Chinese Strategists Consider Weaponizing “Complexity Science”

“The network information system … can be damaged or controlled by destroying key nodes in the network information system, creating a destruction ‘multiplier’ effect of ‘100-1=0.’”

The complexity of warfare increases as new capabilities, such as unmanned aircraft, loitering munitions, cyber warfare, and others, are introduced. As complexity increases, so do the risks, prompting Chinese military thinkers to explore the possibilities of using “complexity science,” the study of complex systems, to their advantage. The first excerpted article, published by the People’s Liberation Army’s official newspaper, PLA Daily, and reposted to the Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China’s website, underscores the importance of understanding basic science versus the concept of “complexity science.”  A traditional, cause-and-effect system assumes a linear outcome, which is predictable. However, as the article points out, in a complex system, the topic of study of “complexity science,” one slight change could have a huge impact on the course or outcome of the war.[i]

Complexity science is important in both defensive and offensive operations. For example, offensively, the article explains that destroying a key node of an opponent’s network information system, the glue that holds together the joint operations system, can serve as a force multiplier. In defensive operations, to protect their own systems, PLA commanders need to completely understand the emerging nature of complex war systems so that they can predict or anticipate where the adversary might attempt to degrade their systems. In offensive operations, on the other hand, they should use their insight to shape the war and create winning opportunities for themselves. The article explains that coming up with countermeasures and improving the ability to predict emerging technology can be facilitated through modeling and simulation. It also suggests taking advantage of the unpredictable and “fighting opportunities” in combat “to catch the opponent off guard with thunderous momentum.” The second article, published by China’s top military decision-making command body, the Central Military Commission’s authorized news source, China Military Online, details “complexity” in command-and-control (C2) systems. It explains that complexity science offers a new way to understand, guide, and practice war. It also recommends using complexity, around C2, as a weapon to complicate the opponent’s decision-making capacity, while also facilitating one’s own abilities. The key to accomplishing this is by breaking the traditional decision-making methods and reshaping those of the opponent. Humans, becoming increasingly intertwined with machines in the decision-making process at all levels, will create “unprecedentedly prominent battlefield management issues,” the article argues. As variables become more complex it is easier to reshape the opponent’s decision-making process by limiting the adversary’s intelligence capabilities, impairing their reflexes, creating confusion at the intersection, and pushing the opponent to their breaking point.


Liu Haiye et al, “认真研究并加以把握运用,战争复杂系统的涌现性 (Carefully Study and Understand the Emergence of Complex War Systems),” PLA Daily (official news source of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army), 17 November 2023.

Informatization and intelligentization in the network information system is the “glue” and “catalyst” of the joint operations system. However, it does not always guarantee the network’s effectiveness in driving the entire joint combat system. The network information system not only can serve as a “multiplier” of “1+1>2”in aggregating combat forces that are widely distributed and have heterogeneous functional role, it can be damaged or controlled by destroying key nodes in the network information system, creating a destruction “multiplier” effect of “100-1=0”.

Make good use of the emergent nature of complex war systems: …In recent years, the continued advances in modeling and simulation, artificial intelligence, big data and other technologies, has provided new support for commanders to grasp the emergent nature of complex war systems. If commanders can fully grasp the emergent nature of complex war systems, they might be able to perceive, foresee, utilize or even create “points” where war emerges before their opponents do, thereby becoming more proactive in shaping the war situation and creating winning opportunities.

Gain insights in advance and implement changes before the enemy. Once the emergence of complex war systems occurs, it could cause major global or local changes in the entire battlefield. “Forewarned is forearmed, without prejudging the waste”. Only by sensing and anticipating the possible emergence of key nodes in the war system and key turning points in the combat process before the opponent does, can we implement changes before the enemy and disrupt their operations…(we should) implement various countermeasures for war preparations, and improve the pertinence and predictability of military training and preparations…Methods such as modeling and simulation, which can provide insights into the emergence of complex war systems, should be actively applied to build, restore, and simulate real combat environments and operations in virtual war spaces.

Hu Xiaofeng, “从复杂性科学看指挥控制领域变革趋势 (A Look at Changing Trends in Command and Control From the Perspective of Complexity Science),” China Military Online (news source authorized by the Central Military Commission and sponsored by the People’s Liberation Army), 2 January 2024.

Complexity science has provided new possibilities for understanding war and guiding war practice. In the field of command and control, complexity can be used as a weapon to make the opponent’s decision-making more complicated, while oneself can easily deal with it. The key to achieving this effect is to break the original traditional decision-making method and reshape the opponent’s decision-making process.

How to create complexity

In future wars, as the combat system becomes larger and larger, humans and machines become more intertwined in decision-making at all levels, especially the widespread use of intelligent combat platforms, resulting in unprecedentedly prominent battlefield management issues.

Traditional decision-making only changes the decision-making parameters, not the decision-making process, so the decision-making complexity is constant… If complexity methods are introduced, the opponent’s decision-making process can be reshaped, forcing the opponent to introduce new parameters, leading to an increase in decision-making complexity. For example, if one’s own camouflage effect exceeds the opponent’s existing reconnaissance capabilities, it forces it to find new reconnaissance and positioning methods, thereby prompting it to change its decision-making process and make decision-making more complex. So, how to create complexity? It is generally believed that there are mainly the following four methods.

Limit intelligence capabilities. By creating uncertainty to enhance complexity and reduce the adversary’s situational awareness, the adversary can only act with the support of limited information…

Impaired reflexes. Create complexity by leveraging adaptive characteristics to weaken adversaries’ operational responsiveness…

Create confusion at the intersection. Creating chaos and complexity by crossing boundaries to create new emergent effects… Facilitate tipping point transitions. Push your opponent to the breaking point and create complexity, resulting in non-linear transitions…


[i] The first article uses an old the British proverb as an example. “For want of a nail, the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe, the horse was lost. For want of a horse, the rider was lost. For want of a rider, the battle was lost. For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.” This analogy underscores the importance of each node, down to the most basic one (the nail). For more on this proverb, see “A Little Neglect May Breed Great Mischief,” Citadel website, accessed 20 January 2024.

China Celebrates New Turbofan Engine Design as Giving It a Strategic Advantage

China’s WZ-7 (“Soaring Dragon”) is a high-altitude, long-endurance drone, shown here
on display during the 2022 Zhuhai Airshow.

“With its inherent advantages of having a world-leading industrial system and strong production capacity, China already has an absolute advantage in the Sino-US arms race around UAVs, loitering munitions, and cruise missiles.”

China claims its new turbofan could give it an edge during a high-intensity war. According to the first article posted on the publicly owned Chinese Internet platform Tencent, the Institute of Engineering Thermophysics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has developed a new-generation, low-cost, easy-to-manufacture turbofan engine, which can be used in high-speed, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and missiles. A turbofan engine, first conceptualized in the 1930s is also known as a fanjet, is a modern variant of the gas turbine engine.

What makes the recent Chinese version unique is that it has a significantly reduced number of parts. According to the second article, published by leading Chinese Internet and gaming provider NetEase, there are only two stages, a fan stage and a high-pressure compressor stage. In contrast, according to the article, the U.S. Global Hawk’s turbofan engine has 13 additional stages. This less complex structure makes it 20 to 30 percent lighter and less expensive to manufacture than other turbofans. The first article argues that these simpler turbofan engines will allow China to produce them faster and increase “the operational efficiency of frontline combat forces.” For example, the People’s Liberation Army will be able to turn to private enterprise with lower technical capabilities than specialized military industrial complex to manufacture the new variant. Noting lessons learned from the Ukraine conflict, the article argues that “the side able to dominate the battlefield is often not the Ukrainian military with its advanced NATO equipment, but the Russian military, which can steadily supply less advanced equipment to the frontlines.” The article also notes that by leveraging its cost and production capacity to provide a continuous supply of units to power its weapons, China can ensure that “when a conflict does break out between [it] and the United States,” the U.S. military will not be able to “engage in a high-intensity war of attrition.”


Jiang Fuwei, “中美无人机军备竞赛,中国抢先立于不败之地,可以让美军更清醒 (In Sino-U.S. UAV Arms Race, China’s Advanced, Invincible Position Can Make the U.S. Military Sober Up),” Tencent (a major Chinese platform company that connects users, businesses, and industries with technology and innovation, 1 November 2023.

“Zhu Junqiang, director of the Institute of Engineering Thermophysics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that they have developed a new-generation low-cost turbofan engine, and this new engine has been used in a certain type of high-speed, long-endurance UAV.

This type of turbofan engine reportedly adopts a very unusual single-shaft high-pressure direct-drive configuration, which integrates the compressor and fan that must be arranged separately in conventional twin-shaft engines, reducing the number of engine parts by more than 60 percent. This reduces the overall weight and size of this type of engine by 20 to 30 percent compared to conventional twin-shaft configuration engines with the same thrust, and it also reduces fuel consumption by 10 percent.

In other words, the emergence of this type of engine not only signifies that the performance of domestic UAVs, loitering munitions, and even cruise missiles using turbofan engines will be significantly improved, but also that the manufacturing costs of these types of equipment will be further reduced to what can be called a “formidable” level. With its inherent advantages of having a world-leading industrial system and strong production capacity, China already has an absolute advantage in the Sino-US arms race around UAVs, loitering munitions, and cruise missiles…

Once China can produce a new turbofan engine, which costs only 20 percent of that of the existing turbofan engine, even if [the engine] currently can only be used in weapons such as UAVs and cruise missiles, significantly reducing the overall cost can increase the output and equipment quantity of these weapons systems, thereby increasing the operational efficiency of frontline combat forces…

Due to the significant reduction in the number of parts, the degree of difficulty in producing this type of engine is greatly reduced…

Looking at the experience of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the side able to dominate the battlefield is often not the Ukrainian military with its advanced NATO equipment, but the Russian military, which can steadily supply less advanced equipment to the frontlines.

At this point, once the PLA can leverage these advantages in cost and production capacity, it can establish strong anti-loss capabilities and continuous supply capabilities for weapons such as UAVs and cruise missiles.

So, when a conflict does break out between China and the United States, the US military in the Western Pacific will not have the ability to engage in a high-intensity war of attrition with the PLA….

Jianduan Fangu, “我国研制成功高空低油耗涡扇发动机,战略无人机将傲视全球 (My Country Has Developed a Successful High-Altitude, Low-Fuel-Consumption Turbofan Engine and Will Dominate the World of Strategic Drones),” NetEase, (A leading Chinese Internet and gaming provider centered around premium content.), 26 October 2023.

The Institute of Engineering Thermophysics of the Chinese Academy of Science developed a high-performance, high-altitude, low-fuel-consumption turbofan engine, with greatly improved technology… First, the Institute of Engineering Thermophysics’ high-altitude, low-fuel-consumption turbofan engine has greatly simplified the engine structure. There is only one stage for the fan and one stage for the high-pressure compressor. The first stage uses a diagonal flow compressor, and the second stage uses a centrifugal compressor. The pressure ratio of each stage is very high, which significantly reduces the number of compressor stages. Comparing it to the Global Hawk’s engine, there are 13 fewer stages, which greatly reduces the number of parts. This reduces the complexity of the engine, which reduces fuel consumption and makes it cheaper.

Image Information:

Image: China’s WZ-7 [R1] (“Soaring Dragon”) is a high-altitude, long-endurance drone, shown here on display during the 2022 Zhuhai Airshow.
Attribution: CCA-Share Alike 4.0 Int

People’s Liberation Army Ground Force Fields First Armed Reconnaissance Drone

A China Caihong-4 drone at Airshow China Zhuhai in 2022.

“65 helicopters and drones, nearly 50 sets of flight simulators and special vehicle equipment and other large exhibits were on display.”

According to the first excerpted article from the Chinese government news outlet Tianjin Daily, on 14 September, the 6th China Helicopter Exposition displayed 65 helicopters and drones to over 350 firms at the Industry Base of the AVIC Helicopter in Tianjin.1 On 18 September 2023, according to the second article from China Daily, a Chinese government newspaper, officials confirmed that the People’s Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF) had unveiled their first armed reconnaissance drone, the KVD-002.2 The KVD-002 was displayed at the 6th China Helicopter Exposition.2 The CH-4 [RG1] , a predecessor to the KVD-002, is China’s best-selling unmanned combat aircraft. Prior to the KVD-002 release, the PLAGF did not have the capability for unmanned combat air reconnaissance. The KVD-002’s ability to provide up to 30 hours of air surveillance along with an air-to-ground strike package, adds additional capabilities to support China’s overseas expansion interests. The KVD-002 provides the PLAGF with battlefield and intelligence support to helicopter units, and guides attack helicopters to their target, increasing the PLAGF’s operational capability.2 Additionally, the KVD-002 could be utilized to support airborne early warning, control aircraft, and provide Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance capabilities to ground forces.


“第六届中国天津国际直升机博览会开幕 (The 6th China Tianjin International Helicopter Expo opens),” Tianjin Daily (Tianjin Municipal People’s Government news outlet), 15 September 2023.

“On September 14, the 6th China Tianjin International Helicopter Expo opened in Tianjin Airport Economic Zone. Municipal Party Committee Secretary Chen Min’er met with Hao Zhaoping, Deputy Secretary of the Party Leadership Group and General Manager of Aviation Industry Corporation of China, who came to Tianjin to attend the conference, and Lieutenant General Deng Zhiping of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, and witnessed the cooperation between the Tianjin Municipal People’s Government and Aviation Industry Corporation of China. Signed a comprehensive strategic cooperation agreement.”

More than 350 companies from more than 20 countries and regions participated in the exhibition… 65 helicopters and drones, nearly 50 sets of flight simulators and special vehicle equipment and other large exhibits were on display. The audience is expected to exceed 60,000. During this period, more than 150 business negotiations and business activities will be held to build a platform for aviation companies to connect on-site and expand cooperation. “陆军推出战斗无人机 (Ground Force unveils combat drone),” China Daily (English language Chinese Communist Party newspaper), 18 September 2023.

The People’s Liberation Army Ground Force has unveiled its first combat drone, a move observers said will strengthen the service’s operational capability. “The drone can cooperate with helicopters in combat operations. It can provide battlefield intelligence and fire support for the helicopter units, and can guide attack helicopters to their targets,” the introduction said, adding that the model can make short takeoffs and landings on a plateau.” The Ground Force did not disclose the KVD002’s developer. However, observers said that judged on its configuration and the AR-1 missile, the drone must have been designed based on the Caihong-4, or CH-4, China’s bestselling unmanned combat aircraft on the international market. The CH-4 is built by the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics in Beijing, a subsidiary of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.

Image Information:

Image: A China Caihong-4 drone at Airshow China Zhuhai in 2022.
Attribution: CC BY-SA 4.0

The People’s Liberation Army’s Evolving Close Air Support Capability (Kevin McCauley) (January 2024)

(Click image to download brief.)

This monograph examines PLA close air firepower support based on authoritative PLA sources including internal publications, as well as PRC aviation industry research. The PLA Air Force (PLAAF), Army Aviation, and unmanned aerial vehicle close air firepower support, command and control, and the firepower support process are examined.

Chinese Cognitive Operations Might Impact Taiwan’s Will To Resist

President of TAIWAN Tsai Ing-wen reviews a Marine Corps battalion in Kaohsiung in July 2020

[The will to fight] depends on our (Taiwan’s) internal conditions. There are differences just on whether to resist China.”

Taiwan might not be prepared to resist a Chinese invasion, according to Shen Po-yang, an associate professor at the Institute of Criminology at Taipei University. The following article excerpt from Taiwan cable TV network Sanlih E-Television News highlights some of Shen’s remarks, which he gave during a meeting held by the World Taiwanese Association and the European Taiwan Association in Vilnius, Lithuania. Shen, who researches Chinese cognitive operations against Taiwan, attributes his conclusion to China’s growing technological capability in disinformation operations and Taiwan’s internal division. He explains that Chinese information operations against Taiwan primarily targets the 20 percent who consider themselves neutral, including those who are undecided on whether Taiwan should commit to war or surrender should the mainland invade. According to the article, a survey of Taiwan’s vulnerability to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) cognitive warfare shows how divided the country is in its beliefs. For example, according to the survey, less than 20 percent of people in Taiwan believe the disinformation comes from external forces; 30 percent believe it comes from China; 20 percent believe it comes from the United States; and 20 percent believe it comes from Japan. According to Shen, “The reality is very far away (from what people believe).” Complementing the technical aspects of Chinese cognitive operations, Shen sees Xi Jinping’s continued emphasis on the “China Dream” as an ideology to win over the people when the economy is bad and he concludes that Taiwan’s will to resist will depend on their internal conditions. A study in the Oxford Journal of Global Security Studies,[i] explains that China’s vast cognitive operations against Taiwan are conducted through various governmental departments and party agencies that deal with Taiwan affairs including the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, the United Front Work Department, the PLA, and Propaganda Department. The CCP’s primary goal is to promote unification and to increase Taiwan’s internal conflict and anti-independence views. The study describes four ways in which China conducts cognitive operations. First, China uses military intimidation as a kind of psychological manipulation to prevent Taiwan from seeking independence. Second, China uses economic and sociocultural factors to increase its influence by promoting bilateral exchange across the Taiwan Strait. Third, China uses Mazuism, a popular folk religion that originated in China but is practiced by 70 percent of Taiwan’s population, to strengthen its connection with Taiwan culturally. Finally, China uses disinformation and content farms on the internet to sway public opinion.[ii]


“「台灣抵抗意志不如烏克蘭」學者:恐不及因應資訊戰 (Taiwan’s Will to Resist is Not as Good as Ukraine’s’; Scholar: It May Not Be Able to Cope With Information Warfare),” Sanlih E-Television News (Taiwan cable TV network), 11 September 2023.

Shen Boyang, a scholar who specializes in the CCP’s cognitive operations against Taiwan, said that he is worried that Taiwan does not have enough time to prepare for information warfare, because China’s technology is becoming more and more sophisticated, and Taiwan’s internal divisions have made The lack of will to resist China is different from the situation faced by countries such as Lithuania and Ukraine when facing Russia.

Shen Boyang pointed out at the forum that the main targets of China’s information manipulation on Taiwan are those who consider themselves neutral, neither blue nor green, including those who have not yet made up their minds on whether to commit war or surrender when facing the CCP’s invasion of Taiwan. This group of about 20% of Taiwanese people are gradually being China controls and locks in through cross-strait exchanges or the collection of personal information on the Internet.

His survey showed Taiwan’s vulnerability to the Chinese Communist Party’s cognitive warfare. For example, less than 20% of Taiwanese believe that fake news mainly comes from external forces, of which more than 30% point to China, but 20% each point to the United States or Japan. “With The reality is very far away.”

… there is the emotional aspect. After Xi Jinping came to power, he has continuously emphasized the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” internally, which may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because in the past, the CCP could rely on the economy to stabilize its internal affairs. “When the economy is good, there is no need to talk about great rejuvenation, but when the economy is bad, it must use ideology.”What worries him most is the will of the Taiwanese people to resist. “This depends on our internal conditions. There are differences just on whether to resist China.” …


[i] Tzu-Chieh Hung and Tzu-Wei Hung, “How China’s Cognitive Warfare Works: A Frontline Perspective of Taiwan’s Anti-Disinformation Wars,” Journal of Global Security studies, Volume 7, Issue 4, December 2022

[ii] Social media has an important role in China’s cognitive warfare tactics. Social media can be used to spread “deepfakes” and “accelerationism” to deliberately manipulate emotions and collective consciousness to sway public opinion and exacerbate polarization. For more information, see Cindy Hurst, “Chinese Observations on the Role and Impact of Social Media in Cognitive Warfare,” OE Watch, 05-2022; and Cindy Hurst, “China Wages Cognitive Warfare To Shape Taiwanese Public Opinion,” OE Watch, 02-2022.

Image Information:

Image: President of TAIWAN Tsai Ing-wen reviews a Marine Corps battalion in Kaohsiung in July 2020
Source: – /media/File:President_of_TAIWAN_Tsai_Ing-wen_reviews_a_Marine_Corps_battalion_in_Kaohsiung_in_July_2020_臺灣總統蔡英文校閱海軍陸戰隊九九旅步二營.jpg
Attribution: CC By 2.0

People’s Liberation Army Promoting Battlefield Commander’s Initiative

Diagram outlining PLA Command and Control Network

Diagram outlining PLA Command and Control Network

“Mission command advocates fully leveraging the initiative of frontline commanders in a battlefield full of uncertainty and chaos to gain decision-making advantages.”

People’s Liberation Army (PLA) battlefield commanders have historically been constrained by the PLA’s preference for centralized over decentralized command authority.[i] However, a recent article from the PLA Daily, the official newspaper of the PLA, addresses the need to move from centralized to mission command to allow for greater initiative by operational and tactical commanders. Doing so would provide the PLA with greater flexibility and adaptability to address rapidly changing battlefield situations and opportunities. The articles argues that the PLA must “learn from the relevant concepts of mission command, optimize and improve the original command mode, and build a command mode suitable for future information-based and intelligent warfare.”

The article describes that mission command—a concept employed by the U.S. military—leverages frontline commanders’ initiative on uncertain and chaotic battlefields due to their more realistic awareness of on-the-ground realities.[ii] Mission command preserves the superior commander’s operational intent, guidance, tasks, and resources while allowing flexibility to the frontline commander to accomplish the mission. As it notes, “it is necessary to create an open architecture to enhance the system’s ability to flexibly assemble and adapt to changes.” Advancements in command-and-control systems and intelligent decision-making technologies will improve the ability of frontline commanders to make informed decisions. Allowing subordinate commanders to Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA) will not only facilitate rapid decision-making but provide for more resilient command if communications with the superior headquarters are disrupted. The author states that mission command provides for greater decentralization of decision-making creating a stronger and more ubiquitous command-and-control system.


Fie Paiguo, “从集中式指挥转向任务式指挥——美空军大力推动任务式指挥透视 (From Centralized Command to Mission Command – The U.S. Air Force Vigorously Promotes the Mission Command Perspective),” PLA Daily (official newspaper of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army), 24 August 2023.

Learn from relevant operational concepts to optimize and improve the command-and-control organizational model. Under the conditions of modern warfare, it is not easy to organize large-scale, long-term, and high-intensity air operations. If the combat command ability cannot be improved, everything is out of the question. Judging from the development practice of foreign militaries, the contradiction of being constrained by two aspects has become increasingly obvious. First, the operational command and control process is not perfect enough, and the hierarchical command mode is not perfect enough. The second is that the control-based command and control method cannot adapt to modern high-intensity air confrontation. So, facing future wars, how to optimize and improve the command-and-control mode? The effective way is to fully consider the confrontation environments of different intensities, learn from the relevant concepts of mission command, optimize and improve the original command mode, and build a command mode suitable for future information-based and intelligent warfare.Build an open system architecture to lay a solid foundation for the flexible restructuring of the command-and-control system. To achieve mission command, it is necessary to upgrade the command-and-control capabilities of the entire system. On the one hand, it is necessary to create an open architecture to enhance the system’s ability to flexibly assemble and adapt to changes. On the other hand, it is necessary to promote node element transformation and promote the reorganization of digital space combat resources. Realizing the node element of operational entities is to digitize, network, serve, and standardize them, making them easier and more convenient to be called by other platforms.”


[i] For further information on PLA modernization efforts see: Kevin McCauley, “PLA Army Efforts Integrate New Technology and Equipment Into Units,” OE Watch, 08-2022.

[ii] Authoritative PLA publications indicate the need to promote more initiative by commanders, particularly at the tactical level. PLA authors believe this is necessary due to the dynamic and fast pace of modern combat operations as well as the need to take advantage of fleeting, unforeseen battlefield opportunities.

Image Information:

Image: Diagram outlining PLA Command and Control Network.
Source: Liu Xiaoming et al, Battlefield Information Management (战场信息管理), (Beijing: National Defense University Press, 2012), 36

People’s Liberation Army Discusses Low-Altitude Air Control

Soldier from Ukrainian 25th Air Assault Brigade employing Small bomb carrying UAV.

“Low altitude is the “junction” connecting airspace and land. With the rapid development and large-scale application of low-altitude combat equipment such as helicopters, small and medium-sized unmanned aerial vehicles, and cruise missiles, the low-altitude battlefield has become increasingly important, and low-altitude control has become one of the comprehensive dominances that must be seized in future land warfare.”

A recent PLA Daily article discusses the importance of low-altitude air control for ground operations and its difference from traditional concepts of air dominance.[i] The article appears to be influenced by recent conflicts such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Seizing low-altitude air control requires an integrated air defense and distributed, networked, system of systems integrating ground and low-altitude air systems with modular, mobile, multi-domain capabilities.  The importance of seizing low-altitude air control[ii] is based on the large-scale use of small and medium unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), helicopters, and cruise missiles. Traditional air dominance[iii] cannot guarantee low-altitude air control due to the sundry of small arms and short-range systems that threaten low flying airframes. The author argues that traditional air dominance operations are generally more centralized, while low-altitude air control is an ongoing, independent, and decentralized tactical operation that seizes control in a certain location for a limited time. Decentralized low-altitude air defense operations to seize control require accurate intelligence with the capability to distinguish between friend and foe, coordinated communications, and timely warning of air threats.

Achieving the capability to control the low-altitude air space even for short periods will threaten an adversary’s ability to employ UAVs and fixed and rotary winged aviation. The author urges the PLA to accelerate the development of intelligent air control UAVs with swarming capabilities, loitering munitions, detection systems to identify low, slow, micro-targets, and innovative tactics to seize low-altitude air control in the critical place and time to influence ground combat. . The capability to control the low-altitude air space would give the PLA a significant advantage protecting its forces and critical infrastructure.


夺取未来陆战低空制权 (Seize the low-altitude dominance of future land warfare),” PLA Daily (official PRC military newspaper), 23 May 2023.

“Low-altitude control is a relatively independent and decentralized tactical-level space control. Low altitude control cannot be achieved and controlled through a single operation or a stage of centralized air control operations. Seizing low altitude control power will run through the entire process of combat, displaying a “distributed, discrete” form with strong tactical, regional, mobile, and full process characteristics. Even without the guarantee of traditional air supremacy, through active actions, it is possible to seize low-altitude supremacy in a certain area and within a certain time limit, forming a low-altitude combat advantage.

To seize low altitude dominance, we should focus on the characteristics of the struggle for low altitude control, establish the concept of “relying on ground control, dynamic control, precise control, and flexible use of air”, and follow the basic principle of “whoever uses it seizes it, seizes it as needed, and manages it as needed”. By seizing it in combat, maneuvering, and using it, we can respectively seize low-altitude control power in the task area through relatively independent and dispersed low-altitude combat and low-altitude air defense operations. At the same time, it is necessary to dynamically implement low altitude airspace monitoring and management, establish a low altitude multi-means and multi-mode monitoring system, fully grasp low altitude situations, strengthen collaborative communication, accurately distinguish between enemy and friendly platforms, timely warning, quickly strike and destroy enemy air combat equipment and air control equipment, accurately handle our air conflicts, and ensure effective control of low altitude and ultra-low altitude airspace.

The low-altitude power struggle in future intelligent warfare will become more intense. The Army’s field air defense system should continuously improve the comprehensive combat effectiveness of the low-altitude airspace, attach great importance to the construction of a distributed low-altitude operational system of systems based on the network, and rely on the network to build air-ground integration, the combination of detection, attack and defense, and mobility, modular low-altitude operational system of systems. Focus on strengthening the research and development of low-altitude detection and monitoring platforms to achieve rapid network deployment and low-altitude ultra-low-altitude high-sensitivity dynamic monitoring, and improve the ability to detect “low, slow and small” aircraft; accelerate the development of intelligent air-controlling UAVs, loitering missiles, and “swarms” to enrich the air-to-ground and multi-mode guidance, multi-mechanism killing, and multi-domain attack capabilities; Continue to improve the ability to detect and attack low-altitude small and micro targets, accelerate the development of new mechanism combat equipment, and form a low-altitude combat capability that covers multiple levels of campaigns, tactics, and operational units.


[i] For additional information and perspective, see: Thomas Shrimpton, “Chinese Perspective on Manned-Unmanned Coordinated Operations on the Modern Battlefield,” OE Watch, 06-2023.

[ii] The ability to neutralize enemy air defenses and other weapons systems that could attack low flying aircraft, helicopters, UAVs, and cruise missiles would appear difficult to achieve since these weapons would include small arms and short-range gun and missiles systems.

[iii] The PLA defines air dominance or “command of the air” as the Air Force and other services controlling the battlespace for a period of time. Presumably this encompasses offensive and defensive operations, including electronic and information warfare, to neutralize the enemy’s air defense capabilities. The reference to “a period of time” likely indicates the difficulty of sustaining command of the air.

Image Information:

Image: Soldier from Ukrainian 25th Air Assault Brigade employing Small bomb carrying UAV.
Attribution: CC By 4.0

People’s Liberation Army Focusing on Treating Internal Psychological Issues

Chinese soldiers on parade in 2015.

“Psychological service work is a regular basic task in the military, and the psychological health of officers and soldiers directly affects the combat effectiveness of the troops.”

There has been an increase in attention to psychological issues within the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in recent years. It is not clear if this is an indication of increased psychological problems among the troops or simply increased reporting. Some issues involve recruits born as late as 1995 having trouble adjusting to the regimentation of the military, difficult training conditions, and isolated garrison locations.

The military’s approach to psychological problems within its ranks is discussed in a recent PLA Daily article. A brigade in the 74th Group Army in the Southern Theater has an embedded Psychological Service Team, which is a recent development. The counselors, apparently also found at the battalion and company level, seek to identify and help personnel with possible psychological problems.

The chief of the brigade’s combat service planning section reported that all personnel in the unit were psychologically screened. The brigade’s party committee conducted investigations at the battalion and company level to ensure that the psychological counseling was achieving results. The investigation concluded that there was a general lack of attention to mental health, and that problems remained. In response to the investigation, the brigade created a psychological work supervisory mechanism office led by a psychologist and military doctor to provide professional support for the psychological services for the brigade. Psychological issues within the PLA are not isolated to the one brigade. The article recounts similar stories in other units, and psychological stations established in new medical buildings. These efforts have reportedly significantly reduced the rate of mental illness among officers and soldiers. The PLA is concerned that psychological issues in the force during a future high-intensity conflict will adversely affect combat capabilities and contribute to noncombat attrition of the units.


“一个心理服务队的“心力量 (The ‘Heart Power’ of a Psychological Service Team),” PLA Daily (Official PRC Military Newspaper), 31 May 2023.

“…Under the new situation and new tasks, we must raise awareness, improve work guidance, change “passive defense” into “active force”, and effectively improve the psychological immunity of officers and soldiers against negative emotions and mental illness.

The psychological response to wartime stress has a significant impact on non-combat attrition. According to the annual education plan, it is necessary to strengthen the popularization of psychological health knowledge among all officers and soldiers, educate and guide them to face psychological problems, overcome the “disease shame” of turning pale when talking about psychological issues, be good at discovering their psychological problems, actively seek external help, and effectively build a strong psychological defense line; By combining major combat readiness, training, exercises, stationed training, and other tasks, we aim to build a dedicated combat environment, promote advanced models of military training and preparation, strengthen the cultivation of officers and soldiers’ combat spirit, and forge a solid spiritual core.The future war will be a high-end war with high force, high intensity, high confrontation, and high intelligence. The strength of the psychological qualities of officers and soldiers directly affects the success or failure of combat operations. At all levels, it is necessary to actively carry out psychological adjustment and motivation training for personnel at different levels, task situations, and regional environments, under the guidance of a professional psychological backbone, using real-life construction, VR simulation, and other technical means. It is also necessary to rely on facilities and equipment such as psychological behavior training fields to regularly organize military physical fitness and skills coherent training and assessment. At the same time, it is also necessary to combine the execution of major tasks, strictly temper officers and soldiers under similar actual combat conditions, and cultivate their strong psychological endurance.”

Image Information:

Image: Chinese soldiers on parade in 2015.
Attribution: Creative Commons Int

People’s Liberation Army Advancing Expertise in Combat Medical Support

The hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19), top, and the People’s Liberation Army Navy hospital ship Peace Ark (T-AH 866) transit the Pacific Ocean July 22, 2014, during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) in 2014.

“Recently, a practical medical service drill organized by the 961st Hospital of the Joint Logistics Support Force was launched at a field comprehensive training ground.”

Beijing’s ability to successfully treat wounded soldiers and sailors would likely be a factor when deciding to enter into most conflicts. A People’s Liberation Army (PLA) source has stated that China could expect 120,000 casualties in an amphibious invasion of Taiwan. Even such a large projected number of casualties is unlikely to deter the PLA from entering into a conflict when it involves the core issue of Taiwan. As such, the PLA is showing a focus on care for the wounded. Authoritative PLA publications provide detailed information on planned battlefield medical support and evacuation of wounded from the company level back to field hospitals and fixed PLA hospitals.[i]

The 961st Hospital of the Shenyang Joint Logistic Support Center in the Northern Theater Command recently held a battlefield medical drill, according to the first excerpted article from the official PRC military newspaper PLA Daily. Casualties were reported at a frontline unit and a field medical team sent a triage team forward. The triage team used a drone to locate three soldiers with minor injuries and a seriously wounded soldier. Three nurses were sent to the slightly wounded troops, and a doctor, nurse, health worker, and driver were sent to evacuate the seriously injured soldier. The seriously wounded soldier was transported to a field medical aid post, likely at battalion or brigade level, where a serious injury treatment team provided a blood transfusion. The team matched and drew blood for transfusion to the injured at the site when the on-hand supply was depleted.

The second excerpted PLA article, published on the Ministry of Defense website, described the Naval Medical University providing training for maritime medical support. The university sent a medical team to a naval unit in the Eastern Theater Command to research maritime medical support requirements and explore new support methods. The team submitted a report to the university proposing solutions. The university report recommended to regularize sending teams to fleets, increase training, and more timely medical support and delivery of medicines. The university strengthened its links with surface ships, submarines, and naval aviation units to track medical requirements and improve military medical education.

The PLA is serious about treating and evacuating sick and wounded personnel from the battlefield as well as providing maritime medical support.[ii] The PLA is also incorporating unmanned aerial vehicles into medical units to locate wounded on the battlefield. PLA medical universities are working with Naval and tactical units to determine requirements and problem areas in medical support to find solutions. Naval medical support is a key area where the PLA publication cited above notes weaknesses in medical treatment at sea.


“联勤保障部队第961医院组织实战化卫勤演练 (The 961st Hospital of the Joint Logistics Support Force Organizes a Practical Medical Service Drill),” PLA Daily (Official PRC Military Newspaper), 22 May 2023.

 “Saving lives is the core task of the field medical team, “Zhu Siqiang told reporters. During the peacekeeping mission, he encountered multiple times when a blood bank was in urgent need. In such a crisis, on-site blood sampling and emergency treatment were used to save the lives of his comrades. In this drill, they set up a training program for difficult and dangerous situations, which is to strengthen the battlefield awareness and emergency response ability of officers and soldiers and ensure that medical personnel can go, be saved, and be cured at critical moments.

“海军军医大学:学用结合,锤炼海上卫勤保障精兵 (Naval Medical University: Combining Learning with Practice, Training Elite Soldiers in Maritime Medical Support),” Ministry of Defense website, 22 May 2023.

“In recent days, a group of members from the Party Committee of the Naval Medical University led a medical team to research medical support needs at the grassroots level in conjunction with the “Delivery of Health to Sea” activity, such as going to high mountains and islands, boarding ship positions, and visiting hospital departments…We need to closely monitor the new challenges and requirements posed by the transformation and development of the Navy for medical support, ensuring that wherever ships navigate, our medical support follows suit; wherever Navy forces are deployed, our medical support follows suit. In the theme of education, the leadership of the school’s party committee and government officials read the original text to understand the principles, follow up on the spirit of Chairman Xi Jinping’s latest important speech, and guide officers and soldiers to love the navy’s construction and dedicating oneself to the navy, promoting the high-quality development of naval medical support work in the new era, and ensuring solid results in theme education.”


[i] 全军后勤学术研究中心 (All Army Logistics Academic Research Center), 作战后勤保障 (Operational Logistics Support), (no publishing data), February 2017, this is an internal publication to inform the leadership.

[ii] For more on planned battlefield medical support, see: Kevin McCauley, China Maritime Report No. 22: Logistics Support for a Cross-Strait Invasion: The View from Beijing, US Naval War College China Maritime Studies Institute, July 2022.

Image Information:

Image: The hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19), top, and the People’s Liberation Army Navy hospital ship Peace Ark (T-AH 866) transit the Pacific Ocean July 22, 2014, during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) in 2014.
Attribution: Public Domain, U.S. Department of Defense

China and Philippines Spar Over Grounded Ship in Spratly Islands

Map of South China Sea featuring the Spratly Island group

“[China] deploys hundreds of vessels to patrol the South China Sea and swarm reefs. Its coastguard and navy ships routinely block or shadow Philippine boats in the contested waters, Manila has said.”

China is stepping up enforcement of its claims in the South China Sea due, in part, to its expanding chain of naval bases. There were a pair of confrontations between Chinese and Philippine navies in the South China Sea in August.[i] The dispute centered on the resupply of the BRP Sierra Madre, a WWII-era Philippine ship purposely run aground in 1999, on the Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Island group. The aging and decrepit vessel has served as a Philippine military base, tethered to the shoal that both the Philippines and China each declare their own.

On 5 August, the Chinese Coast Guard blocked Philippine Coast Guard ships from escorting chartered supply boats sent to resupply the Sierra Madre, according to the excerpted article from the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post. Philippine officials protested the Chinese actions, noting that the operation was a normal resupply mission. China claimed the Philippine operation also sought to deliver construction materials to repair the aging Sierra Madre—extending the life of the floating Philippine base—in defiance of Chinese demands that the Sierra Madre be towed off the shoal on which it is grounded.

The situation escalated three days later when, on 8 August, China criticized the Philippines for failing to “keep its commitment to tow away the warship that was ‘illegally stranded’ on China’s Ren’ai Reef and attempting to reinforce it for permanent occupation of the reef” as reported by the government-run media outlet China Daily. Philippine officials deny there was ever any commitment to remove the Sierra Madre and vowed to maintain the stranded vessel.[ii] Finally, on 22 August, Philippine supply boats ran the Chinese blockade to resupply the Philippine marines stationed on the Sierra Madre, according to the China Daily article. The two-week saga highlights the fact that the operational environment in the South China Sea has tipped in China’s favor.[iii] Many Chinese naval bases in the South China Sea are now operational negating the need for People’s Liberation Army-Navy vessels and maritime militia to sail from Hainan Island or other mainland naval bases. The chain of Chinese naval bases in the South China Sea allows China faster response times and more loiter time in contested waters, an advantage previously held by the other claimants’ navies that reside much closer to the contested region.[iv]


“South China Sea: Philippines says resupply mission reaches remote outpost, China firmly opposed,” South China Morning Post (Hong Kong bases Chinese media outlet), 22 August 2023.,3231902,3231857,3231912,3231909,3231884,3231916,3231897&tc=30&CMCampaignID=b607b9fc1b0ca5281837846f6ad244ac

The Philippines said a resupply mission had reached a remote outpost in the disputed South China Sea on Tuesday, despite attempts by Chinese vessels to “block” the boats carrying provisions for Filipino marines.

Two Philippine Coastguard boats escorted two supply vessels to Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands, where a handful of troops are stationed on a crumbling navy ship.

They arrived just over two weeks after China Coastguard ships blocked and fired water cannon at a resupply mission to the tiny garrison that prevented one of the boats from delivering its cargo.

“The routine follow-on Rotation and Resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre was successfully conducted today,” the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea said in a statement.

Second Thomas Shoal is about 200kmfrom the Western Philippine island of Palawan, and more than 1,000 kilometres from China’s nearest major land mass, Hainan island.

The water cannoning on August 5 fanned tensions between the countries, which have a long history of maritime disputes in the South China Sea.

China claims almost the entire waterway, through which trillions of dollars in trade passes annually, and has ignored an international ruling that its assertion has no legal basis.

It deploys hundreds of vessels to patrol the South China Sea and swarm reefs. Its coastguard and navy ships routinely block or shadow Philippine boats in the contested waters, Manila has said.

“China warns Philippine ships for illegally entering waters in S. China Sea,” China Daily (Chinese government owned news organization), 22 August 2023.

Liu Dejun, spokesman for the China Coast Guard, said in a statement that the four Philippine vessels were warned by the China Coast Guard, which effectively regulated them in accordance with law.

At the same time, regarding the fact that the Philippine ships did not carry illegal building materials for large-scale reinforcement, the Chinese side made “temporary special arrangements” for the Philippine side to transport food and other necessary daily supplies to the “stranded” warship in Ren’ai Reef in a humanitarian spirit, he said.

“China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters, including the Ren’ai Reef,” said Liu in his statement.

“We firmly oppose the Philippines using the opportunity of transporting supplies to ship illegal building materials to the warship that ‘illegally stranded’ in the Ren’ai Reef,” said Liu.Liu added that Chinese Coast Guard will continue to carry out rights protection and law enforcement activities in waters under China’s jurisdiction in accordance with law.


[i] For more on Chinese diplomatic strategy regarding disputes in the South China Sea, see: Dodge Billingsley, “Chinese Foreign Minister Calls on Resolved Land Border Disputes with Vietnam to Influence Pending Chinese-Vietnamese Maritime Disputes,” OE Watch, October 2020.

[ii] The relationship between the Philippines and China is complicated as they are neighbors and have shared interests despite friction between the two countries regarding territorial claims in the South China Sea. Chinese officials and media frequently blame the United States for its points of conflict with the Philippines. For an example of this perspective, see the following opinion piece by the editorial board of the China Daily: “Manila should be part of solution not problem: China Daily, 17 August 2023.

[iii] Coincidently, the Philippines participated in a multination training exercise the same week focused on possible threat scenarios it could face in the South China Sea featuring an air assault with Australian forces and an “amphibious landing” exercise with both Australian and U.S. Marines, see: “Marcos pushes joint drills with neighbors,” The Manila Times, 28 August 2023.; Western press coverage on the joint training exercise with the U.S. Marines refer to the training differently, see: “120 Marines Back Drill Retaking an Island Along the South China Sea,” Marine Corps Times, 25 August 2023.

[iv] On 28 August, China’s Ministry of Natural Resources released a new version of its national map, which it has regularly done since at least 2006 in an effort to “eliminate ‘problem maps.’” The map drew swift rebuke from many countries, including the Philippines. See: “China’s New Map Draws Outrage From Neighbors,” The China Project, 31 August 2023., Aug 31, 2023 5%3A18 PM – The neighbors hate China’s new map&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Mailjet; For the notice of map release see: “2023年版标准地图正式发布 (The 2023 Version of the Standard Map is Officially Released),” Ministry of Natural Resources of the People’s Republic of China,

Image Information:

Image: Map of South China Sea featuring the Spratly Island group
Source: Dodge Billingsley, Combat Films and Research, Inc.
Attribution: By permission of Combat Films and Research, Inc.