“Central Military Commission Joint Staff Department Patch”.
“With the support of intelligent network information systems, the new domain forces with new combat capabilities can make full use of intelligent [AI-enabled] technology based on the autonomous and intelligent real-time command and control of the battlefield.”
In 2021 the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) adopted “Multidomain Precision Warfare” as its core operational concept. While few sources address this topic in much detail, a related concept has remained prominent in Chinese media. In October 2022, in his speech at the 20th Party Congress, President Xi Jinping declared that China must “increase the proportion of new-domain forces with new combat capabilities.[i] New-domain forces with new combat capabilities are also a focus area for Chinese military force development for the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025). While these concepts are abstract and rarely include more than vague descriptions of what they entail, Chinese media emphasize them as essential to the PLA’s evolution from informatization toward intelligent warfare. The following excerpt from Chinese party-owned media outlet PLA Daily provides some insights into what is meant by these ideas and how they may take shape in coming years.
The excerpt, a commentary, acknowledges that clarity about the “newness” of some of the domains covered in this effort is important. The author provides an overview of the characteristics of these new domain forces and capabilities, which include flexible architectures, dynamic reorganization, and mutation of operational concepts in response to new technologies.
|Characteristics and Examples
|New Domain Forces
|Flexible architecturesReliant on intelligent systems (integrated command platform, etc.)Dynamic reorganizationMutability in response to technological developmentsCross-domain strikesFocus on achieving strategic paralysis of the enemy
|New Combat Capabilities[iii]
|Uncrewed systems (air, sea, and ground-based)PLA Strategic Support Force[iv]PLA Ground Force long-range rocket artillery (MLRS)[v]
Fundamentally, these concepts demonstrate a recognition that the most effective use of combat capabilities will not be the single-domain clash between similar forces and that the PLA must instead be able to flexibly deploy forces across domains against enemy weaknesses to maximize their effects. Of course, Chinese military thinking does not develop in a vacuum. Multi-domain precision operations appear to have many of the same core assumptions about the future of war as in other countries’ concepts, such as “Multidomain Operations” (MDO).[vi] However, despite the rhetorical similarities to U.S. concepts, at a more basic level, Chinese warfighting is likely to unfold differently due to core differences resulting from the direction and structure of PLA, which has Chinese Communist Party committees and political officers throughout as an essential part. The PLA’s development of an integrated command platform and other informatized tools, such as those referenced in the article, appear intended to not only make its forces more survivable in modern informatized or intelligentized war but also to be “designed to” the PLA’s structure itself and improve the speed of decision making that its structure might otherwise impede.[vii] While China’s focus on achieving multidomain effects is noteworthy, in the interim much of these concepts may remain aspirational for the PLA, a military that has, for much of its recent history by its own admission, struggled to effectively train to the standard of being able to carry out combined arms operations, much less joint operations.
Liu Haijiang (刘海江), “新域新质作战力量 ‘新’在哪里 (Explaining the ‘new’ in new-domain forces with new combat capabilities),” PLA Daily (Official newspaper of China’s armed forces), 29 November 2022. hxxp://www.81.cn/jfjbmap/content/2022-11/29/content_328869.htm
With the expansion of the scope of human activities and the development of national interests, where military struggle takes place has moved beyond traditional domains such as land, sea, and air and continues to expand into the deep sea, space, electromagnetic spectrum, and other domains. As required by the times, forces and types of combat power to be fielded in these domains have emerged.
Driven by advanced technology, new domain and new quality combat forces have broken through traditional spaces such as land, sea, air, and space, and the scope of activities has become more three-dimensional and diverse. Deep sea, space, underground, and polar regions have all become new territories where new domains and new quality combat forces compete.
New-domain forces with new combat capabilities involve dynamic reconfiguration and cross-domain integration of combat elements. With the support of intelligent network information systems, the new domain forces with new combat capabilities can make full use of intelligent [AI-enabled] technology based on the autonomous and intelligent real-time command and control of the battlefield.
[i] “New combat capabilities” is the more anodyne translation used in the official version of Xi’s remarks, but the Chinese here means something closer to “enabled by new capabilities.” For consistency, “new combat capabilities” is used throughout.
[ii] This table is partially constructed from other articles in PLA Daily that were either too short or did not have enough details and explanation to warrant translation.
[iii] The delineation between “new combat capabilities” and “New Type Combat Forces” [新型作战力量], another buzzword of PLA modernization, is unclear.
[iv] China’s 2019 Defense White Paper describes the PLA Strategic Support Force (PLASSF). The PLASSF is a new type of combat force for safeguarding national security and an important driver for the growth of new combat capabilities. China’s National Defense in the New Era [新时代的中国国防] State Council Information Office [国务院新闻办公室] 24 July 2019. http://www.xinhuanet.com/politics/2019-07/24/c_1124792450.htm
[v] One article in August 2022 described new long-range rockets launched by PLA ground force units belonging to the Eastern Theater Command toward the vicinity of Taiwan in response to then-U.S. Speaker of the House’s visit using the same language. “Our ground forces’ development of new combat capabilities continues to advance long-range rocket forces represent a new era of precision firepower” [我陆军新质作战力量建设持续推进 远程火箭炮兵成为新一代火力精兵], PLA Daily, 29 October 2022. http://www.81.cn/xue-xi/2022-08/29/content_10180334.htm
[vi] In his article, Liu Haijiang also highlights the U.S. Army’s fielding of the AI decision-making assistant FIRES Synchronization to Optimize Responses in Multi-Domain Operations (FIRESTORM) as indicative of the future direction of intelligent warfare.
[vii] Peter Wood, “PLA Fields New Integrated Command Platforms, Improving Combined Arms Operations,” OE Watch, December 2021.
Image: “Central Military Commission Joint Staff Department Patch”
Source: Peter Wood