DOD report on China details escalation in the cyber domain

The annual report to Congress describes China's focus on cyberspace as a domain of warfare.

The United States has put a lot of emphasis lately on the importance of cyberspace as a domain of warfare. China is doing the same.

According to the Defense Department’s Annual Report to Congress on China, the country has for the first time designated cyberspace as a “new domain of national security and area of strategic competition.”

The report, prepared by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, said China sees its cyber capabilities as serving three key areas:

  • Allowing the People’s Liberation Army to collect data for intelligence and potential offensive cyber operations (the report points out that this is the most important of its goals).
  • Hindering an adversary’s actions or slowing response time by targeting network-based logistics, communications and commercial activities.
  • Serving as a force-multiplier when coupled with kinetic attacks during a crisis or conflict.

China, of course, has long been active in cyberspace, with the country being blamed for hacks such as those against the Office of Personnel Management databases and with five military officials charged by the U.S. Justice Department in 2014 with cyber espionage. But, the report points out, it was only in China’s most recent Defense White Paper that the country identified cyberspace as a national security domain. The paper also said that China was picking up its effort to develop a cyber force—perhaps similar to what the United States is doing under the Cyber Command—to deal with what the country sees as a growing cyber threat.

The move is just another example of the growing importance of cyber as a part of military operations. The report says that PLA’s written documents discuss the importance of cyber operations in a military conflict, such as disrupting an enemy’s command-and-control and logistics capabilities early in a conflict.

The PLA's cyber operations work at the strategic, campaign and tactical levels, according to China’s Academy of Military Sciences, the report said. Structural reforms announced in 2015, however, coulod change how the PLA organizes and commands the operations. The report also said that China, like the United States and Russia, is taking a greater interest in adding electronic warfare to its arsenal.

Last fall, the United States and China reached an agreement not to steal each other’s intellectual property, though many in Congress expressed skepticism about whether the deal could hold up. 

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