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Dec. 21, 2023
Notes from the Pentagon

Chinese brain warfare includes sleep weapons, thought control

By Bill Gertz
China‘s military is developing advanced psychological warfare and brain-influencing weapons as part of a new warfighting strategy, according to a report on People’s Liberation Army cognitive warfare.

The report, “Warfare in the Cognitive Age: NeuroStrike and the PLA’s Advanced Psychological Weapons and Tactics,” was published earlier this month by The CCP Biothreats Initiative, a research group.

“The PLA is at the forefront of incorporating advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, brain-computer interfaces and novel biological weapons into its military strategies,” the think tank’s analysts concluded.

The report identified two recent studies by China‘s army that open-source researchers say indicate the Chinese military is augmenting “hard power” weapons with new types of arms to help win wars without conventional weapons. The new arms include biological weapons designed to induce sleep or sleep-related disturbances in enemy troops. The goal is to impair cognition and alertness.

Other weapons involve devices that establish a direct connection between the brain and external technology, designed to influence cognitive processes and decision-making. Brain-controlled weapons are also being developed to enable precise targeting and manipulation of cognitive functions in enemy troops or leaders.

The Chinese army is also working on advanced arms that can be controlled directly by a soldier’s thoughts and will seek cognitive manipulation and control of enemies.

Other weapons it is working on include “genetic drugs” — pharmaceuticals designed to modify the genetic and physiological makeup of people and seek to impact cognitive, emotional, and behavioral traits.

Military devices for cognitive war include anti-sleep glasses that are wearable devices that will promote wakefulness and alertness. Electronic arms include “soft-kill radio waves” that use electromagnetic energy for nonlethal attacks, inducing drowsiness or cognitive impairment in adversaries, the report said.

“In summary, the PLA’s integration of cutting-edge technologies such as AI, [brain-computer interfaces], and biological weapons into its military arsenal brings significant psychological dimensions to warfare, extending beyond their physical effects,” the report said.

The report was written by four experts with military and intelligence experience at the initiative: L.J. Eads, Ryan Clarke, Xiaoxu Sean Lin and Robert McCreight, who first coined the term neurostrike to describe an element of brain warfare.

The report cites a 2022 Chinese army report that identifies the “five battles of cognition” to be used in advanced psychological warfare operations. The operations will seek to shape future battlefields beyond physical conflicts.

The battles include preemptive cognition that seeks to gain the “moral high ground” for the Chinese prior to hostilities, the report said.

“The objective is to create a powerful deterrent and asymmetric advantage,” the report said.

The experts’ report also discloses planned Chinese defenses against psychological warfare attacks. The research is being done by two Chinese military organizations known as Unit 94969 and Unit 96812, which are working on both defense and offensive cognitive warfare.

The PLA program “represents a strategic direction, integrating neuroscience and technology to develop weapons systems that can impair cognition, reduce situational awareness, and degrade neurological functions over the long term,” the report said.

“The CCP‘s vision for NeuroStrike encompasses a holistic approach, part of a broader asymmetric warfare strategy aimed at establishing a strategic edge over adversaries, particularly the United States and perceived rivals in the Indo-Pacific region, such as Taiwan, Japan, Australia, or India,” the report said, using the abbreviation for the Chinese Communist Party.

Taiwan buys U.S. command and control upgrades
The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced last week that Taiwan is accelerating needed upgrades to its command and control systems in an effort to bolster the island’s military forces. The equipment is part of a larger Taiwanese military modernization to “meet current and future threats” with better military command and control, the agency said in announcing the sale.

The $300 million sale announced Dec. 15 comes amid mounting threats to Taiwan by Chinese military forces around the island democracy.

In Taipei, the Defense Ministry said the sale will improve battlefield awareness: “The Chinese communists’ frequent military operations around Taiwan presents a serious threat to us,” the ministry said in a statement, noting that the sale will take effect in a month.

Taiwan’s military currently uses the Multifunctional Information Distribution Systems-Low Volume Terminals system, known as MIDS-LVT.

That system is used by U.S. and allied aircraft, ships, and ground units and allows commanders to communicate with forces by voice, video and data during military operations. The Taiwanese military also uses the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System, a key military command and control system used to coordinate air, ground and naval forces.

The system is hardened against electronic attack and is used for situational awareness during combat.

Beijing denounced the latest sale as a violation of agreements with the United States regarding Taiwan.

The sale “seriously undermined China‘s sovereignty and security, posed a grave threat to the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and sent an erroneous signal to separatist elements advocating Taiwan independence, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian told state media.

China sending balloons near Taiwan
Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloons were detected near Taiwanese territory this week, the Taiwanese Defense Ministry reported this week. The first balloon encounter took place Sunday when two aerostats were spotted crossing the unofficial China-Taiwan dividing line down the Taiwan Strait, the ministry said.

The balloons were traveling east at an altitude of 27,000 feet and were part of a Chinese military operation involving six warplanes and two naval vessels near the island. These have become daily activities by Beijing’s military.

A second incident took place Monday with a surveillance balloon flying at 15,000 feet and crossing the median line, along with four other Chinese military aircraft and 3 naval vessels. A third balloon was spotted Tuesday at about 12,000 feet and also crossed the median line.

A Chinese surveillance balloon was shot down by a U.S. Air Force jet in February over the Atlantic after it traversed across the United States in what U.S. officials said was a spying operation.

A report by China’s National University of Defense Technology published in October stated that the high-altitude balloon program is linked to the hypersonic missile program that will be used in what the report said would be a “merciless” attack in a conflict with the United States.

China launches fourth assault ship in three years
China‘s economic downturn and political purges in the People’s Liberation Army do not appear to have slowed the country’s military buildup, including the launching last week at a Shanghai shipyard of the PLA’s fourth Type 075 large-deck helicopter assault ship.

Photos of the latest LHD, or landing helicopter deck, circulated on Weibo, China‘s tightly controlled social media platform.

To produce four of the ships in three years is a significant achievement for the Chinese navy, which is now larger in terms of numbers of warships than any other navy in the world, including the U.S. Navy. The latest helicopter carrier launch, first reported by the online website Naval News, follows production and commissioning of three other Type 075s since April 2021.

The four assault ships are expected to play major roles in any Chinese military attack on Taiwan. Deployment of the four warships is likely designed to increase that vertical amphibious assault capability along the mountainous east coast of Taiwan, according to a report on the ships in Naval News, a Europe-based outlet.

“Continued construction of the Type 075 is part of a wider trend in PLA [navy] modernizing and expanding amphibious capabilities across a range of vessels,” the report said.

Other Taiwan-related naval activity includes renewed construction of Zubr-class large sealift hovercraft and stepped up production of tank landing ships. China also has eight Type 071 amphibious transport docks in its naval forces and is moving ahead with the development of a new landing craft.

Building four large-deck helicopters carriers in three years renders many assessments of Chinese decline wrong, analysts say.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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