Chinese checkers

Written by Gurmeet Kanwal | Updated: Sep 28 2009, 05:15am hrs
In all the hype and hoopla surrounding Chinas incursions across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) into Ladakh, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, a more sinister plan to attack cyber networks has gone almost completely unnoticed in India. In front page news reports published abroad recently, Chinese cyber spies were reported to have hacked into computers and stolen documents from hundreds of government and private offices around the world, including those of the Indian embassy in the US. Earlier it had been reported that the Chinese army uses more than 10,000 cyber warriors with degrees in IT to maintain an e-vigil on Chinas borders. Chinese soldiers now swipe cards and work on laptops as they monitor the border with great efficiency electronic sentinels functioning 24 hours a day. On June 23, 2009, Robert Gates, the US Secretary of Defence, authorised the creation of a new military command that will develop offensive cyber-weapons and defend command and control networks of the US armed forces against computer attacks.

While information about the Peoples Liberation Armys (PLA) cyber warriors has begun to appear in the public domain only recently, PLA watchers globally have known for long about Chinas well conceived doctrine on information operations and cyberwar. Chinas cyberwar doctrine is designed to level the playing field in a future war with better equipped Western armed forces that rely on Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) technologies and enjoy immense superiority in terms of weapons platforms and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and command and control networks.

In the first decade of the new century, Chinas Central Military Commission (CMC) had called for a detailed study of the concept of peoples war under conditions of informationisation, implying increasing attention to the application of IT to the conduct of conventional conflict. Since then the scope of the cyber war doctrine has been expanded to develop the capabilities necessary to take control of all the major networks that drive the worlds economic engines. .

Analysts of the PLA have called the ongoing RMA an informationised military revolution with Chinese characteristics. Informationisation relates to the PLAs ability to adopt information technologies to command, intelligence, training and weapon systems. The PLA is seeking to contest the information battle space with its space-based, airborne, naval and ground-based surveillance and intelligence gathering systems and its new anti-satellite, anti-radar, electronic warfare and information warfare systems. According to Chinas White Paper on National Defence, In its modernisation drive, the PLA takes informationalisation as its orientation and strategic focus.

Chinese find information warfare (IW) extremely attractive as they view it as an asymmetric tool that will enable them to overcome their relative backwardness in military hardware. The Chinese are devoting considerable time and energy to perfecting the techniques of IW to target the Western armed forces that are becoming increasingly more dependent on the software that runs computer networks and modern communications. In Chinese thinking, IW presents a level playing field for projecting power and prevailing upon the adversary in future wars.

IW includes intelligence operations; command and control operations to disrupt enemy information flow; electronic warfare by seizing the electromagnetic initiative through electronic attack, protection and warfare support; targeting enemy computer systems and networks to damage and destroy critical machines and networks and the data stored on them; and, the physical destruction of enemy information infrastructure through the application of kinetic firepower. The Chinese call their pursuit of information warfare and other hi-tech means to counter the overwhelmingly superior conventional military capabilities of the Western Alliance acupuncture warfare.

In another five to 10 years China will develop much greater depth and sophistication in its understanding and handling of IW techniques and information operations. With Indian society becoming dependent on automated data processing and vast computer networks, India will also become extremely vulnerable to such IW techniques. The fact that it can be practiced from virtually any place on the earth even during peacetime makes acupuncture or paralysis warfare even more diabolical. India can ill-afford to ignore this new challenge to its security.

India should adopt an inter-ministerial, inter-departmental, inter-Services, multi-agency approach to dealing with emerging cyber warfare threats and must develop appropriate responses. No single agency in India is charged with ensuring cyber and IT security. A nodal agency must be created to spearhead Indias cyberwar efforts under a national cyber security advisor who should report directly to the NSA. The armed forces must be part of the overall national effort from the beginning so that emerging tactics, techniques and procedures can be incorporated into doctrine and training. India too needs a Cyber Command to lead efforts within the military to safeguard computer networks from hackers and cyber attacks.

The strategy must be defensive to guard Indias vulnerable assets, such as military command and control networks and civilian infrastructure dependent on the use of cyber space, as well as offensive to disrupt the adversarys C4I2SR systems and develop leverages that can be exploited at the appropriate time. With some of the finest software brains in the world available to India, it should not prove to be an insurmountable challenge.

This is too important a field to allow the traditional Indian approach digging heads into the sand while waiting for the threat to go away to hold sway and react only when the enemy has reached Panipat and is knocking on the gates of Delhi. In this case, the nothingness of cyberspace connects Chinas laptops warriors directly with Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad and other Indian cities, as also Indias strategic establishments.

The writer is director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi