Recently published writings by representatives of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) reveal a high level of advocacy for the development of a cyber offensive capacity.
The documents demonstrate a concerted strategy by the Chinese military to develop the means to not only disrupt communications and information systems essential to the battlefield, but also for non-wartime espionage and the ability to target an enemy's critical infrastructure.
In one paper, PLA author Liu Wangxin warned that China's adversaries are using the Internet to “carry out purposeful political and cultural infiltrations," and that “the information network will become the center of military actions.”
Liu advises that the development of cyber offensive capabilities “has a direct bearing on the outcome of future informatized wars.”
“While great importance is attached continuously to wartime actions, it is also necessary to pay special attention to non-wartime actions. For example, demonstrate the presence of the cyber military power through cyber reconnaissance, cyber deployment, and cyber protection activities; make use of the characteristics of the cyber operation force, which can take action rapidly, has strong gathering and reorganizing capability, and is able to carry out high-intensity confrontations, to effectively protect the information nodes in cyberspace,” Liu wrote.
Col. Lin Shishan's analysis of the cyber capabilities of the U.S. leads him to believe that cyber warfare “forms a great threat for our [China's] military in terms of carrying out joint campaigns and operations, and especially information operations.”
“In this regard, we must establish the information combat concept of ‘attack and destruction of system of systems,’ and from the point of view of structural resistance, regard information systems of the main opponent as a whole, look for crucial points in the architecture which will serve as precise attack targets of information operations in order to break the balance of their architecture, paralyze the work of the systems, and reach the goal of weakening and suppressing their ability to obtain information superiority," Lin continued.
Overall, the tone of the PLA's strategy regarding the development of cyber warfare capabilities may increase potential for a regional conflict involving the defense of Taiwan to a more serious international conflict.
“If this represents the official line of thinking, this means that the prospects are not good that a limited conflict in a Taiwan Straits would remain localized to that geography without escalating into an all-out war,” said Chinese cyber warfare expert Dmitri Alperovitch.
Other writings analyzed advocate the development of anti-satellite weapons system employing high-frequency microwave technology.
“As expected, they view our communications and GPS navigation systems as priority targets at the start of a conflict and are spending time and effort figuring out their vulnerabilities and attack strategies,” Alperovitch said.
A U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission report released in March echoed Alperovitch's sentiments.
“PLA leaders have embraced the idea that successful war-fighting is predicated on the ability to exert control over an adversary’s information and information systems, often preemptively. This goal has effectively created a new strategic and tactical high ground, occupying which has become just as important for controlling the battle space as its geographic equivalent in the physical domain,” the report said.
A House subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Management conducted hearings in late April to better understand the nation's current state of cybersecurity.
Leading the charge with decidedly alarmist rhetoric was Republican Representative Michael McCaul if Texas, who boldly pronounced, "there are no shells exploding or foreign militaries on our shores. But make no mistake: America is under attack by digital bombs."
"China's cyber warfare capabilities and the espionage campaigns they have undertaken are the most prevalent of any nation state actor," McCaul continued.
Chief among McCaul's concerns is that the Chinese government is actively engaged in "cyber espionage" conducted by "established cyber war military units" which he believes have "laced the U.S. infrastructure with logic bombs."
"We have been fortunate that up until this point, cyber attacks in our country have not caused a cataclysmic event that could bring physical harm to Americans. But that is not for a lack of effort on the part of those who mean to destroy our way of life," McCaul stated.