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PLA- Intelligentized Warfare: Cognitive Machines in War – Hype and Reality

Published Dec 14, 2020
Updated Dec 14, 2020

The use of the term “intelligentized warfare,” as the next stage of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) way of war graduating from the informationised war has increasingly gained salience amidst military scholars. The assumption is that after having successfully scaled informationisation, the PLA as per directions of the Chairman of the Central Military Commission and President, Xi Jinping is advancing towards intelligentized warfare.

Intelligentized warfare is an alluring concept, one which military leaders and planners have been attempting for decades, can AI and ML provide a solution to the PLA we will have to wait and see.  

A recent Security report by the The National Institute for Defense Studies Tokyo Japan [NIDS] NIDS China Security Report 2021 which delves into China’s Military Strategy in the New Era Published has focused one chapter on Intelligentized Warfare as a new concept that is being adopted by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) under the Xi Jinping era.

As Momma Rira highlights in the chapter on China’s Preparations for Informatized Warfare in NIDS China Security Report 2021 from the dictionary of PLA Military terms, “Informationized warfare” refers to “wars that use informationized weaponry and equipment and related operational methods based on networked information systems, and take place mainly in the form of systems confrontation in land, sea, air, space, cyber, and electromagnetic spaces and the cognitive domain,” according to the Glossary of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

The next stage will be intelligentized warfare with the use of “cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), quantum information, big data, cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT).”

Intelligentized warfare scales up on informationised warfare which had entailed using new domains of war -including space, cyber, and electromagnetic.

In intelligentized warfare men and machines will jointly make decisions by extensive use of Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI is seen as a tool that can assist commanders in making decisions with cognitive capabilities that are developed through machine learning. AI is a tool that seems to attract the purely militaristic mindset of commanders with emotion less non fatigue and non interventionist decision making.

Further more AI can facilitate examining multiple options through machines with extensive use of tools such as game theory and scenario building which may take weeks and months to be performed even with the use of digitised tools to within days.

AI could possibly also select the most appropriate target to attack which in general in operational terms has been the command and control box of the adversary.

The Cognitive is far more important than  physical thus using the dictum of Sun Tzu ‘winning without fighting’ or Liddell Hart’s Strategy of Indirect Approach.

The focus is therefore shifting to an intelligent military where warfare will be  as defined by Li Minghai, associate professor at the National Defense University, defines intelligentized warfare and quoted by Rira as, “integrated warfare based on IoT systems that uses intelligent weaponry and equipment and their corresponding operational methods in the land, sea, air, space, electromagnetic, cyber, and cognitive domains”.

In the intelligentized warfare phase of the PLA machines with, “high computing skills will be introduced to make command and strategic guideline decisions. Technologies, such as AI and machine learning, and game theory will be utilized to accurately analyze and determine the opponent’s intentions, and this information will be provided to commanders”.

Major General Wang Peng, vice chief of staff of the Eastern Theater Command, summarizes characteristics of intelligentized warfare as “intelligence dominance,” as indicated by Rira.

What’s New Here?

Warfare has been a test of wills and intelligence. What lies on the other sides of the hill has been an enigma that commanders have attempted to unravel in various periods of history.

Overcoming the adversary without spilling own blood is the acme of skill in warfare. While the physical was dominant, the information domain took over this is now followed by the intelligence domain.

AI does provide exceptional capabilities to process information, however so far AI is unable to undertake tasks that have been traditionally carried out by humans in the cognitive domain.

More over one must remember the phrase – garbage in and garbage out- preparing machines to accurately predict decisions in wars which involve multiple domains will require extensive programming with higher degree of accuracy. Such a capability will take years to develop though there could be an incremental leap due to advances in AI and Machine Learning which have to be watched out for.

One advantage of intelligentized warfare would be that having assessed the intent of the opposing commander, a machine may suggest that an offensive course may be fratricidal suggesting a compromise.

All in all intelligentized warfare is an alluring concept one which military leaders and planners have been attempting for decades, can AI and ML provide a solution to the PLA we will have to wait and see.