The Gulf War -- Lessons for Chinese Military S&T

A report from U.S. Embassy Beijing  November 1996

Summary. Science and Education for a Prosperous China addresses questions about the impact of science and technology on the combat readiness of the Chinese military. The report, summarized here, claims that the rapid and overwhelming victory of the U.S. - led forces in the Gulf War demonstrates how high technology has revolutionized modern warfare. Nations throughout the world are modernizing their military to gain political and economic advantages through intimidation. The new technology dictates new military strategies. Military forces of the future will be smaller and flatter in their command structure. Tanks and aircraft carriers, now highly vulnerable to missile attack, are becoming less important. End summary.

China's Military S&T: Learning from the Gulf War

The military section of the report examines the role of technology in U.S. combat readiness. U.S. high technology enabled the U.S. led coalition forces to defeat the Iraqi forces in just 42 days with minimal coalition losses. This victory demonstrated to the world the decisive importance of advanced weaponry. The U.S. led forces superior technology included integrated satellite and aerial reconnaissance with associated command and control information systems; full spectrum jamming to ensure battlefield communications superiority; better coordination of naval and ground offensive forces than ever achieved before; highly accurate missile systems; integrated command, control, communications and intelligence for directing the battle; and the U.S. worldwide military command and control system (WWMCCS). Mechanized forces with air support decided the battle.

Chinese Military S&T: Impact on Military and Political Strategy

Military history shows that weapons available to warriors in each period of human history largely determine the way wars are fought. The new wave of military high technology that began to emerge during the 1980s has important implications for military and political strategy. Today countries the world over are pouring resources into the development of new high tech weaponry. Their goal is to increase their strategic intimidation capability to achieve their strategic goals. As technological progress has accelerated, the life of a military weapons system has fallen from twenty to thirty years to about ten years. Now that missile accuracy has improved by a factor of 100, each missile need carry between one-tenth and one-fiftieth as much explosive as before to destroy its target. Understanding the great implications of these technologies, which will determine the scope and means of war in the twenty-first century, is extremely important, says the authors of the SSTC report.

Chinese Military S&T: A Systems View

Many areas of high technology such as information, biological, microelectronic, automatic, laser and infrared technology have important military applications. China must increase the speed at which the Chinese military absorbs new technology. Today military technology is not longer a special field in itself. Instead, all areas of the new science and technology must be reviewed for their importance to the military. The military must stop thinking just about the present generation of weapons. As the generation time of weapons systems gets shorter, a new weapons system is no sooner in use that the next generation of weapons that will replace it is already in the engineering development stage. The design and production of the next generation of weapons system must be guided by people who deeply understand military theory and strategic thinking. We must no longer make weapons "because we already have that kind, so letís just replace it with a new improved version." Science and technology determine the scale of war, the way wars are fought and the prospects for victory.

As the speed of technological progress accelerates, nations the world over are joined in a vast military S&T competition to occupy the S&T "high ground." Space is becoming steadily more militarized. The trend in nuclear weapons is smaller weapons and more accurate delivery systems. Conventional weapons are being transformed by high tech. High tech enables military forces to combine land, sea, air (even outer space) forces into a well integrated single force that fights in three dimensions. War has become more sudden and faster changing. Wars are now often decided quickly. The destructiveness and cruelty of war are greater than ever before. The new technology gives mobility, speed, and great offensive power to rapid deployment forces. The new type of war places less strain on military logistics, increases strategic initiative in the battlefield, and gives commanders greater knowledge of where their forces are and what they are doing than ever before.

Military Strength as A Bargaining Chip

Although in todayís world the international community wants to maintain "peace and progress," armed conflicts continue to occur regularly. High tech greatly spur economic development but at the same time but has at the same time been a source of frightening destructive power. Today, large-scale war is avoidable and so military methods are not used as much as before to resolve conflicts of interest among nations. Even if not used in large scale wars, military power has become a sort of overall index of national strength, a bargaining chip and indeed, something useful in limited wars. New weapons emerge from the general pool of new science and technology. Ninety percent of the new science and technology that emerges from the lab has military applications.

Chinaís Military S&T -- Inspiring New Military Strategies

With each new wave of science and technology comes a revolution in the way war is fought and organized. The new emerging S&T will also produce important changes. These include: 1) Smaller, more professional armies battling their enemies at a distance will replace the large armies of today. 2) The growing importance of air to ground missiles blurs the distinction among air, sea and ground forces. 3) Tanks, now hit with great accuracy by laser guided weapons, may become less important; 4) Small stealthy boats that can carry cruise missiles or remotely piloted attack aircraft will make aircraft carriers more vulnerable and so less effective. Remotely piloted aircraft will replace many Navy and Air Force manned aircraft. 5) The smaller forces of the future will need less logistical support but more strategic information from satellites, etc. Command posts will no longer filter military intelligence before it reaches the field. "From sensor to launcher" direct feed of intelligence from remote sensors to the battlefield will become common. 6) Military organizations will become flatter as soldiers in foreign battlefields are directed from their home country.

Embassy Beijing Defense Attache Office Comment: Systems Integration is a Soft Spot

We are impressed with the practical and farsighted approach by the scientific community to military modernization and the impact of technology on warfare. The real question, it seems, is whether the Chinese political system can create the proper atmosphere to develop, absorb, and employ high technology weapons to their maximum potential. What was not addressed in this scientific work was the software side of high technology systems and warfare. The systemic and organizational changes required for high tech warfare may cause the Chinese the greatest problems in this area. For example, it may take much more than technological advances to produce the initiative required of commanders at all levels to wage high tech war. It was also interesting to note that the text referred on several occasions to high technology being the key to military intimidation.

"Science and Education for a Prosperous China" Series

ìScience and Education for a Prosperous Chinaî written by the State Science and Technology Commission (SSTC) (overview) elaborates on the national science policy propounded in the CPC Central Committee and State Council "Decision on Accelerating the Progress of Science and Technology" and in speeches by President Jiang Zemin and Premier Li Peng Chinese S&T Policy: A View From the Top . Reports in this series summarize and comment at greater length this 400 page document written for Chinese Communist Party (CPC) and Chinese government officials. The reports summarize and analyze the economic, food security (including the Lester Brown "Who Will Feed China?" controversy and Chinese Critics Confront Lester Brown) , the challenges of absorbing and creating technology and military aspects of the new Chinese S&T policy which emerged from the May 1995 conference. The reports also summarize and analyze the environmental portion of the SSTC volume. The SSTC volume examines S&T lessons China can draw from the S&T policies of other countries as well as lessons China draws from its own S&T experience since 1949. The report Chinese S&T and the Challenge of WTO Accession reviews the effect of S&T on the risks and rewards China will encounter when it joins the WTO.