THE just-released year-end review for 2020 by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) states that even though Indian troops countered every Chinese move along the LAC in Ladakh, maintaining “all protocols and agreements between the countries”, the PLA “escalated the situation by utilisation of unorthodox weapons” to further their ‘expansionist designs’. This is in keeping with the strategy outlined by the Chinese authors of Unrestricted Warfare, who have suggested that all means, armed and unarmed, with lethality, should be used to compel an enemy to submit to your interests. No wonder the Chinese troops of the PLA had used nail-studded clubs and other means to get the better of the Indian soldiers, though unsuccessfully so. But the challenges that China could pose may go well beyond the Himalayan frontiers, since the Indian army, with the IAF’s assistance, has “mobilised troops, including accretionary forces”, as per the MoD report. It leaves China little room for intrusions now.
Thus, the Chinese could well be preparing to use electronic warfare means instead of focusing on just the use of conventional military platforms, despite the Chinese having deployed their air assets to the optimum, as the IAF Chief had recently indicated, and India’s navy keeping a close watch on Chinese ships and submarines in the high seas. The recent conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan gives us one major takeaway: the nation that has more advanced electronic warfare capabilities will win battles in future. The use of drones, sensors and micro chips could be more lethal than the armada of air and naval power that had until now dominated military planning. The jamming of radars could make military users blind, and many of your systems could be rendered useless. The Chinese are working to get to the top of it, based on their 10-year Made in China plan for 2025, announced in 2015. Thus, Chinese companies, as part of a deep civil-military engagement, provide the Chinese armed forces technologies — stolen or reverse-engineered — to enhance the PLA’s space and cyber capabilities as also in artificial intelligence.
Here is an example of what the Chinese have been capable of. In November 2016, the US navy’s extremely high-tech guided missile destroyer, the USS Zumwalt — that was commissioned at a cost of $4.4 billion and billed as a force multiplier — suffered a propulsion failure on the Panama Canal. This had shocked the US defence establishment. A thorough investigation led the US to identify ‘Chinese Chips’ — microchips that were manufactured by the PLA — which the Americans had to buy in tens of thousands to cut manufacturing costs. Two days after the embarrassing failure of the US navy’s destroyer, a British hi-tech naval destroyer, HMS Duncan, suffered a similar propulsion failure. This apparently also had Chinese Chips in it! Therefore, electronic warfare is the next big challenge for militaries worldwide and China is focusing on that more than conventional military platforms. India should therefore create ‘geek brigades’ for our armed forces.
Furthermore, as articulated in Unrestricted Warfare — even though its focus is on how China could get the better of the US — it has a military and economic message that India would be foolish to ignore. While the US strategic community continues to focus on retaining its military edge with newer technologies, the Chinese have for some years quietly built up their reach within the American elites and have by now long-standing financial links even within Democrats and Joe Biden’s party members. If this requires money, so be it. And thus the Chinese plan to buy out politicians, stifle the media, steal resources and even technology, seems predictably par for the course. It is a pattern that is steadily emerging even in India, which offers both opportunities and challenges for China.
Beyond the newsmakers, China also targets the local population. Thus, it has flooded the Indian market with products and apps, since India offered one of the largest markets — with reportedly 560 million cellphone and their e-application users — with investments from Alibaba and Tencent reportedly in the likes of Paytm, MxPlayer and Gaana. These pose a big security challenge, which hasn’t been explained to Indian users. With Indians known to give out information more easily than most other people, your data can easily take away our data, especially that is privileged information of companies, allowing for their use to even reverse-engineer products. Also, the information on the Internet is controlled by two camps; the ‘open’ or the traditional camp dominated by Western companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon and the ‘closed’ one of the companies controlled by China such as Alibaba and Baidu. It’s anybody’s guess where the greater dangers lie.
It is well known that cyber and biological threats are hard to counter. Despite around 50 organisations of the US government having been recently hacked — and this includes the US Treasury, State and Homeland Security departments — their cyber security experts are clueless of the thefts for nearly nine months! And as India has ranked poorly on the cyber power index computed internationally, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that while our critical national assets are reasonably secure against the repeated cyber attacks they face, the security of our banking and business entities needs to be further enhanced. And if the pandemic has alerted us to one thing, it is the crippling effect that a biological attack may have on any society. And though most major countries are signatories to international conventions against the use of biological weapons, (while still maintaining their stocks of germs) and if and when they do decide to use it, this could have a devastating impact — for which we aren’t quite prepared.