WASHINGTON — China’s military is struggling with shortages in contests where access to and control of the electromagnetic spectrum is hotly contested, according to a U.S. Defense Department assessment.
Spectrum is a critical resource in modern conflicts, as its manipulation enables navigation, communication, deception, and even weapon guidance. A dizzying amount of electronic interference and spoofing is expected in a battle between global powers.
China is aware of its weaknesses and is working to address them, a senior US defense official told reporters at a discussion on China’s 2023 Military Power Report. The document is published annually and provides the public’s in-depth analysis of the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA, and Beijing’s modernization goals.
“Some of the things they talked about is how they can operate — or need to be better prepared to operate — in what they call a complex electromagnetic environment,” said the official, who declined to be identified. rules set by the Ministry of Defence. “They still talk about some of the challenges involved in command and control and coordination, among other things.”
The US is reinvesting in electronic warfare and other spectrum-related capabilities after years of decline. China in 2015 established its Force Support Strategy, focusing its efforts on space, information, cyber and electronic warfare.
In addition, the PLA leans into what is known as systems destruction warfare. The hypothesis, which is stated in China Military Power’s 2022 and 2023 reports, predicts that war is no longer solely focused on decimating enemy troops. Instead, wars are won by the side that can disrupt, cripple, or completely destroy the other’s underlying networks and infrastructure.
The Defense Department noted Chinese forces “continue to try to improve their cyber and electronic warfare arsenals,” the US official said.
Both the US and China are folding electronic warfare into military exercises. The latter uses the opportunities to test the units’ understanding of systems and jamming procedures as well as to assess developments in research and development, according to the report.
“The PLA really sees space, cyber and electronic warfare as very closely intertwined,” the official said. “They’ve been writing about a concept they refer to as network-integrated electronic warfare for many years.”
Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration – specifically Cold War decommissioning and nuclear weapons development – for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award winning photographer.
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