Tag Archives: China

China’s Military Strategy White Paper 2015: Far Seas Operations and the Indian Ocean Region

The Security Environment

On 26 May 2015, China released its first ever White Paper focusing exclusively on military strategy. China’s economic rise propelled by an extensive growth strategy has caused its integration with the global economy. It has consequently developed expansive interests linking its fate with that of the global system, most notably its access to African and Persian Gulf resources. China’s transition from the ‘near coast defence’ maritime doctrine in the 1980’s (product of a maritime strategy that was seen only as an extension to the continental strategy) to the ‘near seas control’ doctrine till 2004 calling for China to exercise control up to the first island chain has mirrored China’s increasing integration in the global economy. The conferment of historical missions upon the Chinese Navy post 2004 required it to focus on the distant seas as well. That was symptomatic of the increased stakes China had in influencing the events in the maritime commons, and was a trend that has continued unabated. The document acknowledges this, noting that:

In the new circumstances, the national security issues facing China encompass far more subjects, extend over a greater range, and cover a longer time span than at any time in the country’s history. Internally and externally, the factors at play are more complex than ever before.”

Taiwan’s reunification and safeguarding its territorial claims in the ‘near seas’ remain important to China. However, the emphasis accorded to safeguarding of China’s overseas interests is notable, as observed in the section on National Security Overview which says:

With the growth of China’s national interests, its national security is more vulnerable to international and regional turmoil, terrorism, piracy, serious natural disasters and epidemics, and the security of overseas interests concerning energy and resources, strategic sea lines of communication (SLOCs), as well as institutions, personnel and assets abroad, has become an imminent issue.”

A Blue Water Force

The most revealing part of the strategy indicating China’s aim to build a globe spanning blue water navy says:

“..the PLA Navy (PLAN) will gradually shift its focus from “offshore waters defense” to the combination of “offshore waters defense” with “open seas protection,” and build a combined, multi-functional and efficient marine combat force structure.

The section on force development goes on to say:

The seas and oceans bear on the enduring peace, lasting stability and sustainable development of China. The traditional mentality that land outweighs sea must be abandoned, and great importance has to be attached to managing the seas and oceans and protecting maritime rights and interests. It is necessary for China to develop a modern maritime military force structure commensurate with its national security and development interests, safeguard its national sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, protect the security of strategic SLOCs and overseas interests, and participate in international maritime cooperation, so as to provide strategic support for building itself into a maritime power.”

An overhead view of China’s carrier, the Liaoning.

Far Seas Operations

The strategic guideline of active defence is prescribed for the military with a focus on winning local wars in conditions of modern technology and informationisation (with the maritime military struggle aspect being highlighted).

In the section about Preparation for Military Struggle, however a reference is made to the need to strengthen strategic prepositioning. Limited logistical support severely constrains the PLAN’s ability to operate beyond East Asia; and in context of the Indian Ocean, this could be interpreted to refer to the strengthening of a Chinese policy popularly dubbed as the ‘String of Pearls’. Recent talks between China and Djibouti aimed at enhancing Chinese naval operations in the region is part of a Chinese effort to establish a variety of access points in the Indian Ocean Region in the upcoming years.

Further (as seen in the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence 2015 Report on the PLAN) it is clear that the Chinese naval order of battle is undergoing qualitative improvements as legacy combatants are giving way to larger multi-mission ships capable of undertaking a broader spectrum of missions. The PLAN’s involvement in diversified missions in the far seas is mirrored in both its acquisition patterns and far seas training patterns (as routine deployments in the Philippines, operations in the Mediterranean and increasing incursions in the Indian Ocean indicate).

Looking to the Future

China has enhanced overseas interests, is building a blue water fleet to conduct far seas operations and the Indian Ocean is slated to become an active area of operations for the PLAN. Should this set alarm bells ringing in India? The answer is that it’s too early to tell.

The Chinese fleet is currently optimized for anti-surface warfare and has made substantial investments and developments in advanced Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles and Over the Horizon Targeting systems in pursuit of the same. Proficient as it may be in Anti Surface Warfare and increasingly Anti Air Warfare (shipboard air defences having witnessed dramatic improvements of late) Anti-Submarine Warfare and power projection in contested environments remain weaknesses for China. Given PLAN’s priorities closer to home, the pace at which aircraft carriers, large deck amphibious ships (power projection tools) and its anti-submarine capabilities are bolstered will be indicating the priority PLAN places on being able to sustain far seas operations that can involve high intensity combat operations.

Just as important as adapting to these developments militarily though would be closely mirroring Chinese diplomatic approaches not just in the Indian Ocean region but within China’s backyard as well. Whether or not such an approach is considered feasible depends in large part on whether it is the pursuit of simply a reactive or a pro-active strategy that is being considered. Either way policy must be formulated keeping in mind the fact that China has growing global interests and this is occurring simultaneously with the loosening of its historic reticence for using its military forces in far seas operations.

This piece was originally published as a Viewpoint at the National Maritime Foundation. The author (Himanil Raina) can be reached at himanilraina@gmail.com.

China’s Evolving Perspectives on Network Warfare: Lessons from the Science of Military Strategy

This article by Joe McReynolds originally appeared in the Jamestown Foundation’s China Brief and can be found in its original form here

When tracking the development of China’s military capabilities, Western People’s Liberation Army (PLA) watchers encounter frequent challenges in determining which data sources they should draw upon for their analysis. Purely quantitative measurements of the PLA’s nominal force strength, though often valuable, may not provide insights into challenges the PLA faces in the real-world execution of its missions, while writings on Chinese military strategy by any given PLA author may not reflect the PLA’s broader institutional stance or limitations imposed by inadequate material capabilities.

If one analyzes China’s approach to network warfare in particular, these challenges are multiplied. [1] “Cyber weapons” are not publicly viewable and quantifiable in the same sense as submarines or aircraft, and often the PLA will not admit even their existence. And just as in U.S. discussions of “cyber war,” charlatans and self-promoters abound; although it is easy to find writings by PLA officers theorizing loosely and grandiosely about information warfare, they are often speaking only for themselves rather than for their respective military institutions.

Roughly once every 15 years or so, however, the PLA’s influential Academy of Military Sciences (AMS) issues a new edition of The Science of Military Strategy (SMS), a comprehensive, generally authoritative study of the PLA’s evolving strategic thought that escapes much (though not all) of the shortcomings of other PLA original sources. The AMS plays a much more central role in the formation of China’s military strategic thought than its academic counterparts in the United States, and the SMS is its flagship external product. It is the result of dozens of high-level PLA authors working together over a period of years to produce a heavily vetted consensus document.

As a result, each new edition of the SMS is closely scrutinized by China hands in the West for the valuable insights it provides into the evolving thinking of the PLA on a range of strategically important topics. The newest edition of the Science of Military Strategy has recently been released, with Western PLA analysts beginning to obtain copies since summer 2014. Although no English translation is currently available, a book forthcoming this year from The Jamestown Foundation, China’s Evolving Military Strategy, will aim to convey the central insights contained within this important new document to Western policy and analysis audiences.

The SMS is a particularly valuable resource for understanding China’s evolving strategic approach to network warfare. A study that aims to be as comprehensive as the SMS cannot afford to ignore network warfare due to the centrality of information warfare to modern war-fighting, and the process by which the SMS is written ensures that the information analysts receive on network warfare represents something approaching an authoritative consensus within the PLA. The following are the most important revelations from the new SMS on the PLA’s approach to network warfare:

The Fig Leaf is Gone: China’s Network Warfare Forces Are Now Explicitly Acknowledged

In recent years, official PLA publications have repeatedly issued blanket denials of offensive activities in the network domain, such as that “the Chinese military has never supported any hacker attack or hacking activities” (China Armed Forces / 中国军队, No. 20, 2013) even as the evidence conclusively attributing various large-scale cyber intrusions to China has continued to mount. The release of the new SMSremoves that barest fig leaf of plausible deniability. The SMS not only explicitly acknowledges that China has built up network attack forces, but divides them into three types:

  • The PLA’s “specialized military network warfare forces” (军队专业网络战力量), which are military operational units specially employed for carrying out network attack and defense
  • “PLA-authorized forces” (授权力量), which are teams of network warfare specialists in civilian organizations such as the Ministry of State Security (MSS), the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) and others that have been authorized by the military to carry out network warfare operations
  • “Non-governmental forces” (民间力量), which are external entities that spontaneously engage in network attack and defense, but can be organized and mobilized for network warfare operations

This is the first time an explicit acknowledgement was made of the existence of China’s secretive network attack forces from the Chinese side, and it is particularly noteworthy that this acknowledgement extends beyond the military domain and into the network warfare capabilities of civilian government agencies. The AMS’s statement that China’s civilian network attack forces operate under the PLA’s “authorization” may speak to an ongoing power struggle within the Chinese system between the PLA’s leadership and the aforementioned civilian government organs to determine who truly oversees Chinese actions in cyberspace; as unprecedented as it is to have the Chinese military acknowledge the existence of its network attack forces, having a PLA publication be the first to announce the existence of such secretive forces inside the civilian government is particularly unusual, and may represent an attempt to “plant the flag” for the PLA.

This could also seriously complicate China’s international efforts at law enforcement cooperation on cybercrime. The MPS, which is more or less “China’s FBI,” has assisted more than 50 countries in investigating over a thousand cases of cyber-crime in the past decade, and China has established bilateral law enforcement cooperation with over 30 countries (including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Russia), often including a cyber-crime component (China Armed Forces, 2013). With the Chinese now explicitly acknowledging that the MPS has network warfare forces stationed within it, the United States and other targets of Chinese state-sponsored hacking will have to weigh carefully whether cooperation with the MPS on cyber-crime is worth the risks.

Blurring the Divide Between the Military and Civilian Realms

In keeping with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent statements that “without network security there is no national security” (PLA Daily, October 7, 2014), the authors of the new SMS break from the previous edition’s vague talk of overall information warfare objectives to concretely assert the centrality of cyberspace power to China’s overall ability to project national power, engage in strategic deterrence, and defend itself in a conflict. However, this “network domain,” which has become so central to the PLA’s warfighting, exists primarily as civilian infrastructure and is used globally for civilian purposes. As a result, although development of elite network warfare personnel remains central to the PLA’s ongoing cyber mission, the authors of the SMS focus an unusual amount of their energies examining the importance of civilian information technology and the civilian Internet to network warfare.

First and foremost, the authors believe that civilian infrastructure in foreign countries can be targeted more freely with network warfare than with conventional weapons, without provoking the degree of conflict escalation that a conventional attack on civilian targets would. This echoes an idea known as “unrestricted network warfare” long advocated by some of the PLA’s more hawkish network warfare theorists, and its presence in an authoritative work such as the SMS suggests that more aggressive voices may be gaining ground in the PLA’s internal deliberations on network warfare strategy (See Dong Qingling and Dai Changzheng, “Deterrence in the Network Space: Is Retaliation Feasible?”). To put it simply, they believe that the old playground sports adage of “no blood, no foul” applies to network warfare, even if the attack in question has debilitating effects on civilian infrastructure, and in a conflict scenario they may advocate that the PLA chooses its targets accordingly.

Second, the authors of the SMS acknowledge that China’s civilian information technology (IT) industry functions as a core component of China’s overall power in cyberspace. Since the development of China’s network warfare capabilities relies heavily on human talent and the civilian IT industry is where the bulk of China’s IT talent is found, PLA analysts believe that civilian industry will continue to serve as an important source of technical talent and human capital for the PLA’s network warfare operations to a degree that is disproportionate to the PLA’s reliance on civilian industry in other realms of warfare. The authors also emphasize the fact that despite recent advances in Chinese IT, key state-of-the-art networking technologies are still advanced primarily in the West, and the bulk of the Internet’s core architecture is controlled by the United States and its allies. Thus, what the West views as the neutral “status quo” of the network domain is, to China, an intolerable “network hegemony” (????) imposed by the United States and others. Based on the increasing prominence of these sentiments within the PLA, the prediction one sometimes hears in the West—that China’s IT development will one day transform it into a “mature” partner interested primarily in cyberspace cooperation to preserve our “mutual” interests—appears likely be overly optimistic. The PLA’s stated intentions to mobilize its civilian IT industry as a component of national power in both peacetime and wartime must be accounted for in the calculus of determining whether any given Sino-U.S. information security cooperation is in the United States’ national interest.

“Salami-Slicing” in Cyberspace and Planning for Resilience in the Face of the Inevitable

The SMS authors also focus heavily on the central role of peacetime “network reconnaissance”—that is, the technical penetration and monitoring of an adversary’s networks—in developing the PLA’s ability to engage in wartime network operations. As the SMS puts it, since the technical principles underlying successful penetrations of an adversary’s systems are essentially the same whether the objective is reconnaissance or active disruption, at the appropriate moment “one need only press a button” to switch from reconnaissance to attack.

Despite this ambiguity of intent, since network reconnaissance is both non-destructive (at least initially) and widely engaged in by all nations for the purposes of espionage, the SMS authors believe it has been clearly demonstrated that the act of network reconnaissance alone is unlikely to lead to escalation or the outbreak of war. As a result, PLA strategists appear to have arrived at a strategic understanding of peacetime network operations similar to China’s “salami slicing” tactics for asserting control of disputed islands in the South China Sea: a pattern of taking actions during peacetime that incrementally put China into a superior tactical position should conflict ever break out but that, which while provocative and unwelcomed by China’s neighbors, are unlikely to lead to direct conflict in and of themselves. If conflict eventually does break out, China will be in a better position than they otherwise would; if it does not, they will have incrementally gained much of what they desire without a fight.

PLA analysts understand, however, that network reconnaissance is not by any means one-sided, and believe that just as they are actively attempting to penetrate the networks of their adversaries, the PLA’s networks are likely being repeatedly breached as well. Furthermore, they argue that since China’s “main strategic opponent” (their euphemistic way of referring to the United States) has superior network warfare capabilities, the strict balance of power in a network-domain conflict would not necessarily tilt in China’s favor. As a result, the SMS emphasizes that the PLA must plan for a future of network warfare in which its defenses will inevitably be breached, military networks will at times be taken down by hostile adversaries, and China’s modernized C4ISR systems cannot be fully relied upon. [2] Although they do call for a major effort to strengthen China’s network defenses, this is undertaken in the hope that those defenses will not catastrophically fail, without any expectation that they will fully withstand outside attacks.

For Western military analysts, this line of thinking should trigger particular attention and concern. With China preparing for conflict in the network domain under the assumption that from the outset their information networks will quickly be heavily degraded and only partially functional, there will be a strong incentive in a conflict for the PLA to push the envelope of what is globally considered legitimate in areas such as anti-satellite warfare. The intersection of U.S. technological reliance on space-based C4ISR systems with its distance from East Asia will multiply this incentive, as China will (all other things equal) be able to do “more with less” in its immediate backyard.

Much of the focus by Western analysts when examining China’s approach to anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD), also known as “counter-intervention,” has centered on the physical realm of warfare, including the use of precision-guided munitions reliant on C4ISR. However, as the insights contained in the newSMS demonstrate, this discussion is fundamentally incomplete if it does not take into account China’s evolving approach to network and information warfare. Rightly or wrongly, many Chinese analysts believe that the United States currently possesses what they term a “no satellites, no fight” military force, and in a major conflict scenario they appear increasingly likely to put that presumption to the test.


  1. Rather than mirroring the United States’ ‘cyber’ concept, PLA writing speaks at the broadest level of the ‘information domain’ and ‘information warfare,’ with network, electromagnetic, psychological, and intelligence warfare each taking place as distinct components of that broader concept. The PLA concept of “network warfare” is roughly analogous to the current United States cyber concept, though not always identical in its details.
  2. C4ISR stands for command, control, computers, communication, intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance.

Joe McReynolds is a Research Analyst at Defense Group Inc.’s Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis. His research interests primarily center on China’s approach to computer network warfare and defense science & technology development. Mr. McReynolds has previously worked with the Council on Foreign Relations and the Pacific Council for International Policy, and is a graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and Graduate Security Studies programs. He speaks and reads Chinese and Japanese, and has lived and studied in Nagoya, Guilin and Beijing.

INS Vikrant Makes Progress at Cochin Shipyard

Guest Post by Chris B.

New satellite imagery shows that India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier has made significant progress since it was launched in August 2013, helping India inch towards the goal of a two carrier battle group.

Imagery acquired by commercial satellite firm DigitalGlobe in February 2015 shows further assembly of INS Vikrant, a 40,000 ton aircraft carrier and India’s soon-to-be largest vessel once commissioned. Additional ship modules now welded to the hull have enlarged the deck width — measuring almost 60 meters. The erection of the superstructure reported last November was also confirmed. India’s first domestically produced carrier is currently under construction at state-owned Cochin Shipyard Limited, the country’s largest shipbuilding and maintenance facility located in Kerala on the west coast.

Like other vessels built in India, significant cost overruns and delays have hampered shipbuilding progress. The South Asian country is already four years behind schedule on the project with the latests estimates pushing an operational date closer to December 2018, if not beyond. However, the Indian Navy expects that the vessel will “undock” sometime this month after mounting the propellers on the engine shafts, according to an April statement from Vice Admiral Ashok Subedar. Afterward, the shipyard will continue with the fitting out process.

Originally, India was to have fielded her carrier by 2014, eleven years after the government approved the build. Last July, the Cabinet Committee on Security released an additional Rs 19,000 crore (approx USD 3.18 billion), the lion’s share, to complete the vessel’s construction — on top the USD 585 million already spent. Due to India’s extensive bureaucracy, the funds languished for almost a year halting progress on the project.

“As much as 95 per cent of its hull is complete as is 22,000 tons of [its] steel structure,” Subedar went on to say. That’s 3,500 tons heavier than its August 2013 launch weight though significantly less than its planned 40,000 tons. Of course, much of the that weight will be comprised of two fixed wing squadrons (12 x fighters each) of Russian-built MIG-29K and Indian-built Tejas Light Combat Aircraft, 10 x Ka-31 ASW helicopters as well as necessary ammo, fuel, and other supplies.


Indian Navy Computer Model of INS Vikrant

Featuring a STOBAR (short take-off but arrested recovery) configuration with a ski-jump, India’s indigenous carrier will push naval pilots to master a new launch and recovery system, one very different from its existing STOVL (short take-off and vertical landing). Luckily, Russia helped India build a shore-based testing facility which became operational early last year. Imagery shows that Indian pilots are already hard at work. (INS Vikramaditya also features a STOBAR configuration).

Aircraft aside, India’s latest carrier will be powered by four General Electric LM2500 gas turbines capable of cruising speeds around 18 knots. With an endurance of 7,500 nautical miles the Navy should have few problems projecting force throughout the Indian Ocean region, especially given India’s previous proficiency in carrier operations.

But if issues do arise, the United States has proposed a joint working group to help support Indian ops, share best practices and even possibly, technology. All of which may lead observers to conclude that India’s naval capability has become increasingly important. Prime Minister Modi made that clear while visiting Mauritius in March: “India is becoming more integrated globally. We will be more dependent than before on the ocean and the surrounding regions. We must also assume our responsibility to shape its future. So, [the] Indian Ocean region is at the top of our policy priorities.”

As perhaps it should be. India is already advantaged by its unique geography, jutting out in the Indian Ocean with its 7,500km coastline and island territories. Given India has short distances to travel to manage any regional conflict or rivalry, it only makes sense that India would focus resources on protecting national interests in its own backyard.

DG (11MAR15) PLAN Salalah

Satellite Imagery of PLAN Vessel at Oman’s Salalah port (DigitalGlobe 11MAR15)

However, few regional contenders are making a splash in the maritime space, though emerging challenges from China are certainly on India’s radar. China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) commissioned its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, in 2012 and has already started construction on a second. With recent infrastructure established in the South China Sea and additional PLAN deployments in the Indian Ocean region, China appears poised to take a more aggressive maritime stance, a clear departure from India’s Cold War experience.

In response, India is planning a 160-plus-ship navy as it seeks to constrain what it sees as a Chinese incursion into its sphere of influence. Unfortunately for the navy, India is still predominately a land force with the Army maintaining the biggest share of the defense budget. Regardless, India expects that its homegrown carrier program will eventually allow it to maintain two carrier battle groups supporting its respective Eastern and Western Naval Commands.

Named after India’s first aircraft carrier recently scrapped, the INS Vikrant is one of two homegrown carriers planned for the Indian Navy. The second carrier, INS Vishal is currently being fast-tracked—though it’s unknown what this means for Vishal’s construction timeline. In the meantime, India’s lack of experience building carriers and the uncertainty of outside assistance may impede India’s pressing strategic goals, probably pushing the operation of its second carrier to 2025 or beyond.

This article can be found in its original form at Offiziere.ch

China’s Military Strategy: Assessment of White Paper 2015

This article can be found in its original form at the National Maritime Foundation here and was republished with permission. 

China has been issuing Defence White Papers biennially since 1998. The ninth White Paper of 2014 titled ‘China’s Military Strategy’ was released recently in May 2015. This essay seeks to analyse the salient aspects of the document, particularly in context of the preceding document of 2012 released in April 2013.

In comparison to the Defence White Papers published by China in the preceding years, the 2014 document is very concise. Nonetheless, it reveals substantial content and context, disproportionate to the size of its text. While much of the revelation is likely to be Beijing’s ‘strategic communications’, the document is nonetheless insightful.  

Title of White Paper

The present White Paper has continued the trend of using a thematic title – a trend that was initiated with the 2012 document titled ‘The Diversified Employment of China’s Armed Forces’. The trend and the specific title spelling out “China’s Military Strategy” signify the increased self-confidence of an emerging global military power, which until a few years ago, preferred to be opaque to the world on ‘matters military’.  The document also reflects an increased self-assurance as a nation, stating that “China’s comprehensive national strength, core competitiveness and risk-resistance capacity are notably increasing, and China enjoys growing international standing and influence”.

Core National Objectives

In the document, China has maintained its earlier stance of avoiding war through its military strategy of “active defence” (that envisages an ‘offensive’ only at the operational and tactical levels). However, the document mentions “preparation for military struggle (PMS)”, which indicates its strong desire to retain the option of first use of military force, if it cannot achieve its core objectives otherwise. Furthermore, the emphasis on “maritime PMS” indicates that these objectives pertain to Taiwan’s “reunification”, and fructification of its maritime-territorial claims in the Western Pacific. Furthermore, the inclusion of the phase “You fight your way and I fight my way” indicates that China’s war-fighting concept to meet its core objectives is likely to be based on use of asymmetric capabilities.

Maritime Interests

The previous 2012 document stated the PLA Navy’s mandate to preserve China’s sovereignty over its territorial seas and its maritime rights and interests in ‘offshore areas’ against complex security threats, thereby portraying China as a victim or an underdog reacting to the actions of Japan, and implicitly, of the U.S. The new document, however, emphasises a more proactive protection of its interests in ‘open waters’, thereby enlarging its strategic depth. Notably, the document also calls upon the need to shed the mindset that peace, stability, and development of China is linked to affairs on land rather than the sea. This indicates a maritime emphasis of China’s military strategy.

With regard to the security of sea-lanes, it uses the term “strategic Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs)”. Although the term ‘SLOC’ itself bears a ‘strategic’ connotation, the addition of the adjective indicates that China considers itself vulnerable to commodity denial during war, thereby severely limiting its option of use of military force. Although the document does not specifically mention the ‘Indian Ocean’, the reference to Indian Ocean SLOCs may be inferred.

 Naval Presence in Indian Ocean

Alike the previous 2012 document, the 2014 White Paper states that the PLA Navy would maintain “regular combat readiness patrols…(and maintain)…military presence in relevant sea areas.” While the former may refer to the Western Pacific, the latter is a likely reference to the Indian Ocean. This is buttressed by the statement that the PLA Navy would “continue to carry out escort missions in the Gulf of Aden and other sea areas as required, enhance exchanges and cooperation with naval task forces of other countries, and jointly secure international SLOCs.” This implies that China’s naval presence in the Indian Ocean would continue, and may even increase. While such presence may be primarily for undertaking ‘Military Operations Other than War’ (MOOTW), it is likely to be dovetailed with preparing for ‘wartime’ operations. This assertion is borne out by Beijing’s assertion in September 2014 that its Song-class submarine deployed in the Indian Ocean was meant for counter-piracy. (The credibility of this rationale was dismissed by naval analysts on operational grounds). The document adds that the “PLA Navy will work to incorporate MOOTW capacity building into…PMS” thereby implying the China would also seek to develop fungible capabilities.

Furthermore, the White Paper lays emphasis on ‘sustenance’ of the forward-deployed naval platforms through “strategic prepositioning”. This indicates that China is likely to seek overseas access facilities (if not military bases) in the Indian Ocean, or even resort to the U.S. concept of ‘sea-basing’. The latter possibility is supported by recent news-reports about China developing large ‘Mobile Landing Platforms’ (MLP) similar to those used by the U.S. expeditionary forces.

Military Interface with Major Powers

The mention of Russia in the White Paper precedes all other countries. The “exchanges and cooperation with the Russian military within the framework of the comprehensive strategic partnership…to promote military relations in more fields and at more levels” indicates the imminence of a China-Russia quasi-alliance. 

The 2012 White Paper, without naming the U.S., had expressed a concern for its “pivot” to Asia strategy and “strengthening of its military alliances with the regional countries, leading to tensions.” In contrast, the 2014 document mentions the U.S. explicitly. While it does state the need for “cooperative mechanisms with the US Navy, including exchange of information in the maritime domain”, its tone and tenor indicates a precursor to a ‘Cold War-style’ military interface between the two major powers. It talks about a “new model of military relationship” with the US based on “major-country relations”, with “strengthening of defence dialogue (and)…CBMs to include notification of major military activities (and) rules of behaviour” to prevent “air and maritime encounters…strengthen mutual trust, prevent risks and manage crises.” However, it is yet unclear what kind of bipolar interface will eventually emerge since the current global environment marked by close China-U.S. economic ties is vastly dissimilar to the erstwhile Cold War era.

 The 2012 White Paper had mentioned India’s combined Army exercises with PLA and increased anti-piracy coordination with India. Since the 2014 document is more succinct, the lack of details is understandable. However, the lack of even a mention of defence exchanges with India, or any other Asian country is remarkable.

Also ‘conspicuous by absence’ are the various facets of ‘transparency’ that the preceding Defence White Papers had addressed, ranging from China’s defence budget to its nuclear weapons policy of no-first use (NFU). Evidently, China has ‘arrived’ on the world stage with a single-minded preoccupation of how it could challenge the unipolar world order dominated by the U.S.

Captain (Dr.) Gurpreet S Khurana is the Executive Director, National Maritime Foundation (NMF), New Delhi. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the NMF, the Indian Navy or the Government of India. He can be reached at gurpreet.bulbul@gmail.com


For a Good Time Hack OPM

Guest article by Brian Scopa, USN.

“Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times, it’s enemy action.”

-Ian Fleming


M looking for W? W looking for M? PRC looking for Intel?

The revelation that the Office of Personnel Management has been hacked, allegedly by the Chinese, has profound implications for the safeguarding of classified US information. Beyond the typical identity theft problems associated with any breach of Personally Identifiable Information (PII) from a government or private database, the fact that the data on 4.1 million military and  government personnel contained  information on their security clearances is extremely grave. This is not only an egregious breach of individual privacy, but when combined with two other hacks of private websites make for a counterintelligence nightmare.

Allowing ourselves to go briefly down the conspiracy theory rabbit hole, two additional hacks of private websites are worth considering in conjunction with the OPM hack:

Linkedin in 2012. 

“LinkedIn Security professionals suspected that the business-focused social network LinkedIn suffered a major breach of its password database. Recently, a file containing 6.5 million unique hashed passwords appeared in an online forum based in Russia. More than 200,000 of these passwords have reportedly been cracked so far.”

The consensual aggregation of personal and employment information online has greatly simplified the task of finding targets for intelligence gathering. The technology that makes finding a project manager with an MBA and five years of experience fast and convenient also makes it easy to track down missile and radar engineers on LinkedIn. The publicly available information on LinkedIn is a trove of intelligence in itself regarding military, government, and contract employees that work in defense related industries. Having the private email addresses and passwords of LinkedIn members has staggering spearfishing implications ala STUXNET.

Adult Friend Finder (AFF) in May 2015 

Andrew Auernheimer, a controversial computer hacker who looked through the files, used Twitter to publicly identify Adult FriendFinder customers, including a Washington police academy commander, an FAA employee, a California state tax worker and a naval intelligence officer who supposedly tried to cheat on his wife.” (emphasis mine)

Catching Flies

Developing intelligence sources costs time, money, and effort, regardless of the method employed, and intelligence agencies are constantly searching for ways to more efficiently target and recruit intelligence sources. The OPM and LinkedIn hack simplify the targeting, but it’s the AFF hack that helps with recruitment.

One of the most useful tools intelligence agencies have for recruiting sources is blackmail, and a ‘Honey Trap’ is the practice of luring a potential intelligence source into a compromising position with a romantic partner that’s working for an intelligence agency, and either gaining their cooperation in the name of love, or blackmailing the source into compliance.

The Chinese are apparently particularly fond of this specific type of intelligence gathering operation:

“MI5 is worried about sex. In a 14-page document distributed last year to hundreds of British banks, businesses, and financial institutions, titled “The Threat from Chinese Espionage,” the famed British security service described a wide-ranging Chinese effort to blackmail Western businesspeople over sexual relationships.”

The AFF hack is probably the first Massive Multiplayer Online Honey Trap (MMOHT).  Even better for foreign intelligence agencies (FIAs), it was self-baiting and required zero investment of resources.

How bad is it?

Perverting the Drake Equation for this exercise, we can conduct a thought experiment about the number of potential intelligence sources created by the confluence of the three hacks mentioned above, expressed mathematically as P = O * W * N * Y, where:

P = Total number of useful possible US government employee intelligence sources that could be exploited.

O  = All government employees with security clearances whose personally identifiable information has been compromised, reported to be 4.1 million.

W = Fraction of O that are AFF members. This number has not been made public by the DoD, if it’s known, but the reported number of member profiles compromised was 3.5 million.

N = Fraction of W that desperately want their activities on AFF to remain undisclosed and could be effectively blackmailed. Not everyone will be embarrassed by their activities on AFF.

Y = Fraction of O that has been or is currently employed in a position that a FIA would find useful to turn into a source of intelligence.

Since I don’t have any insight into the any of the variables with the exception of O, I won’t speculate on what P might be, but I have no doubt that it’s an actionable, non-zero number that FIAs must be rushing to exploit.



Lessons Re-identified, Still Unlearned

Any information that’s online can be accessed online- full stop. We should all assume that any device connected to the public internet is hackable, and act accordingly. While there are many good precautions and security features that individuals, companies, institutions, and governments can take to better protect online dealings and information, such as two-factor authentication, tokens, and salted password hashing, it has been demonstrated time and again that the advantage in the cyber security arms race is with the attacker. You cannot count on technical means alone to protect your information.  If individuals with security clearances have used the internet to facilitate behavior that the knowledge of by a third party could lead to blackmail, the individuals should assume the information will be made public.

Security through obscurity is always a loser, but anonymity is still worthwhile. The critical information that makes blackmail possible in this instance is being able to identify government employees that were also members of AFF. If AFF members had taken care to remain anonymous by making their member profiles non-attributional, using email addresses and phone numbers not otherwise linked to them, using non-identifiable pictures, and keeping locations ambiguous, they may yet have some measure of protection from identification.

What’s next?

This is only the beginning of this particular saga. In the coming months I have no doubt we’ll hear about the hacks of other popular dating, hook-up, and porn sites. The hacking itself has probably already happened; it’ll just take time for the discoveries to be made.

The news is grim, but there is opportunity here. While FIA see openings, our own counterintelligence organizations have an unprecedented opportunity to identify potential targets before they can be contacted by FIAs and possibly prepare them to act as double-agents, turning the honey traps on the attackers. If nothing else, the act of sharing the blackmail information with the security services helps to inoculate the individuals against blackmail, since it’s typically (but not always) the fear of disclosure that makes the information useful, not the specific behavior that’s problematic.

In any case, it’s time for a DoD-wide effort to review the list of AFF members and check it against current and past employees with security clearances. Then, command security officers can start having the difficult, closed-door conversations necessary to learn the scope of the possible vulnerability. Doing so will limit the damage from this hack, and it’ll be a useful exercise in preparing for the next episode.

Which has already happened.

The Sea Power of the State in the 21st Century

Admiral Sergei S. Gorshkov’s legacy as a naval leader and strategic thinker has not been entirely forgotten. Reports of his death, however, were not greatly exaggerated. Largely ignored by the NATO navies that once studied him so intently as the head of the Soviet Navy for much of the Cold War, Gorshkov remains an inspirational symbol in the two countries that should come as no surprise: Russia and China.

Earlier this year, Admiral Viktor Chirkov, the current commander-in-chief of the Russian Navy, pointedly chose the 105th anniversary celebration of Gorshkov’s birthday in his childhood home of Kolomna to make some bold statements about the navy’s future in the 21st century. After laying flowers at Gorshkov’s monument, Chirkov formally announced that Russia will be back in the aircraft carrier business with plans to build a new-generation one comparable in size to a U.S. supercarrier. Given the current state of Russian shipyards and the tremendous costs involved, defense analysts greeted the announcement with skepticism.  There was good reason to doubt this most recent news: Russia had already announced in 2005, and again in 2008, that it would begin to build carriers by 2010. According to Jane’s Defence Weekly, the new multipurpose, dual-design (two ski-jump ramps and electromagnetic catapults each) carrier is called Project 23000E or Shtorm (Storm).

USNA17th-19th C. Sea Power of the State: Admiral Chirkov getting a tour of USNA Museum in 2013 from CIMSEC member Claude Berube. Was the Russian navy chief trying to get advance info on the #CarrierDebate? (Photo credit: USNA PAO)

 Of course, Admiral Gorshkov once promoted the virulent anti-carrier stance of the Soviet Union. He mocked the platform as too expensive and too vulnerable and echoed Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s view that they were “floating coffins.” Yet, the Soviet Navy’s need to be untethered from the sole support of land-based naval aviation first resulted in helicopter carriers for anti-submarine warfare and amphibious operations in 1967, then eventually in large-deck carriers for fixed wing aircraft toward the end of the Cold War – the Kuzntesov (still in service, although with considerable time in the repair dock, in the Russian fleet) and the Gorshkov (sold to India).

Gorshkov would likely have applauded Chirkov’s ambitious 50 ship building plan for 2015 that included a mixture of surface and subsurface vessels. In particular, the resurgence of nuclear submarine production, especially the Borei-class ballistic missile sub, is a reminder of how Gorshkov once used submarines as the cornerstone of Soviet naval power and prestige for decades.

Chirkov also announced that 30 ships and submarines were currently deployed around the world, which indicated a modest but nonetheless significant return to the pattern of out-of-area patrols and presence missions for the Soviet Navy that Gorshkov introduced to much fanfare in the mid-1960s. This May’s joint Russian-Chinese naval exercises in the Mediterranean also supports the views that the Russian Navy is “rebalancing” to the region while the Chinese Navy may intend to secure its energy supply lines at the western edge of the “New Silk Road.”

Above all, Gorshkov would probably have approved of Chirkov’s vision: the adoption of an “ocean strategy” that will seek to reestablish Russia’s global reach and promote its political and economic interests. Chirkov’s choice of language harkened back to the efforts of his Cold War-era predecessor to justify a blue-water navy. Notably, Chirkov did not directly challenge the supremacy of the U.S. Navy as Gorshov did in the late 1960s. Rather, Admiral Chirkov’s mission, at least for the moment, is to put Russian naval forces back on the path to restoration, not on one toward great power rivalry. 


Gorshkov was associated with the phrase “’better’ is the enemy of ‘good enough.’” In other words, Chirkov must get the Russian Navy back to Gorshkov-era “good enough.”

There is also nothing revolutionary in Chirkov’s pronouncements. The navy’s primary missions are still, as in the Cold War, strategic deterrence and defense. It will likely not be as rapid as the transformation after the Cuban Missile Crisis, either. The Russian Navy, according to defense analyst Dmitry Gorenburg, will slowly grow through a phased recapitalization scheme that will unfold over 20 years. The pace of naval construction is, of course, subject to change based on evolving political and economic imperatives.

To further underscore that Admiral Gorshkov has not passed entirely into irrelevance, a pair of Russian military writers (one a retired navy captain) paid homage to him in a recent article for Voyennaya Mysl [Military Thought], the elite journal of Russia’s Defense Ministry for nearly a century. In “The Sea Power of the State in the 21st Century,” the authors noted that Gorshkov’s seminal 1976 book, The Sea Power of the State, took an expansive view of sea power that included naval, merchant, fishing, and exploration capabilities. Gorshkov envisioned the World Ocean as one immense domain upon which to assert Russian national power. These authors, however, wished to scope the definition of “the country’s sea power” down to “the navy’s real combat power” in order to illustrate the special place that navies hold in geopolitics.

A central theme of their essay, based on historical examples, was that countries without sea power do not have “a decisive voice in world affairs.” Russia used a strong navy in the past, the authors argued, to maintain its place in the top tier of nations. The blow to Russian prestige was great at the end of the Cold War with the demise of the Soviet Navy:

… the loss of the core of its powerful oceangoing navy during the political and economic reforms in the late 1980s and early 1990s cost the country dearly. It caused other nations, Russia’s neighbors and rivals on the high seas, in the first place, to rethink their attitude to this country. It was deserted by many allies and friends, and its image of a great sea power has faded.

Thus, the article indirectly endorsed Admiral Chirkov’s current strategy of “looking to the ocean” and his plan for a navy that can once more defend Russia’s national interests and secure it against threats. The authors acknowledged, however, the huge lead by the U.S. Navy in air-sea battle concepts and that of American expertise in network-centric naval warfare. Indeed, “it is difficult, even hopeless at times, for Russia to take up this challenge for economic considerations.” Nonetheless, they concluded, it is a price that must be paid for the return to greatness on the world stage.

Writers in Chinese open source literature have also found reasons for optimism in the example set by Admiral Gorshkov during the Cold War. According to Lyle J. Goldstein at the Naval War College’s Chinese Maritime Studies Institute, some naval analysts in China “are extremely interested in Gorshkov, his legacy, and Soviet naval doctrinal development in general” [per his correspondence with this author]. They are impressed by the rapid transformation of Soviet naval power under Gorshkov as well as his ability to check U.S. power with his own oceangoing navy. Moreover, they also appreciated, based on Gorshkov’s lesson, that a “balanced fleet” can also emphasize undersea platforms while never reaching parity with U.S. carriers.

China’s recent strategy white paper elevated the PLA Navy’s status and explicitly tied naval power to China’s geopolitical ambitions and economic development with the navy’s dual missions of “open seas protection” and coastal defense. Indeed, sea power will play a central role for the Chinese state in the 21st century: 

The seas and oceans bear on the enduring peace, lasting stability and sustainable development of China. The traditional mentality that land outweighs sea must be abandoned, and great importance has to be attached to managing the seas and oceans and protecting maritime rights and interests.

On the other hand, Gorshkov’s legacy shows that sea power, once achieved, can be transitory due to geographic, economic, and political factors. His is also a cautionary tale, for Russians and Chinese alike, not to pursue sea power beyond what a nation can support. As Goldstein noted, “… the [Chinese] authors do indeed directly connect the all-out Soviet naval expansion of the later Cold War, and the commensurate enormous investment of Russian national resources, to the demise of the USSR.” Moreover, there is the potential risk involved in Russia’s attempt under Vladimir Putin to return to the past glories of the Soviet superpower era yet fall well short of his goals. This naturally includes naval ambitions for aircraft carriers that never make it beyond the concept stage. Even the modernization of smaller surface ships such as frigates (including the new Admiral Gorshov-class) is now endangered by Russian actions in the Ukraine.

Both Russia’s and China’s navies may also face the same dilemma as that of the Soviet Navy by the mid-1960s if naval construction outpaces professional knowledge and practical experience. As Robert Farley noted, the Soviet Union “built blue water ships long before it built the experience needed to conduct long range, blue water operations.” A more provocative and aggressive stance toward the U.S. Navy, coupled with the deficiencies in Soviet training and this lack of a “blue water look,” resulted in repeated incidents at sea such as collisions that many feared might escalate during the Cold War.

Ultimately, sea power as an expression of great power status is beginning to look in the early 21st century much as it did in the 20th century. The investment in costly blue-water navies still speaks volumes about a country’s geopolitical ambitions and its strategic calculus – where it sees itself in the world and hopes to be in the future. The writings and accomplishments of Admiral Sergei Gorshkov are also a timeless reminder that in order to assess navies, one must still look at what they say, what they build, and what they do. In Gorshkov’s case, what he did remains much more memorable than anything he wrote.

Jessica Huckabey is a researcher with the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) and a retired naval reserve officer. She is writing her doctoral dissertation on American perceptions of the Soviet naval threat during the Cold War. The opinions are her own and not those of IDA or the Department of Defense.

China’s South China Sea Strategy: Simply Brilliant

This article can be found in its original form at ASPI here, and was republished with permission.

In the past 12 months, China has provoked considerable attention with its reclamation activities in the South China Sea, particularly in the Spratlys where it controls seven maritime features.

China’s history of salami-slicing presents a dilemma to regional countries as well as external powers with regional interests: do they escalate an incident each time China slices the salami and risk open conflict, or stand down and allow China to augment its territorial claims.

The million-dollar question remains: who or what will freeze China’s reclamation in the South China Sea? The answer: nothing, really.

It has been proposed, for example, that like-minded states carve out a ‘code of practice’ that would stress the rule of law and mirror the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. Another option being considered by the Pentagon is to send US aircraft and ships within 12 nautical miles of the Chinese-built reefs in the Spratlys, to challenge its influence there.

While useful, such proposals won’t freeze or rollback China’s attempts to change the facts on the ground (or the high sea). China’s reclamation seeks to pre-empt any decision that would come from the Philippines’ challenge in the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea over China’s nine-dash line claim to the South China Sea.

It’s noteworthy that China hasn’t only engaged in salami slicing; it has sought to use the attraction of its economy, trade and aid to offset its high-risk behaviour.

Following the 2012 Scarborough Shoal incident with the Philippines, China launched a charm offensive in 2013, wooing ASEAN with a treaty of friendship and cooperation, stressing that it intended to take China–ASEAN relations from a ‘golden decade’ to a ‘diamond decade’.

This year, when concerns about China’s reclamation have intensified, China has offered a carrot: US and other countries would be welcome to use civilian facilities it’s building in the South China Sea for search and rescue and weather forecasting, when ‘conditions are right’.

China has also used its economic weight to deftly tilt the balance (of influence, at least) in its favor. Its Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is attracting long-standing American allies such as Great Britain, Australia and South Korea. China has stolen a march on the US in the battle to win friends and influence people.

And the economic offensive doesn’t end with the AIIB. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership—a free trade agreement that would involve ASEAN, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea—is seen as a rival to the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership. China’s Silk Road Economic Belt is also another lure for peripheral countries keen on leveraging on China’s economic ascent.

Concerted and effective opposition to China’s fait accompli in the South China Sea requires an astute mix of diplomacy and deterrence. It might take the form of a regional effort to get China to clarify its nine-dashed line claims based on UNCLOS principles, an ASEAN ultimatum for China to at least freeze its reclamation activities, and joint ASEAN–US patrols near the reefs being reclaimed by China. This looks unlikely to emerge anytime soon.

ASEAN was damaged in 2012, when it failed—for the first time in its 45-year history—to issue a communiqué due to differing views over the South China Sea. ASEAN has recently upped its game by underscoring the dangers of China’s reclamation, but there’s little the group can do apart from pushing for a formal Code of Conduct. A successful conclusion of the code isn’t assured; China dangles the carrot of code negotiations to buy time even as its carries out reclamation.

For all its rhetoric about the need to uphold international law and the freedom of navigation, the US is conflicted when it comes to China. It all boils down to this: will the US risk its extensive relationship with China over a few rocks in the South China Sea? As Hillary Clinton once said: how does the US ‘deal toughly’ toward its banker?

To get a sense of the effect of China’s creeping invasion of the South China Sea, one only need look at Vietnam. Faced with China’s challenge to its claims to the Paracel Islands, Vietnam has purchased Kilo-class submarines, reportedly armed with sub-launched land-attack Klub missiles that could threaten Chinese coastal targets. But Vietnam didn’t fire a shot when China towed a US$1b oil rig into waters claimed by Vietnam last year. On a recent trip to Hanoi, Vietnamese scholars told me that Vietnamese military officers urged sterner action, such as firing on Chinese ships, but senior leaders vetoed them, instead deciding to sit back and let China incur ‘reputational damage’.

Not many people in Asia would agree with what China is doing in the South China Sea. But as it stands, China’s strategy—salami slicing, using offsets to soften risky behavior and accelerating its reclamation activities in the absence of significant opposition—can be summed up in two words: simply brilliant.

William Choong is a Shangri-La Dialogue senior fellow for Asia-Pacific Security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.