The Dark World of China’s Multi Domain Warfare and the New Unusual

Sub Title : The only option India has is to contest China comprehensively

Issues Details : Vol 14 Issue 3 Jul – Aug 2020

Author : Lt Gen P R Shankar, PVSM, AVSM, VSM (Retd)

Page No. : 53

Category : Military Affairs

: July 28, 2020

China is waging a dark multidimensional war against India and the rest of the world. This will not abate. The only option that India has is to contest China comprehensively. Resultantly we must build our strength across all domains by adopting an approach which helps us improve our capabilities across the spectrum. Now is not the time to dither


In an article on 5G, I outlined how China is executing Multi Domain Warfare (MDW) with Huawei as one of its Trojan Horses. It evoked great response. It also evoked great concerns from a cross section of right-thinking people. Some went like this : –

I agree with the threat posed and China’s game. My apprehensions are that it will be back to business as usual once the situation normalizes. In the ICT sector you can get nothing which is not made in China or has Chinese parts. Who will fight the L1?

5G allows China to hide in plain sight. The borders are moving to our homes or to our identity device i.e. Smartphone. With 5G and IOT it will be sitting in multiple places allowing Chinese to trigger cyber-attack from millions of vulnerabilities.

I share their concerns. My worry is also ‘Back to Business as Usual’. My worry is also that the bureaucracy will come out at the first whiff of normalcy and push us back to our deadly game of snakes and ladders. The Chinese believe in two steps forward and one step back. The bureaucracy takes one step forward and many steps back. Some contrasting similarity! Even our PM is said to have remarked that he will not allow our bureaucrats to waste his second term. Telling thoughts.

However. I would like to point out that the Virus and Galwan have changed the ‘USUAL’. Everyone understands the Virus. It threatens our lives. We must save our own. So we are forced to change and go to a new normal.  However the Chinese threat has seeped under the carpet. Galwan has exposed the poison underneath. What is happening in Ladakh is only a trailer. There is a dark multidimensional war being waged by China against India and the rest of the world. This will not abate. Curtailing India’s role, growth, weight and presence will be one of its key national objectives. China will initiate conflict and war when sleeping in our bed to make trade and commercial profit. Whether China becomes a superpower or not, it will be aggressive and assertive. The aggression stems from opportunism, imperiousness, reactivity or insecurity . it is immaterial. India is next only to the USA in order of threat to its superpower dreams. That is why China is in military conflict with one and heading into war  with another. Hence understanding the MDW concept and its Chinese manifestation is important to move to the new ‘UNUSUAL’.

Multi Domain Warfare – Overview

The Concept. The Chinese practice the concept of ‘Unrestricted Warfare’. This led the US Army to adopt the Multi Domain Operations (MDO) approach. India is aligning to it slowly. However MDO is too narrow when applied at a national/international level and hence the wider concept of MDW is better suited to encapsulate the dark approaches of China in conducting war. Clausewitz’s dictum that “war is politics by other means” and its converse that “politics is war by other means” encapsulates the entire spectrum of MDW. Multi-Domain Warfare can therefore be defined as conventional and/or non-conventional war carried out by state, non-state or state sponsored actors using hard and soft power during war, conflict or peace situations by day or night for specified national outcomes in various interacting and overlapping domains. These could be air, land, sea, space, cyberspace, nuclear space, electromagnetic spectrum, energy and resources, politics, diplomacy, economy, public opinion, legal, influence and health. A graphic representation is given below. For theoretical purposes, a domain is an area of influence wherein mission-oriented operations are undertaken to control an opponent for desired outcomes.

Military Civil Fusion. The leading tool for execution of MDW is “Military-Civil Fusion,” (MCF) . MCF is not new. The colonial system gave birth to it. It was refined by USA. However China has taken it to a sinister level. The Chinese MCF has the CCP at the apex. The troika of Government, PLA and Civilian firms are meshed seamlessly. They  are state sponsored and front each other interchangeably for retention or capture of power. Barriers between China’s civilian industrial sectors and military endeavors in research, development and trade have been eliminated. Firms like Huawei, ZTE and Bytedance are Trojan Horses of the CCP. Their State-Owned Enterprises and Financial system are the main actors. MCF focuses on dual use technologies like quantum computing, big data, semiconductors, 5G, advanced nuclear technology, aerospace technology, and AI. The technologies are developed/acquired legally or illegally. Chinese methods include investment in private industries, talent recruitment programs, directing academic and research collaboration, forced technology transfer, intelligence gathering, and outright theft. The core dual use areas are Artificial Intelligence which they believe will give them an asymmetrical advantage in warfare, New Materials for high-value industries like aerospace, Energy Storage which is an essential ingredient of battlefield stamina. (China has established substantial control over the global Li Ion battery chain), Communications which is the lifeblood of societies and militaries and Nuclear Power to position itself as a leader to control the future nuclear export markets. MCF vastly expands the Chinese economic basket, converts PLA into a technologically advanced military and enables China to conduct a ceaseless MDW. With this as a background let us see as to how China wages Multi Domain Warfare.

Conventional Domains

Conventional domains are Air, Land and Sea. Chinese premeditated aggression in these conventional domains is only too well known and is manifest in Ladakh and South China Sea. This will continue. As far as India is concerned, we must be prepared for direct Chinese aggression repetitively in future also. In addition India needs to prepare for indirect and insidious moves. Overland it will be through Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh. Bhutan was coerced during Doklam. Future coercion will be through Sakteng. Pakistan and Nepal are now willing catspaws of China having shown their hand in the Valley and Limpiyudhara in concert with the present crisis. Sri Lanka (Hambantota), Pakistan (Gwadar) and Myanmar (Kyaukpyu) are the seaborne manifestations in waiting. The South China Sea episode is still playing out and its outcomes are unknown.

Disruptive Technology Domains

The disruptive technology domains are the new unknowns coming to light. Military strategists need to look beyond ‘fingers’ and Government ‘Pundits’ need to understand it better to develop counter strategies.

Space. Space technology is an investment. A lot of space exploration is the search for liquid hydrogen to power fuel cells and attain energy dominance. The quest for new materials must be seen in this context. The ability to have a vibrant military and civilian aerospace ecology is an enterprise activity. China’s MCF plays a huge part in this enterprise. The spinoffs are dual use Satellite and Anti-Satellite technologies. In Ladakh, space technology supported their influence ops to beam a Chinese map on Pangong Tso into our bedrooms.

Cyberspace and Electromagnetic Spectrum. Chinese exploitation of these interactive and interdependent domains is well established. It has carried out numerous cyber-attacks against India, USA and Australia. Its quest for AI, Communication and ICT technologies through MCF has multiple contexts. Unbridled Profits. Control over governments through communication and social media surveillance. Intelligence collection. Military prowess. These two key domains underpin Chinese domination in other domains.

Nuclear Domain. The nuclear domain is not confined to nuclear war. It extends to proliferation for geopolitical control through Pakistan, N Korea and now probably Iran.  A dangerous nuclear grouping. It is also about use and denial of nuclear energy. Chinese efforts to block India from Nuclear Suppliers Group is essentially denial of nuclear raw material. It delays India’s efforts at achieving critical mass in the Thorium cycle, which is our path to strategic independence.

Dark Power Domains

The dark power domains are the much discussed ‘three war’ strategies of China. These are Public Opinion, Legal and Influence ops. This is being discussed in depth these days. However the salient feature of these domains is that they are interactive and interdependent on each other. They exploit the power of information and data in a war / peace 24×7 continuum. It is the CCPs normal method of expression of political intent.

Public Opinion. China weaponizes public opinion by manipulation, misinformation, sowing dissent, and discord in democratic societies. It shapes domestic and international public opinion blatantly through media, military experts, and political parties. A halo is built to make the Chinese look ‘Ten Feet Tall’ and invincible.

Legal Status. China always portraying itself as a victim while blatantly violating the international rules-based order. Legal justification, through mythical history, is standard. Others are accused of breaking rules. Most importantly, the legal loopholes of democracies are exploited. Target countries are left with no choice with but to accept the Chinese fait accompli.

Influence Operations. Chinese narratives are being built through pliant politicians, media, and officials. Think tanks, academic institutions, workers unions, industry, and even government is penetrated to influence thought and decision. It will continuously exploit Indian plurality and fissures in the political and bureaucratic firmaments. China will ensure that either a wrong decision or one that favors it is taken.

Traditional Domains

Economy, Diplomacy and Politics/ Geopolitics are traditional domains. Energy and resource exploitation are historical endeavors by expansionist nations.  As China heads into isolation we need to remember – an isolated and poor China was always troublesome and expansionist. A rich and ambitious China will be even more so.

Political. China is a political bully eternally threatening and coercing everyone. This will continue. PLA’s intrusion when Xi Jinping was visiting India was a premeditated hostile political move. The current military aggression in Ladakh is also a well-planned political move. A nation which can declare Dalai Lama as a terrorist and support Masood Azhar displays political perversion. Expect a politically hostile China which will interfere in our internal affairs at every turn. The Pakistani threat is peanuts in comparison.

Economy. China makes countries economically intertwined and dependent upon it. Thereafter it coerces and threatens them to defer to its political requirement. Many countries are subject to such threats including the USA. China undermines the International financial system to debt trap weaker nations. India’s commercial dependency on China can be weaponized any day now. That will definitely force India into the next ‘UNUSUAL’ .

Diplomacy. The Chinese ‘Wolf Warrior’ diplomacy has been loutish to say the least. It seeks to undermine the target country’s sovereignty unambiguously. It happened in Australia recently and we could expect it to happen anytime.

Energy and Resource Exploitation. A rising China is thirsty for resources and energy. It is sucking out mineral and oil resources from Africa through the BRI and debt traps.  India must expect trouble. We have spurned all their schemes.

Health Domain

China has weaponized health through the Wuhan Virus. It let the Virus out deliberately. Mask Diplomacy was used to threaten countries which did not toe its line. The recently launched Health Silk Road as an alternative to the BRI is a new front.

The New Unusual

China is waging a 360-degree MDW systematically against India. This will continue whether China becomes a superpower or not. Chinese comprehensive national power outweighs that of India. We have two choices. We partner with China or not. Partnering China means that we will become Pakistan Mark 2 eventually. That is not acceptable to any self-respecting Indian. Hence, we must contest China comprehensively. Resultantly we must build our strength across all domains. Business as usual is no more an option.  WE MUST MOVE TO BUSINESS AS UNUSUAL.

We can hold off China for the time being. We cannot contain it on our own. Our National policy and circumstances do not permit us to enter alliances. Hence if we cannot be part of an alliance, WE MUST BE PART OF A CASE/NEED BASED PARTNERSHIP. It could be the QUAD or QUAD plus or any other with a focused geopolitical, military, and economic agenda. We need not even come to each other’s direct aid except in dire emergency. A differentiated and synergistic action based on common intelligence, common capacities, for a common purpose is good enough.

An economic revival necessitates grasping opportunities. We are strong in ICT and auto sectors. We can attract relocation in these sectors and build around them. If tech companies are quitting Hong Kong, they should be attracted here. Similarly in other sectors. Reforms are needed for attracting relocation and for Atma Nirbharta to take off. China respects strength. Hence the need to strengthen our Armed Forces in certain core areas is paramount. We need to start our own version of MCF. Communication, AI, Cyberspace, aerospace, space, and energy are starters. All in all BUSINESS AS UNUSUAL MUST BE THE ORDER OF THE DAY. If Government functionaries dither and prevaricate, then India lies exposed. Simple as that.

Lastly, the Chinese Communist Party is an ideology. It cannot be defeated by kinetic means. It must be defeated by counter ideas and ideology – Religion, democracy, or ethnicity. Mythologically, Ravan’s empire started collapsing after Hanuman carried the battle across to Lanka and set it afire. China has four Lankas – Tibet, Xinjiang, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Time to set some or all of them on fire.