It’s not just Chinese factory owners who are looking to move up the value chain these days. The Chinese military has also been working hard at pouching new technologies and this is now represented it in its new concept for war. – Richard Scotford
(the following is a guest posting by Richard Scotford)
Just what Informationization entails is not instantly obvious by its mishmash of terms and little has been written upon it outside of China. The most definitive explanation of the concept in English comes from respected China watcher, James Mulvenon, who in a seminar hosted by China Brief, likened Informationiztion to the US Airforces battle hardened A-10 Wharthog ground-attack jet. Or to paraphrase Mulvenon, the A-10 is a proven piece of kit but is now nearly 40 years old. Rather than designing something new, which will be costly and time consuming. Why not bolt on some new, sophisticated parts that will enable it to be integrated with other 21st century systems on the modern battlefield? Therefore ensuring that the proven weapon is not lost and can go on fighting for another 40 years.
In some respects this seems obvious. Militaries across the world recycle all kinds of weapons for years and years and add-on modern parts. Take the US Armies’ M24 sniper rifle for example, still going strong after nearly a quarter of a century, albeit having lots of new, advanced rivals. Weapons, like any other technology, go through generational changes. This is nothing new or interesting.
What makes Chinese Informationization interesting is what the PLA is trying to achieve as it rapidly modernizes it forces. Effectively, the PLA’s rapid expansion and spending spree is in danger of creating a two or even three tiered fighting force. With the cream of the military receiving all the best kit and glory while the rest gets lumped with old tanks, trucks and ships that date back to the 60s, 70s or 80s. When CCTV proudly shows J-10 fighters and T-99 Tanks attacking targets in the Gobi Desert these represent the very pinnacle of the Chinese fighting force. The PLA is the largest army in the world, but unfortunately most of the equipment is outdated and it would be too expensive to replace everything with top of the range gear. Hence Informationization.
In China’s so-called classless state, Informationization aims to bridge the gap between the military haves and the have-nots. So, like the A-10, the Chinese military is not in the business of replacing the whole system, but instead adds-on some fancy gadget that brings it into the 21st century. If it is a truck, make sure they’re all connected up to an indigenous GPS system. If it is an old tank, make sure it gets connected to a battle-presence system that enables it to fight along side the T-99s. Never mind that its armour is about as effective as a rusty tin of beans, what is important is that each fighting system has an unbreakable flow of information that will culminate in a superior battlefield awareness and bring ultimate victory. This is the principle of Informationization. Utilizing the old and maximizing the new into a coherent fighting force that enjoys unbreakable information flow. Spending money where it is needed, upgrading and modernizing the old, reliable equipment so it doesn’t need to be scrapped on mass, but instead slowly phased out as better systems come online.
Another facet of Informationization also represents being able to disrupt the enemies’ flow of information while maximizing one’s own under adverse electromagnetic conditions. In order to do this part of the informationization modernization installation. (Say that after a few beers) The Chinese military has been busy burying thousands of kilometers of communication wires that link up all the various command and control structures across the country. So, effectively making them immune to jamming devices and kinetic attacks. Something an anticipated, advanced enemy, like the US, is extremely good at.
So, this is the theory, which all sounds great… and this is why every military in the world is waiting to see how the PLA puts it all together in a modern context. However, just like many other things in China, things don’t always do what they say on the box, The Three Gorges Dam and the new high-speed rail link to Beijing being two great examples. Only time will tell if the Informationization concept is the elixir the CCP is looking for to modernize its huge military and asymmetrically counter US global preponderance.
Richard Scotford is a freelance writer living in HK.
He holds a Master’s Degree in Chinese Studies from CUHK and writes the China Rising blog at: http://chinarisingblog.blogspot.com/