Return to

Jan. 31, 2019
Notes from the Pentagon

China developing battlefield AI for high-technology warfare
A Chinese military newspaper has outlined how the People’s Liberation Army plans to deploy artificial intelligence (AI) for its forces in future high-technology warfare.

The PLA Daily reported Jan. 19 that warfare is shifting from conventional destruction to artificial-intelligence-powered high-speed and extreme destruction operations.

Li Minghai of the PLA’s National Defense University wrote that AI will be a key “war-winning mechanism” for China.

“Through gunpowder smoke in war, we can perceive that today, war fighting has evolved from bloody struggle for storming castles and capturing territories in the uncivilized and barbaric age into information-driven precision decapitation operations and intense contests in the domain of high intelligence,” Mr. Li stated.

The military expert said China plans to win wars by shifting the emphasis in war fighting from “systems confrontation” to “algorithms competition” and that achieving superiority in algorithms ultimately will produce “war-fighting superiority.”

“In future warfare, the force that enjoys algorithm superiority will be able to rapidly and accurately predict the development of the battlefield situation, thus coming up with the best combat-fighting methods and achieving the war objective of ‘prevailing before battle starts,’” Mr. Li said.

A second requirement is the use of large data sets that can be rapidly converted through algorithms to war-fighting intelligence.

“Thus, the force with algorithm superiority will be able to disperse ‘battlefield fog’ emerging because data cannot be processed in a timely way, and can gain more profound insights into the battlefield situation,” he wrote.

Additionally, when applied to quantum computing, AI will produce exponential acceleration effects that will allow the PLA to create “decision-making superiority” in conflicts. AI-powered forces will permit unmanned, AI-driven aircraft to rapidly defeat all advanced fighter aircraft.

The report said Russian forces in Syria conducted an operation in late 2015 using six unmanned tracked combat vehicles, four unmanned wheeled combat vehicles and one unmanned aerial vehicle to assault an Islamic State target. The battle killed 70 terrorists in what the report called the first case of the use of mainly robot forces.

AI war fighting in the future will utilize a combination of autonomous weaponry and forces with traditional manned forces.

According to Mr. Li, the PLA is developing “extreme operations” that break through the boundaries of traditional warfare. “Victories in AI warfare will be scored through bringing forward the time of issuing early warnings, shortening the period of decision-making and extending operational actions, thus producing the effects of making pre-emptive deployments and launching pre-emptive attacks,” he stated, while producing “a higher level of surprise” among enemy forces.

One system discussed in the report is the use of stealth drones the size of a beetle that can be used to scan a soldier’s face. “Through data analysis and judgment, it can directly hit the target’s head, and can even pierce the human brain by carrying a payload,” the report said.

Using a large number of robots in clustered operations “may produce extremely huge power that exceeds a nuclear weapon’s explosion,” Mr. Li said.

Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats revealed this week that cyberthreats — both current espionage and future attacks — are one of the most significant security challenges posed by China, Russia, Iran and North Korea.

“Our adversaries and strategic competitors will increasingly use cyber capabilities — including cyber espionage, attack and influence — to seek political, economic and military advantage over the United States and its allies and partners,” according to the report prepared for the annual threat briefing Tuesday before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and signed by Mr. Coats.

“China, Russia, Iran and North Korea increasingly use cyber operations to threaten both minds and machines in an expanding number of ways — to steal information, to influence our citizens, or to disrupt critical infrastructure.”

Of the four adversaries, China and Russia pose the greatest threats, U.S. intelligence analysts say.

The report for the first time included non-technical influence operations, such as those used by Russia and China to affect U.S. policies and elections. In the past, intelligence leaders did not include adversary information-warfare capabilities in analyzing cyberthreats.

Another significant disclosure is that adversaries have penetrated critical infrastructure such as electrical grids and communications networks for what the intelligence threat report said were plans to “hold [them] at risk” in a future crisis or conflict. It was the first time the intelligence community has publicly stated that China and Russia, in particular, have conducted cyberforays inside computer networks that are used to control critical infrastructure.

The report also warned that foreign adversaries are becoming more skilled at using social media and other means to influence American opinion.

The growing integration of electronic systems with internet connectivity will bring new dangers. The report said, “As we connect and integrate billions of new digital devices into our lives and business processes, adversaries and strategic competitors almost certainly will gain greater insight into and access to our protected information.”

China ranks as the most serious cyberthreat after years of intelligence-gathering against both U.S. government and private-sector networks.

China “is improving its cyber attack capabilities and altering information online, shaping Chinese views and potentially the views of U.S. citizens,” the report said.

“China has the ability to launch cyber attacks that cause localized, temporary disruptive effects on critical infrastructure — such as disruption of a natural gas pipeline for days to weeks — in the United States,” the report said.

Russian cybercapabilities also pose a significant threat, with the intelligence community describing Moscow as “a highly capable and effective adversary, integrating cyber espionage, attack and influence operations to achieve its political and military objectives.”

“Moscow is now staging cyber attack assets to allow it to disrupt or damage U.S. civilian and military infrastructure during a crisis and poses a significant cyber influence threat,” the report added.

Russia could temporarily disrupt the U.S. electrical distribution network, as shown in cyberattacks against Ukraine in 2015 and 2016, the report said.

“Moscow is mapping our critical infrastructure with the long-term goal of being able to cause substantial damage,” the report said.

Iran is working on cyberattack capabilities against critical U.S. infrastructure. Tehran is also using social media to target American and allied audiences in influence operations. Iranian cyberattacks could cause localized, temporary disruptions of corporate computer networks, similar to the cyberattacks carried out against Saudi Arabia in 2016 and 2017, U.S. analysts warned.

North Korean cyberthreats are targeting financial institutions and are described in the DNI report as “significant.”

“Pyongyang’s cybercrime operations include attempts to steal more than $1.1 billion from financial institutions across the world — including a successful cyber heist of an estimated $81 million from the New York Federal Reserve account of Bangladesh’s central bank,” the report said.

The report concluded that cyberattacks are increasing and growing more sophisticated.

“The growing availability and use of publicly and commercially available cyber tools is increasing the overall volume of unattributed cyber activity around the world,” the report said. “The use of these tools increases the risk of misattributions and misdirected responses by both governments and the private sector.”

The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Review, made public this month, highlights Moscow’s development of anti-satellite missiles and other space weaponry. The report said Russia is “developing a diverse suite of ASAT capabilities, including ground-launched missiles and directed-energy weapons, and continues to launch ‘experimental’ satellites that conduct sophisticated on-orbit activities to advance counterspace capabilities.”

One of those systems is the Nudol, a direct-ascent, anti-satellite missile that has been tested at least six times, including a possible flight test in September, according to American defense officials.

A Russian state-run media report published Jan. 20 provided new clues about the secret ASAT missile.

Nudol, according to the report, is a new missile named after a small stream in the Moscow area. The missile is being designed to counter U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles as well as orbiting satellites. It will be deployed on the ground and in space.

Nudol “has been branded a killer not only of satellites but of intercontinental missiles also, which in itself is of extreme concern to the Pentagon because it nullifies its missile strike capability,” the report in the online website Svobodnaya Pressa stated.

The report said the missile, known as the A-235 system, is near production and that testing is close to being completed. A recent test involved the Nudol traveling 2,174 miles into space in 17 minutes to reach a target.”

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

  • Return to