China perceives shortfalls operating in complex electromagnetic spectrum environment: Pentagon

U.S. officials asses that the Chinese military believes it could have difficulty operating in a complex EW environment.
3D rendering of China's Tiangong-1 space station orbiting Earth with the flag of China in the background. (Getty Images)

China’s military perceives shortcomings in its ability to operate within a potentially complex electromagnetic spectrum environment, among other deficiencies in its overall combined arms capacity, according to a senior U.S. defense official.

This assessment comes from the Pentagon’s annual report on Chinese military power — an assessment of Beijing’s military capabilities mandated by Congress — that was released Thursday.

Combined arms refers to the ability to fuse various warfare disciplines and capabilities toward a single goal or objective.

“We would also note and do note in the report that the [People’s Republic of China] still perceives that they have some shortcomings that they have yet to fully address in terms of their ability to conduct” combined arms, a senior Pentagon official told reporters on the condition of anonymity when briefing the results of the study. “We highlight a number of the areas in which they still feel as though they’ve got some shortcomings. Some of the things that they talked about are how they can operate or need to be better prepared to operate in what they call a complex electromagnetic environment.”


The electromagnetic spectrum has grown in strategic importance in recent years. Nations such as China and Russia have observed how much the U.S. military depends on it for precision-guided munitions, navigation and communication, and they have sought capabilities to deny access to it.

Future battlefields are expected to be highly contested in the spectrum as each side will seek to jam and deny each other access.

“The [People’s Liberation Army] considers EW to be an integral component of modern warfare and seeks to achieve information dominance in a conflict through the coordinated use of cyberspace and electronic warfare to protect its own information networks and deny the enemy the use of the electromagnetic spectrum. The PRC’s EW strategy emphasizes suppressing, degrading, disrupting, or deceiving enemy electronic equipment throughout the continuum of a conflict. The PLA will likely use electronic warfare prior to a conflict as a signaling mechanism to warn and deter adversary offensive action. Potential EW targets include adversary systems operating in radio, radar, microwave, infrared and optical frequency ranges, as well as adversary computer and information systems,” according to the report.

Beijing acknowledges it has challenges in are command and control and coordination, according to the DOD official who briefed reporters prior to the new report’s release. However, the official did note that the Chinese have made some improvements in their capabilities in recent years.

While they have largely been untested in battle for over 40 years, the PLA has worked to make their exercises as realistic as possible and is paying close attention to operations and conflicts across the world.


“It is something that the [People’s Liberation Army] notes and speaks about publicly, they do highlight that the PLA have not been involved in major combat operations since the 1979 conflict between China and Vietnam,” the official said. “They try to address that, I think, by attempting to make their training and their exercises more realistic, to more closely approximate what they refer to as real war or actual combat type conditions.”

They noted that the Chinese have taken very close watch of Russia’s war in Ukraine as well, which also happens to be a complex electromagnetic spectrum environment.

“That’s one of the key sources that I think that they draw on to try to better understand how they need to prepare themselves for future combat operations,” the official said. “Certainly they’re watching very closely how Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine is unfolding. That’s something that they’ll try to learn a lot of lessons from, among any other opportunities that they have to learn those types of lessons.”

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