metaphors is of a Chinese boxer. “Information-intensified combat methods
are like a Chinese boxer with a knowledge of vital body points who can
bring an opponent to his knees with a minimum of movement.”
Chang discusses some specific new concepts for weapons:
? High power microwave weapons to “destroy the opponents’ electronic
? Information superiority is “more important than air and sea superiority.”
? “We must gain air and sea superiority, but win information superiority
first of all.”
? Information deterrence will be a new operational concept.
Like nuclear deterrence, “information deterrence” will be vital.
Especially if “the power with a weaker information capability can deliver
a crippling attack on the information system of the power with a stronger
information system.” In a very important point, Chang stresses that
“even if two adversaries are generally equal in weapons, unless the side
having a weaker information capability is able effectively to weaken the
information capability of the adversary, it has very little possibility
of winning the war.”
Asymmetrical Naval Warfare: Anti Ship Lasers, Attacking US Logistics, Powerful
First Strikes, Electromagnetic Pulse Weapons, Computer Virus Weapons, New
In the first of two articles on “Twenty-first Century Naval Warfare,”
Captain Shen Zhongchang and his coauthors from the Chinese Navy Research
Institute suggest that “certain cutting-edge technologies are likely to
first be applied to naval warfare.” They point out how China could
adopt several asymmetrical approaches to defeating a larger and more powerful
navy. These approaches include disabling the more powerful navy by
attacking its space-based communications and surveillance systems and even
attacking naval units from space. Shen writes, "The mastery of outer space
will be a prerequisite for naval victory with outer space becoming the
new commanding heights for naval combat." Ships at sea will carry
out anti reconnaissance strikes against space satellites and other space
systems. “The side with electromagnetic combat superiority will make
full use of that invisible killer mace to win naval victory.” They believe
that direct attacks on naval battlefields will become possible from outer
space because “naval battle space is going to expand unprecedently.”
A second asymmetrical approach to defeating a more powerful navy is
to use shore-based missiles and aircraft instead of developing a large
(symmetrical) naval fleet. They write, “as land-based weapons will be sharply
improved in reaction capacity, strike precision, and range, it will be
possible to strike formations at sea, even individual warships.”
A third asymmetrical approach will be for China to pioneer in “magic
weapons” such as tactical laser weapons which “will be used first
in anti ship missile defense systems” and stealth technology for both naval
ships and cruise missiles. “Lightning attacks and powerful first strikes
will be more widely used.”
A fourth asymmetrical approach will be for China to attack the naval
logistics of the superior navy. Shen explains that the vulnerability of
an American-style navy will grow in the future because future naval warfare
will expend large amounts of human and material resources so that “logistics
survival will face a greater challenge.” Shen predicts that “future
maritime supply lines and logistic security bases will find it hard to
survive.” He states that the Gulf War’s daily ammunition expenditure
was 4.6 times that of the Vietnam War and twenty times that of the Korean
War with an oil consumption rate of about nineteen million gallons a day,
suggesting the vulnerability of American naval operations because of relatively
unprotected supply lines.
A fifth asymmetrical approach will be for China to attack American
naval command and information systems. In an article entitled “The Military
Revolution in Naval Warfare,” Captain Shen Zhongchang and his co-authors
list new technologies that will contribute to the defeat of the United
States. They explain that protection of C3I is now so important that
“the US Defense Department has invested $1 billion in establishing a network
to safeguard its information system.” However, the American system may
not be so safe from attack. Captain Shen writes that there are many ways
to destroy information systems such as:
? attacking radar and radio stations with smart weapons
? jamming enemy communication facilities with electronic warfare
? attacking communication centers, facilities and command ships
? destroying electronic systems with electromagnetic pulse weapons
? destroying computer software with computer viruses.
? developing directed energy weapons and electromagnetic pulse weapons.
A sixth asymmetrical approach to naval warfare is to use submarines
with new types of torpedoes. Shen predicts that the most powerful naval
weapon in future warfare will be submarines. He writes, “After the First
World War, the dominant vessel was the battleship. In the Second World
War, it was the aircraft carrier. If another global war breaks out, the
most powerful weapon will be the submarine.” Torpedoes do not require
a submarine, and can also be launched from Chinese small patrol boats.
Indeed, Liberation Army Daily has commented proudly about the effectiveness
of low observable speedboats in Chinese naval exercises against more powerful
enemy naval ships.
Asymmetrical Air Power: Control of Outer Space Will Be Decisive
In their article “The Military Revolution and Air Power,” Major General
Zheng Shenxia, President of Air Force Command College and Colonel Zhang
Changzhi, make a case that the Revolution in Military Affairs will strengthen
aerospace forces more than others. They emphasize the growing importance
of precision strike, stealth, night vision, longer range attacks, lethality
of smart munitions, increased C3I capability, and electronic warfare. They
were deeply impressed by the US capability in the Gulf War to “capture
all the high frequency and ultrahigh frequency radio signals of the Iraqi
army and store information gathered by 34 reconnaissance satellites, 260
electronic reconnaissance planes and 40 warning aircraft” and then “destroy
the Iraqi communication system.” They conclude that “this explains that
information is the key to victory.”
According to General Zheng, China’s future air force must integrate
space, air and air defense forces into one. Following the struggle for
air control, “space control will become a decisive component of strategic
In a second article “21st Century Air Warfare,” Colonel Ming Zengfu
of the Air Force Command Institutea second article “21st Century Air Warfare,”
Colonel Ming Zengfu of the Air Force Command Institute argues that “the
air battlefield will become decisively significant” in future warfare.
He too stresses China’s air force must be “linked” to space forces.
Ming concludes that not only is it correct that “he who controls outer
space controls the Earth,” but also “to maintain air superiority
one must control outer space.”
Asymmetrical Attack with Nanotechnology Weapons
An article by Major General Sun Bailin of the Academy of Military
Science is particularly important because it illustrates how asymmetrical
attacks on US military forces could be carried out with extremely advanced.
General Sun points out that US dependence on "information superhighways"
will make it vulnerable to attack by micro-scale robot “electrical incapacitation
The targets would be American electrical power systems, civilian aviation
systems, transportation networks, seaports and shipping, highways, television
broadcast stations, telecommunications systems, computer centers, factories
and enterprises, and so forth. US military equipment will also be vulnerable
to asymmetrical attack by “ant robots.” According to General Sun, these
are a type of micro-scale electromechanical system that can be controlled
with sound. The energy source of ant robots is a micro-scale microphone
that can transform sound into energy. People can use them to creep into
the enemy's vital equipment and lurk there for as long as several decades.
In peacetime, they do not cause any problem. In the event of relations
between two countries becoming worse, to the point that they develop into
warfare, remote control equipment can be used to activate the hidden ant
robots, so that they can destroy or "devour" the enemy's equipment.
China Needs ?Magic Weapons,? But ?No Consensus Yet?
In his article “Military Conflicts in the New Era,” Zheng Qinsheng points
out that the well-known scientist Qian Xuesen “laid bare the essence of
the military revolution” to be information technology. Zheng, like Chang
Mengxiong, advocates new measures of effectiveness.
In a rare remark that apparently criticizes Local War theorists, Zheng
asks “Where shall we place the nucleus of high-tech development? Where
shall we put the main emphasis of local high-tech wars?” Zheng reveals
that “a consensus on these issues has yet to be reached throughout
the army. People still tend to place greater emphasis on hardware instead
of software, and on the present instead of the future. Such a transitional
optical parallax is hindering us from gaining a correct grasp of major
Zheng concludes by recommending a conscientious study of
? the military revolution,
? new ideas on the military development, and
? "magic weapons" that can really serve our purpose
Six New Combat Concepts for Asymmetric Warfare
The COSTIND journal Contemporary Military Affairs published an article
in February 1996 by Chen Huan on “The Third Military Revolution” which
Chen calls the rapid technology development of information, stealth, and
long-range precision strike. Chen predicts new operational concepts will
appear in future wars.
Because the efficacy of these new-concept weapons depends on the hard-shell
support of a space platform, once the space platform is lost their efficacy
will be weakened and they will even become powerless. In this way the two
sides in a war will focus on offensive and defensive operations conducted
from space platforms in outer space, and these operations will certainly
become a new form in future wars. In the U.S. Armed Forces a new service--the
Space Force--is being discussed, showing that the idea of outer space combat
is close to moving from theory to actual combat.”
Long-range Combat -- “There will be three main forms of long- range strikes
in the future: the first form is the one in which the air arm independently
carries out long-range strikes; the second form is one in which the long-range
strike combines with the long-range rapid movement of troops transported
by land and sea with the vertical airdrops of airborne forces; and the
third form is five-dimensional-- air, land, sea, space, and electromagnetic--long-range
Outer Space Combat -- “The following new-concept weapons will come forth
in a continuous stream--all of these weapons will make outer space the
fifth dimension operational space following land, sea, air, and electromagnetism:
Ultra- high frequency weapons,
Ultrasonic wave weapons,
Paralysis Combat -- By striking at the "vital point" of the enemy's information
and support systems one can at one blow paralyze the enemy and collapse
Computer Combat -- “Relevant data show that, before the outbreak of the
Gulf War, American intelligence organizations put a virus into Iraq’s air
defense system which led to the destruction of 86 percent of the Iraqi
forces' strategic targets in the first one or two days of the war. This
also shows that making the computer an operational means of attacking the
object of a strike has already become a reality. . . e.g., concealing a
virus source in the integrated circuits of enemy computers and, when necessary,
activating the virus by electronic measures, propagating and duplicating
it. Again, for example, with the aid of electromagnetic waves, a virus
can be injected from a long distance into the enemy's command and communication
systems and into the computers on his aircraft, tanks, and other weapons,
causing nonlethal destruction."
Radiation Combat -- “In the wars of the past, the power to inflict casualties
mainly depended on the effects of kinetic energy and thermal energy; but
the weapon systems produced by the third military revolution mainly use
sound, electromagnetism, radiation, and other destructive mechanisms. The
main radiation weapons are laser weapons, microwave weapons, particle beam
weapons, and subsonic wave weapons; they possess enormous military potential.”
Robot Combat -- “The main type of military robot on active service or about
to be put on active service in the armed forces of various countries of
the world are vehicle emergency robots, minelaying robots, minesweeping
robots, reconnaissance robots, transportation robots, electronic robots,
and driver robots. Later there will appear engineer robots, chemical defense
robots, patrol robots, and even unmanned intelligent tanks, unmanned intelligent
aircraft, and other robot soldiers."
Possible Chinese Misperceptions of RMA and Asymmetrical Warfare
As we have seen, the Chinese RMA advocates tend toward an almost
breathless sense of inevitability that a Revolution will sweep away all
previous operational concepts, military technologies, and military organizational
structures. The reader is warned again and again that 21st century warfare
will be completely and totally different than today. Yet two things are
missing in all these articles.
First, there is no sense of balance. There is no description of how
the transition will be made to the new era of the RMA. There is no presentation
of the other side of the argument as is found in many discussions in the
US where debate exists even over the precise definition of an RMA. Some
American authors state that no one yet knows what the new RMA will look
like. Yet here are Chinese generals confidently predicting the details
of air, sea and land battles twenty to thirty years from now when they
have probably not seen in person the advanced warfare demonstrated
in the Gulf War.
Second, there is no mention of the massive obstacles China would have
to overcome to exploit a potential RMA (as the Chinese authors predict)
ahead of the United States. Instead, there is an almost magically thinking
or wishing away of these obstacles. This alone may explain why China’s
top few military leaders such as Politburo member General Liu Huaqing or
General Zhang Zhen have not yet even mentioned an RMA in their speeches
and signed articles.
Probable Resistance of Intelligence Community to Reporting Chinese Progress
In China in the 1990s, a new school of thinking about future warfare
can be identified which I have labeled the “RMA advocates.” They advocate
ideas found earlier in Russian studies of the RMA, and sometimes discuss
American views of the RMA. They also focus on the need for China to develop
asymmetrical military capabilities which could seriously reduce current
U.S. military superiority in Asia. These Chinese military authors may not
enjoy much influence. But they should not be ignored. It should be possible
in the next few years to identify the development by China of asymmetrical
or RMA military capabilities that deviate from the plans Deng publicly
proposed in the 1980s which are usually (but perhaps incorrectly) called
the Doctrine of Local Warfare.
While we are uncertain whether China is changing its strategy,
a dilemma will be whether U.S. defense planning for the next two decades
should continue to assume that the goals of Chinese military modernization
are still the plans laid down by Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s modest
improvements in air, sea and ground forces, little change in nuclear forces,
little interest power projection. If Deng’s vision remains operative, there
would be little reason for the United States to shift its defense planning
assumptions toward new premises based on these Chinese publications that
urge that China should exploit a potential Revolution on Military
Affairs and pursue asymmetrical military capabilities. What would it take
to change this assumption?
Today Only A Few Chinese Write About the RMA
At present, it would appear that only a few high ranking Chinese military
authors publicly advocate that China should re-orient the military modernization
program laid down by Deng over a decade ago. Indeed, the public speeches
and public articles published by the very highest level of Chinese military
leaders have not yet begun to reflect the views of these RMA advocates.
Would US Intelligence Recognize the Shift?
If these Chinese RMA advocates ever assume control of policy and
programming, China’s military capabilities in 20 years could pose major
challenges to U.S. forces. Chinese “wish lists” of exotic weapons could
materialize. Would the US intelligence community immediately recognize
such a shift? Possibly not. New evidence would likely be disputed.
American intelligence analysts of China might be divided between
a cautious group of passionate defenders of the status quo who would continue
to downplay PLA capabilities and belittle the possibility of a Revolution
in Military Affairs in spite of the clear commitment of Secretary of Defense
Cohen to Path 3 in the QDR. A second group of intelligence analysts might
be more willing to consider the possibility that China had changed course
since Deng’s departure and might be successful in exploiting an RMA, perhaps
one with special Chinese characteristics. Such a debate inside the U.S.
intelligence community would not likely become public or be disclosed to
the Congress or the Pentagon. There would be intense pressure to
avoid discussion of the issue in part because of the now famous prediction
by former Assistant Secretary of Defense Joseph Nye that treating China
as an enemy will be a self fulfilling prophecy.
Five Reasons Traditional Intelligence Analysts Will Resist New Interpretations
Even without Professor Nye’s warning, it is unlikely that current Chinese
open source writings about how to defeat the US in future warfare will
be taken seriously by the intelligence community for many years after accumulation
of overwhelming evidence because:
First, many experts who specialize in Chinese affairs doubt that China
can ever develop effective world-class military forces. They might admit
China has RMA advocates, but still adamantly argue that China lacks a socio-economic
foundation to implement an RMA.
Second, some US experts believe future Chinese military modernization will
have to be extremely modest because China is intent on economic modernization
and will not depart from its low cost military budgets. The RMA advocates
seems to be only wishful thinkers.
Third, in spite of extensive Soviet denial and deception of the US, some
US experts believe that China has no such denial and deception program.
Instead, the source of Chinese military secrecy is assumed to be Chinese
fear of embarrassment if they exposed their military forces and acquisition
plans to US scrutiny. PLA leaders frequently make this argument.
Fourth, some US experts may believe the existence of these Chinese RMA
advocates proves nothing about the direction of China’s future military
programs. Chinese RMA advocates could be writing this way in public
because they have internal policy battles, or to gain personal recognition
for their ideas, or because they want to demonstrate that they understand
the RMA debates in the US and Russia.
Fifth, some experts may believe their “instincts” more than these PLA writings.
The personal contacts that US experts have had with PLA officers almost
always contain warm and friendly vows of common strategic interests by
the Chinese to their American counterparts combined with sincere Chinese
disavowals of any hostile intent toward the U.S. Thus, the PLA written
materials addressed above may contrast so sharply with the subjectively
more “authentic” personal warmth which many US experts have experienced
over the years of Sino-merican exchanges that some US experts will dismiss
such PLA articles as mere cant or empty rhetoric written either for “publish
or perish” purposes or to satisfy political commissars. In other words,
the PLA authors don’t really believe it.
Doctrine and Acquisition: We Need To Understand the Organizational Process
Perhaps one additional factor that could explain skepticism about
the significance of PLA published doctrine is the absence of sufficient
evidence about how published doctrine may be related to decision making
about acquisition programs.
If very little is known with confidence about how Chinese doctrinal
writings may be linked to the organizational process of Chinese military
research, development and acquisition, then we are only in the early stages
of really understanding the PLA. This level of ignorance of PLA (and COSTIND)
organizational process impedes any assessment of the significance of new
PLA doctrinal writings. Let’s take a few examples which ultimately imply
the urgent need to enhance our understanding of China’s organizational
process which governs how doctrine may be related to weapons acquisition.
At present, the most senior PLA leaders do not publicly advocate that
China should exploit the RMA. Does this mean there are no RMA programs
or asymmetric programs in the process of research, development and acquisition?
Suppose the senior PLA leadership did endorse RMA programs? Would such
a public shift be significant? Would it affect the views of US experts
devoted to their model of a backward, modestly modernizing, largely infantry-based
Take another example concerning how doctrine may be linked to research,
development and acquisition. Suppose that a weapons program that the Chinese
government has officially denied that it is pursuing (say, an aircraft
carrier, or a MIRVed ICBM, or an ASAT weapon) is identified with confidence.
Would such evidence affect the views of US experts devoted to their model
that China does not practice denial and deception about its military capability?
Take another example. Suppose that China performs a series of military
exercises designed to attack aircraft carriers (or some other weapons system
unique to the US such as stealth aircraft) in an asymmetric manner. Or
suppose some of the “magic weapons” proposed by the RMA advocates were
unveiled by China or revealed by the Russian government to have been sold
to China. Examples translated in the book Chinese Views of
Future Warfare include electromagnetic rail guns, anti-ship lasers, ground-based
ASAT lasers, high power microwave weapons, a counter stealth program, and
others. What implications would such evidence have, if any?
Wrapped up in all these questions is the need for better understanding
of China’s military organizational processes and the need to develop key
indicators of future possible changes in both PLA intentions and capabilities.
It could be important to know if the RMA advocates are succeeding. Such
a contingency might require modifications in US defense programs and operational
plans. There would be a requirement to reduce vulnerabilities in Asia and
particularly to increase efforts there to develop countermeasures to Chinese
Of course, no Chinese programs along the lines proposed by the
RMA advocates may ever materialize. If they do not materialize, then the
Chinese RMA advocates of the 1990s will be seen in retrospect as merely
posing a false alarm about a path the Chinese military leadership decided
never to take. At present, we lack the necessary analytic tools and
evidence to know what the significance of these PLA authors on future warfare
1. There appears to be a parallel debate in
Moscow about the costs and benefits of radically pursuing a Revolution
in Military Affairs. The Vice President of the Russian Academy of Military
Science Vladimir Slipchenko told Komsomolskaya Pravda October 15, 1996
that new weapons based on new physical principles will form the basis of
many states “armed forces in 10-15 years time. . . Explosives are currently
being developed which will be 30-50 times more destructive . . . .The main
attack element will be five to eight times faster then sound air- and sea-launched
cruise missiles. . . . military lasers will be used to disable military
space systems. . . By directing energy emission at a target it is possible
to turn an enemy division into a herd of frightened idiots. . . electromagnetic
weapons . . . ionizing (plasma) weapons . . . our likely friends in the
West and the East are developing new weapons and means of employing them.
Is Russian ready to take up the challenge of the times?” General Slipchenko
explained to me in an interview in Moscow in 1996 that some Russian military
leaders are resisting the rapid exploitation of the potential Revolution
in Military Affairs and prefer more conservative ways. There are apparently
a number of senior Chinese military officers now studying at advanced Russian
2. Three were entitled New Version of the
36 Stratagems, Strategy in the Three Kingdoms Era, Eastern Zhou Strategies.
3. This highly tentative speculation could help
to explain the many Chinese open source references recently uncovered by
Mark Stokes to previously unknown Chinese programs to develop laser weapons,
anti satellite weapons, high powered microwave weapons, electric rail guns,
and other advance technologies in his forthcoming study for the United
States Air Force Academy Institute for National Security Studies.
A SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY OF CHINESE MILITARY BOOKS
The RMA, High Technology Warfare, and Local Warfare
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(A Course on Foreign Military High Technology and Modern Military Affairs).
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Li Jie. Gao jishu yu xiandai haijun (High Technology and
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Li Zhishun and Sun Dafa. Gao jishu zhanzheng moulue (High
Technology Warfare Strategy). Beijing: National Defense University
Liu Mingtao and Yang Chengjun. Gao jishu zhanzheng zhong de daodan
zhan (Guided Missel War in High Technology Warfare). Beijing:
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Liu Sheng’e and Miao Lin. Xiandai jubu zhanzheng tiaojian xia
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Local Warfare). Beijing: Military Science Press, 1996.
Liu Yichang, ed. Gao jishu zhanzheng lun (High Technology
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Yu Yongzhe, ed. Gao jishu zhanzheng houqin baozhang (High Technology
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Zhang Liuhua. Shei zhuzai weilai zhanchang ? -- Gao jishu zhanzheng
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Zhang Yufa, Shou Xiaosong, Yu Qifen, Hu Guangzheng, Zhang Ji, Xiao
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Zhao Hongfa and Zhang Yuliang, eds. Gao jishu jubu zhanzheng
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Military Science and Strategic Studies
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