China’s People’s Liberation Army is preparing to destroy U.S. computer and network infrastructure in future attacks and knock out satellites with microwave pulses, according to recently translated Chinese military writings.
A senior colonel in the General Staff Fourth Department—the cyber warfare and electronic spying section known as 4PLA—wrote in one article that Chinese electronic network attack plans call for a “system of systems” destruction plan.
U.S. cyber warfare combat capability “forms a great threat for our military in terms of carrying out joint campaigns and operations, and especially information operations,” wrote Col. Lin Shishan.
“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 wrote in the Beijing journal “New Century and New Age.”
A second article in a Chinese military journal revealed new details on how China’s military is set to conduct high-power microwave attacks against satellites in space.
Authors Wu Gang, Song Zhiqiang, and Liu Bo of the China Academy of Space Technology stated that satellite systems are critical for China’s national security and economy, and as a result “satellite systems would unavoidably become the key target to attack by the enemy in modern warfare.”
Because Russia and the United States are developing anti-satellite weapons, the authors state, China must follow suit.
The Pentagon has said it is not developing space weapons, although a U.S. sea-based missile defense interceptor was used in 2008 to shoot down a falling satellite.
However, China’s military in 2007 successfully tested satellite-killing missiles and has developed electronic jammers and lasers for use against space systems, according to the Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on the PLA.
To destroy satellites, microwaves are fired in pulses and enter them through antennae, cables, or slots; once inside, they destroy electronic and other components, the Chinese article states.
“When the power or energy reaches a certain level of magnitude, it would interfere with the internal electronic equipment or components, rendering them unable to function normally, or even burning the semi-conductor components and integrated circuit of the electronic equipment,” the article says.
“Some military powers” already have space-based high-power microwave weapons that can fly close to spacecraft targets to be attacked, the report says.
It concludes that both ground-based and space-based high-power microwave weapons can damage orbiting satellites.
A third PLA paper published in March calls for China’s armed forces to expand “cyber dominance.”
Author Liu Wangxin said “some countries and organizations” are using the Internet to “carry out purposeful political and cultural infiltrations.”
“The information network will become the center of military actions,” Lui says.
Chinese national sovereignty is threatened by the use of the Internet because key information nodes and facilities are controlled by the United States, where most of the Internet trunk lines are based.
Expanding Chinese cyber warfare capabilities “has a direct bearing on the outcome of future informatized wars,” according to Liu, who noted that cyber weapons are strategic.
“While great importance is attached continuously to wartime actions, it is also necessary to pay special attention to non-wartime actions,” he writes. “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.”
Dmitri Alperovitch, chief technology officer for CrowdStrike, who specializes in Chinese cyber warfare said the 4PLA colonel’s disclosure of plans for deep attacks against U.S. networks—not just front-line nodes—reveals a key Chinese warfighting goal.
“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,” Alperovitch told the Free Beacon.
The writings make clear “the Chinese realize that our combat-supportive information systems are not only a great advantage, but our reliance on them is potentially one of our biggest weaknesses,” he said.
Of concern is the revelation that the Chinese are planning joint kinetic, electronic warfare and network attacks against U.S. systems, Alperovitch said.
“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,” he said.
The writings support the findings of the congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission that stated in a report in March that China’s military seeks to integrate computer attacks with other military operations in what the PLA calls “information confrontation.”
“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,” the report said.
“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.
Edward Timperlake, a former Pentagon technology security official, said the writings indicate China is preparing for future broad-spectrum warfare.
Timperlake noted that U.S. forces that are being built up in the Pacific need funding for “a new revolutionary technology/platform, training and tactics” to challenge the Chinese military’s high-tech warfare plans.
“They have not yet grasped this technology pivot—building a U.S. and allied honeycomb [command, control, communications, computers, intelligence surveillance, and reconnaissance] Pacific grid,” Timperlake said. “Thus being robust and redundant is our way ahead. The Chinese sense this, but they are focusing on our current capability, which they can hurt but which will hopefully rapidly evolve in a different direction.”