China’s Military Modernization and Its Implications for India: Part III – Bridging the Capability Gap

New Delhi, April 10 (IANS): China has used the newly created Strategic Support Force (SSF) to create advanced space and cyberoffensive capabilities. The SSF Space Systems Department has consolidated military space functions including rocket launches, telemetry, tracking, control, satellite communications, space intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

The Network Systems Department integrated and strengthened signals intelligence, cyber espionage, computer attacks, electromagnetic warfare, and psychological operations, making the SSF a formidable offensive force.

According to the US intelligence community, China’s cyber espionage operations have included compromising telecommunications companies such as Huawei and ZTE, which have provided overseas intelligence gathering opportunities.

For example, in April 2019, the telecommunications company Vodafone Group revealed that it had found security flaws with Huawei equipment deployed for its fixed telephony network in Italy. These vulnerabilities potentially gave Huawei unauthorized access to internet traffic and carrier call data.

Similarly, in August 2020, a report by the Australian government and Papua New Guinea’s National Cybersecurity Center noted that the latter’s National Data Center, built by Huawei in 2018, was marred by weak cybersecurity, which exposed confidential government data to theft.

Drones and unmanned aerial and underwater capabilities

China has continued R&D on drones and unmanned aerial and underwater capabilities keeping an eye on its advantages in combat and reconnaissance. It has had notable successes: the PLAAF recently unveiled its largest drone, the WZ-7 “Soaring Dragon” high-altitude, long-range drone. It has also developed and deployed a fleet of Sea Wing underwater drones in the Indian Ocean for naval intelligence purposes.

Currently, China is developing a WZ-8 supersonic drone as well as a swarm drone capability. Research initiatives like these funded by China’s technology ecosystem, which is integrated into the military system, ensure that the PLA has the edge over other militaries in the region and beyond.

Software-driven dual-use technologies

In the same vein, through fair means and subterfuge, China has made great strides in dual-use software technologies such as artificial intelligence, deep learning and facial recognition. Apart from its own labs, the PLA has also used its domestic tech giants such as Alibaba, SenseTime and Megvii to develop the necessary algorithms.

The CCP has deployed these technologies for external defense purposes as well as internal security purposes. For example, many of these companies have been used for targeted facial recognition, artificial intelligence, big data and genetic testing against its Uyghur population in Xinjiang.

Implications of China’s military modernization for the region

Since the CCP embarked on military reforms, Chinese foreign policy has increasingly adopted an assertive tone vis-à-vis its neighbors – India, Taiwan, Japan – and Southeast Asian neighbors. Is like Vietnam.

Military reforms and modernization of the PLA are strengthening China’s coercive capabilities. The reforms give the PLA the ability to wage decisive wars and in some cases, as a cyber, cripple the enemy without firing a shot. This adds to the already large power differential between the Chinese military and other regional militaries, including India.

US strategic analysts Joel Wuthnow and Phillip Saunders speculate that the transformation triggered by military reforms could prove “disruptive enough” to reduce the PLA’s ability to launch and sustain major combat operations. But India’s experience with China over the past five years has proven otherwise.

Since the ascension of President Xi Jinping, India has seen the PLA’s heightened assertiveness starting with the 2013 Depsang Valley incursion into Ladakh, which culminated in the ongoing border standoff in Ladakh. .

During this ongoing stalemate, the PLA’s increased effectiveness in executing joint combat and mobile logistics operations is evident by the rapid deployment of upgraded versions of armored vehicles, self-propelled howitzers and lances. -heavy rockets, as well as a multitude of radar systems throughout the combined air defense system.

Similar Chinese aggression is also evident in the case of China’s other neighbors – Taiwan; Southeast Asian neighbors with whom China has a maritime dispute in the South China Sea; and Japan, on the Senkaku Islands. In response to Chinese military reforms as well as the global trend of the military moving towards joint and information-based operations, India has launched its own set of military reforms.

These include the creation of the Defense Cyber ​​Agency and the Defense Space Agency in 2019, the appointment of the Chief of the Defense Staff in 2020, and the proposed move to theater commands . These reforms have a longer gestation period. They will also necessarily have to address the protracted rivalry between the three services and the inherent resistance that such articulation evokes from the services.

Maritime dispute

China’s military modernization has created an increased presence of the PLA Navy in the Indian Ocean, as evidenced by regular reports of repeated dockings of PLAN nuclear submarines at the port of Colombo in Sri Lanka and ports from Gwadar and Karachi in Pakistan. China has also strengthened its presence in the Indian Ocean by participating in counter-piracy operations. Between 2008 and 2018, China sent 30 anti-piracy task forces to the Indian Ocean, established an overseas military base in Djibouti in 2016, and boosted its naval capabilities in blue waters.

With these, the PLA can project its power far beyond the Chinese mainland. China has used them to protect its investments under the Belt and Road Initiative and citizens abroad, as acknowledged in the 2019 white paper. According to the US Department of Defense, China could consider opening additional overseas bases that will allow the PLA to project and sustain its energy at greater distances.

In response to China’s growing submarine operations in the Indian Ocean, the Indian Navy has significantly increased its anti-submarine warfare capabilities — beginning in 2013, it acquired the P8i maritime reconnaissance aircraft and in 2021, US MH-60 anti-submarine helicopters.

Enhanced Malicious Cyber ​​Activities

China’s increased cyber capabilities through the SSF are its heightened offensive cyber operations, which have amplified in recent years. India and other neighbors of China have been the victims of China’s expanding malicious cyber activities, mostly directed against its critical infrastructure.

The only way for India to protect itself is to improve its capabilities by investing in cybersecurity and emerging technologies. India has made cybersecurity a political priority and is lifting necessary safeguards to better protect itself. But the persistence of Chinese malicious cyber activities requires an even greater effort and the enlistment of like-minded partners in the Indo-Pacific.

Conclusion: the road ahead for India

India’s first chief of defense staff, General Bipin Rawat, had remarked that China was the “greatest security threat” facing India. India will need to take a long-term view of China’s transformed military power and accelerate and adjust its defense reforms to achieve the same results.

The implementation of such reforms requires greater political management of forces and less interference from the civilian bureaucracy. Moreover, by maximizing the limited budgetary resources, India must intensify its ongoing force restructuring initiatives, including the integration of the three services and the increase of its power projection capabilities.

Given China’s emphasis on reducing the role of ground forces, India also needs to invest more in air and naval assets as they will enable it to improve its power projection capability. At the heart of China’s military reforms and modernization is its strong defense industrial base in the aerospace, missile and shipbuilding sectors.

National defense industrialization therefore plays a vital role in India’s military advancement. The government has encouraged greater private sector involvement in defense manufacturing. To encourage them further, India will need to speed up its defense procurement process and expand its support for innovation in emerging technologies.

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