Key Point: Modern militaries are packages of tightly integrated systems, including command, communications, targeting and intelligence. Disrupt that integration, and the enemy is reduced a gaggle of flailing limbs.
“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting,” wrote the legendary Chinese strategist Sun Tzu 2,500 years ago.
Now China’s military appears to be adopting a strategy that Sun Tzu might have approved of. The “systems destruction warfare” approach can be described as seeking victory by incapacitating, rather than annihilating, an opponent. Rather than emphasizing firepower and decisive battles between mass armies, China will attempt to paralyze an opponent’s ability to wage war through precise attacks across the land, sea, air, space, cyber, electromagnetic and psychological spheres.
“In the last two decades, the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] has increasingly recognized that war is no longer a contest of annihilation between opposing military forces, but rather a clash between opposing operational systems,” writes RAND Corporation researcher Jeffrey Engstrom in a new study. “In this new reality, an enemy can be defeated if its operational system can be rendered ineffective or outright unable to function through the destruction or degradation of key capabilities, weapons, or units that compose the system.”
Or put another way, all those high-tech American stealth aircraft, smart bombs and aircraft carriers won’t do much good if they can’t find their targets, get orders from their commanders or coordinate their operations. Modern militaries are packages of tightly integrated systems, including command, communications, targeting and intelligence. Disrupt that integration, and the enemy is reduced a gaggle of flailing limbs.
What’s more, China’s military is shifting toward a more flexible doctrine of mix-and-match packages of capabilities configured for a specific situation. These packages range from naval and air blockade of an opponent, to air defense and information operations. “For example, during a hypothetical blockade of Taiwan, we would likely see the activation of a number of operational systems, including a blockade system, an anti-air raid system, a firepower warfare operational system, and an information operational system,” Engstrom writes.