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#358 Systems Warfare by the China PLA

This blog reflects an attempt to understand current thinking in the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) regarding system of systems and systems warfare, as well as current methods of war fighting.
This blog is based on: Engstrom, J., How the Chinese People's Liberation Army Seeks to Wage Modern Warfare, RAND Corporation, 2018,


 It reflects current thinking in the PLA regarding system of systems and systems warfare, as well as current methods of war fighting. The PLA now characterizes and understands modern warfare as a confrontation between opposing operational systems rather than merely opposing armies.
A doctrine about victory in modern warfare recognizes system destruction warfare as a method of modern war fighting. Warfare is no longer centered on the annihilation of enemy forces on the battlefield. Rather, it is won by the belligerent that can disrupt, paralyze, or destroy the operational capability of the enemy’s operational system. This can be achieved through conventional strikes against key points while simultaneously employing a more robust, capable operational system of its own.

This blog should be of interest to scholars of the PLA, policymakers, and anyone else who seeks insight into scholars how the PLA conceptualizes modern warfare. It is important to note that many systems discussed in here are conceptual. The PLA continues to refine its concepts and theories about how to best carry out systems-based warfare. Various components of the PLA’s envisioned operational system may not yet be fielded.

The RAND research, on which this blog is based, was sponsored by United States Pacific Command, was supported by the Office of the Secretary of Defense the defense Intelligence Community.
Systems thinking has an enormous impact on how the PLA is currently organizing, equipping and training itself for future war-fighting contingencies.

Chinese military publications indicate that the PLA has recognized that war is no longer a contest between particular units, arms, services, or even specific weapons platforms of competing adversaries, but rather a contest among numerous adversarial operational systems.
This mode of fighting is unique to modern warfare, as are the battlefields. This is referred to as systems confrontation which is waged not only in the traditional physical domains of land, sea, and air, but also in outer space, nonphysical cyberspace, electromagnetic, and even psychological domains. Whereas achieving dominance in any one of physical domains was sufficient for war fighting success in the past, Systems Confrontation Warfare requires that “comprehensive dominance” be achieved in all domains or battlefields.

As result, operational systems must be sufficiently multidimensional to wage war in all of these domains simultaneously. According to these concepts the enemy “loses the will and ability to resist” once its operational system cannot effectively function. There are four target types that PLA planners seek when attempting to paralyze the enemy’s operational system.

First, the PLA literature calls for strikes that degrade or disrupt the flow of information within the adversary’s operational system.
Second, the literature mentions degrading or disrupting that operational system’s essential factors, which include, but are not limited to, its command and control (C2), reconnaissance intelligence, and firepower capabilities.
Third, the literature advocates degrading or disrupting the operational architecture of the adversary’s operational system. These include support capabilities and therefore would consist of, for example, the entire C2 network, reconnaissance intelligence network, or firepower network.
Forth, calls for disrupting the time sequence and/or tempo of the enemy’s operational architecture. This is to degrade and undermine the operational system’s own “reconnaissance & control- attack-evaluation” process.

The PLA’s own operational systems do not exist in peacetime, but rather are purpose-built when the need for impending operations becomes apparent. As a result, each operational system is unique with regard to the conflict or operation it was designed to wage. It considers such various aspects as the scope, scale, and abilities of the adversary’s operational system(s), as well as the various battlefield domains and dispositions required by the impending war fight. The actual generation of an operational system begins by combining a “wide range of operational forces, modules and elements” through integrated information networks platform that are “seamlessly linked.”

The PLA operational system comprises modular designs for five main component systems:
1. The command system;
2. The firepower strike system;
3. The information confrontation system;
4. The reconnaissance intelligence system;
5. The support system.
There will be components of operational systems that exist in peacetime, to be may be augmented when the operational system for a warfare engagement is created. This includes the reconnaissance intelligence system and components of the command organization system. The PLA’s command system is the component system responsible for C2 (Command & Control). It is developed to carry out military campaigns at the theater level and lower, the command system would be responsible for commanding at a theater level down to a relatively low operational   level. Should a large-scale conflict occur over a large geographical area in which there are multiple theaters of war, multiple command systems will direct a similar number of operational systems. A command system is either stood up under a theater command structure or directly subordinate to China’s national command authority.

The command system comprises the subsystems of the command organization system, the command post system, and the command information system. The command organization system is the hierarchical organization of command headed by the joint operations commander of the operational system. The command post systems are at the physical location used by the various commanders at all levels of command within the operational system.

Systems confrontation is recognized by the PLA to be the mode of warfare in the 21st century, as the PLA perceives militarized conflict to be a contest between opposing operational systems.
System destruction warfare constitutes the PLA's theory of victory.
PLA sees system of systems as the foundation by which to achieve integrated joint operations and "win information-based local wars."
Provided a strong impetus to move from the former Military Region structure to the recently developed theater command structure.
Strategic Support Force has been created to unify and improve the PLA's efforts in achieving dominance in the space, cyber, electromagnetic, and possibly psychological domains.

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