China’s military has developed advanced electronic warfare capabilities capable of disabling ships, aircraft and missiles and there are signs the People’s Liberation Army is preparing to use exotic electronic attacks in a future conflict with the United States.
Two recent collisions between US Navy warships and commercial ships have raised the specter that China was behind the accidents, using electronic means to disrupt or fool radar or navigation systems into creating deliberate collisions, according to military experts.
China has developed some of the world’s most advanced military electronic warfare weapons, including jammers, disruptors and cyber tools that can cause electronics to malfunction mysteriously, or to operate in ways that can cause them to self-destruct.
On July 30, the PLA showed off some of its new electronic warfare gear at an annual military parade in Inner Mongolia. Among the hundreds of armaments on display at the event was equipment used to disrupt enemy radar and communications in air defense and ground combat.
“Electronic warfare has now become a key means of combat in modern warfare,” Wu Yafei, head of the electronic confrontation formation at the parade, told Xinhua. “The enlisting of the new electronic warfare equipment in the PLA has significantly enhanced its capability in this field.”
Among the systems shown were two electronic warfare reconnaissance vehicles, Y-8 electronic jamming aircraft, and drones capable of paralyzing and suppressing command and control communications.
Chinese military writings for years have discussed the use of electronic warfare and in late 2015 the PLA upgraded its electronic warfare troops and cyber warfare force into a new military service called the Strategic Support Force.
Literature on the subject includes a 2012 report, published in the journal Shipboard Electronic Countermeasure, on the PLA’s development of the “Wolf Group at Sea,” described as a distributed electronic warfare system that will be used to attack battle groups at sea.
A 2011 report by a research Institute at China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp., one of Beijing’s main arms manufacturers, outlines an “anti-Aegis defense system” for use against American Aegis battle management-equipped warships. Most of the US Navy’s missile and missile defense ships, including both the McCain and Fitzgerald, are Aegis warships. Japan and South Korea also operate Aegis warships.
The report calls for using a combination of large numbers of maneuvering hypersonic missiles along with electronic means to attack Aegis ships that are equipped with powerful electronic defenses.
“It is very difficult to attack [Aegis] effectively,” the report said. “However, with rapid development of precision guidance technology and missile penetration technology, [the] Aegis defense system becomes imperfect. Attacking method is discussed from the view of information countermeasures.”
The report concludes: “The Aegis system has integrated various types of advanced weapons [with] various integrated combat operational capabilities, such as anti-air, anti-missile, electronic warfare capabilities, and so forth, and defense measures that incorporate both defense and offense capabilities.” It adds: “From a practical perspective, there has never been any shield which cannot be penetrated.”
Strategically, China – in recent decades – has been seeking hegemony over all waters close to its coasts. In doing so it wants to drive the US Navy out of Asia, claiming that the South China Sea, East China Sea and other waters in the region are Beijing’s sovereign maritime territory.
In fact, 10 years ago a Chinese admiral proposed to the commander of the US Pacific Command at the time, Adm. Tim Keating, that the United States and China divide up the Pacific into spheres of influence. Under the plan, China would take control of the western Pacific while the US would control the eastern part. Keating rejected the plan, insisting the US Navy would protect freedom of navigation throughout the ocean.
On the warship collisions, Navy officials have voiced doubts that the two destroyers’ electronics were compromised by hackers but have not ruled out such interference. Investigators’ primary theory about the cause is that a mechanical failure or crew error is to blame.
The US Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. John Richardson, said that with regard to the most recent collision investigators would also examine whether electronic defenses were disrupted or fooled in an intentional act.
Both guided-missile destroyers were rammed from the side. The USS John S. McCain was hit by an oil tanker on August 21 in the Straits of Malacca, a busy shipping route, near Singapore. The USS Fitzgerald was rammed by a container ship in waters near Japan June 21. A total of 17 sailors died in the accidents, and the commander of the US Seventh Fleet was fired as a result of these and two earlier mishaps.
Suspicions were raised in the case of the Fitzgerald, based on indications the freighter that hit the warship was being guided by its electronic autopilot at the time. An interim Navy report issued on August 11 offered no explanation for the cause of the accident. The report said Fitzgerald was operating as a “darkened ship” with running lights on but with minimal interior lighting. It noted that the “moon was relatively bright” with “unrestricted visibility.”
The fact that both onboard radar and watch officers failed to see the freighter in time to avert the collision has raised the possibility of electronic interference. One theory is that the freighter’s autopilot was hacked and a collision course set.
Similarly, in the case of the McCain, the ship was rammed by an oil tanker despite use by the crew of several types of radar and round-the-clock watch officers on the bridge.
Further raising suspicions in the case of the McCain is the fact that, days before the incident, the destroyer took part in a freedom of navigation operation by sailing within 12 miles of the disputed Mischief Reef, in the nearby Spratlys Islands, in a bid to challenge China’s claims to the reef, one of three increasingly militarized islands close to the Philippines. China protested the warship passage.
After the McCain collision, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, echoing earlier state-run media comments, criticized the US for hazardous seamanship.
“Many people are very concerned about the harm posed by the frequent activities of the US forces in the relevant waters to the freedom and security of navigation,” she said. “We hope that the United States can take this issue seriously and properly handle it.”
“It is ludicrous to assert that China does not have any motivation to try to hack or otherwise cause accidents that militarily or politically damage US military forces in Asia. Whether or not China played any role in these incidents, the immediate campaign in Chinese state media to exploit these accidents to tar the US Navy as ‘incompetent’ and ‘dangerous,’ laid bare the Chinese government’s abject hostility to the US Navy and desire to sweep US power from Asia.”
Navy investigators’ suspicions of Chinese electronic interference in the McCain collision are also being fueled by the proximity of a Chinese vessel shortly before the incident occurred. Commercial maritime tracking data used to monitor international ship movements revealed that the Chinese vessel was shadowing the freighter that rammed the McCain and veered away shortly before it took place.
David Benson, a professor of strategy and security studies at the Air University in Montgomery, Alabama, doubts China would risk conducting an electronic attack on the warships.
“There is no obvious motive for China, or any other actor, to hack Navy vessels in such a fashion,” Benson stated in a recent blog posted on the website War on the Rocks.
“Cyber capabilities are extremely perishable, and if an actor has the ability to interfere with a destroyer’s operations, doing so during a time of relative peace is costly,” he noted. “While damaging a couple of destroyers might impose costs on the United States in the short term, it is nowhere near sufficient to offset the risk of losing or exposing a capability that could be priceless in a war.”
Rick Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center who closely tracks Chinese military developments, disagrees.
“It is ludicrous to assert that China does not have any motivation to try to hack or otherwise cause accidents that militarily or politically damage US military forces in Asia,” Fisher said. “Whether or not China played any role in these incidents, the immediate campaign in Chinese state media to exploit these accidents to tar the US Navy as ‘incompetent’ and ‘dangerous,’ laid bare the Chinese government’s abject hostility to the US Navy and desire to sweep US power from Asia.”
Even if the investigators conclude that the accidents show the need for a greater top-down emphasis on naval professionalism and new investment in training, military planners should not be deterred from adding cyber and insider-traitor threats to a China threat matrix that includes new submarines, anti-ship ballistic missiles and future nuclear carrier battle groups.
We would use the word spectacle rather spectre. The world is having a good, happy laugh at the USN ship collisions and incompetence. Forget MASH, this is a better comedy series.
No need for such elaborate theories. The fact is that a few container ships and oil tankers are sufficient to overcome the very powerful American armada and the even more powerful fleet of American submarines. The result of the content is two destroyers rammed and the rest of the armada ran away.
Speaking of electronic jamming, perhaps the most advanced country in this matter is Russia. The Russians have developed a system that can jam the American electronics and renders a whole American armada useless.
Very imaginative. Pin the blame on the Chinese for your own failures
Nobody seems to blame the cheap Chinese electronic used for the radar and navigation system installed in the colliding freighter and tanker.
Even after 14 trillions of losses, the trumpeter is prepared to bet his last dollar to support his Big Game for Eurasia.
If low quality programmers are not getting the outsourcing jobs, there will be an inevitable rise in number of potential rapists.
The time for Mumbai to be the global Capital of the International Rajs has come.
Whether the Kurdistan is given birth by the Fascist, it is none of the business for anyone else.
Burning coal in a new Myammar coal plant will create jobs for the US.
I understand the US Navy was denied access to inspect either ship that was in the mishap’s.
I think that to balance world peace against arising bullies, the USA will have to make herself a much more respectful arbitrator. Freedom and Democracy must again be the fundamental principle of governance, or Tyrants will ….
So funny. This author "has spent decades covering security and defense….” and only manage to come up with such blatant fake news. Pathetic to the extreme
Wow I didnt know the Chinese were THAT good. No Chinese ships near them at the time. Or somehow during FON ops, the Chinese managed to drop a clanger on their navigation systems that somehow was activated much later on so that a cargo/container ship would ram them in the side! Oh wow. That would probably include compromising the container ships as well! Plus the fact those humongous ships cannot change direction quickly meant that the Chinese were able to guide both ships for hours. Probably had a version of the Russian sleeping gas somehow introduced through a high altitude plane and a precision gas bomb. That would explain no one looking. Seems a bit unfair to sack the Commander for this brilliant Chinese operation. I take my hat off to you Bill Gertz. Say, is this on the NYT bestsellers shortlist?
Need to blame China,ain’t nobody else to point the finger at down there
No, no, no ! All wrong. It’s the seventh month! The cunning Chinese has asked their ancestor ghosts to screw up the radar so that it did not show oncoming freighter. These Chinese are soo devious.
Alleged EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attacks on cruise ships have been a news item for years.
How pathetic… Just have people on the bridge 24/7 and follow international agreed navigation rules and accident free results will occur….even with sophisticated Chinese eletronics jamming concoctions.
You are comparing the PLA whose military personnel abandoned their posts in UN not once but twice. Refer the UN executive summary report for the true colour of Chinese PLA. You should also check the minimum recruitment criteria standards to understand how bad the Chinese PLA army/ navy & airforce are! Its completely hollow from inside! Laugh at a professional navy at your peril!
Is it another reason or excuse to increase the defense spending although our current defense spending outstrips that of China, Russia, UK, France, Japan, Saudi Arabia and India combined?
He is such an aggressive warmonger/trouble maker always trying hard to incite conflicts and wars between the US and China/Russia.
Obviously, its another good opportunity for this diehard to plant fake news. If he has an eveen rudimentary understanding of how a ship’s bridge is manned, he wouldn’t be spouting his idiotic fake news, not that any one reading his diatribe would beieve a word, except for the sadIndian loser!. Just for the edification for those who have never been on a warship, it is manned day and night(24/70 as long as it is at sea. Apart from all the electronic sensors sending into the Operations Room which has a hughe display tracking the movements of all the vessels and aircrafts within the max detection of these devices, the same data/info is also fed to the displays on the bridge. And there should also be a hard copy of the good ole map, also display on a continuous basis, the vessel’s own preplanned track. This is all done by the navigating officer. While sailing the ship has a full complement of people on watch on the bridge. In a busy sea lane like the Straits of Malacca and waters around Singapore, They should have a lookout armed with binoculars on both wings of the bridge. Then you have the officer of the watch keeping a constant eye on everything around the ship, and getting reports seen by the lookouts and from the Ops Room. A warship is infinitely a lot more moanoverable than a loaded container/oil carrier. Hence as a rule a warship keeps well clear off from such vessel. How the hell with all the aids at its disposal it could still cut across the bow of a lumbering vessel, I unfortunately can’t help bu t put it down to a clear case of pure hubris on the part of the officers in charge onboard, the US has the rambos in the army. Looks , like the US Navy, not to be out done by their army rambos, trying to "drive" their vessel like a fast speed boat, and endedd up as the laughable Jonah! Yes Mr. Gert. Spin moree fake news. Bet you are on the CIA’s payroll too to do this.
The Mk 1 Eyeball cannot be confused by electronics. Efficient visual lookouts should have ensured the collisions were avoided.
On second thought, these collisions are more likely the result of a few Chinese sailors who somehow managed to sneak on board and held guns to the people on watch forcing them to steer their vessels into the path of the container/oil carriers, OR, the Chinese sailors managed to swim up to and grab the propellers of the US navy vessels causing them to lose steerage way. Yes, Mr. Gertz, these days whenever the US fu-k up, they automatically blame it on the Chinese; Kim Jong Un refusing to come to the neagotiating table, its the Chinese fault; the need for everyone to pull their weight to tackle the climate change problem, NO, we Americans are not going to be party to it, although they account for consuming 25% of the world’s total energy produced; blame it all on the Chinese; up until the release of this article, the world accepted and recognised the absolute superiority of anything electronic in their military arsenal; the Chinese are 4th rate. And now sudddenly, the Chinese seemed to have been given some assistance by some advance alien species to make elctronic gadgets tha can blind and confuse the super well trained officers and men of the US Navy causing them to steer their ships into the paths of the helpless commercial vessels; Yes it must be the blooded Chinese up to their evil tricks again. the Americans supplied the weapons and taught the Talibans how to shit up the Russians when they invaded Afghanistan, not reckoning on years later that it would be haunted by Osama bin Laden, and his merrymen(the Talibans) and now, after 16 years, having to fight a seemingly unending war against them, and the US now have to gumption to turn around and now accused the Russians of supply arms to the Talibans. I thought the expression "tit for tat" is invented by the westerners. Just keep up the fake news, and at the same time , blame it all on the Chinese.
He needs to put food on the table like anyone else.
Bill, what happen to the virture of "Taking Responsibility"??? US ship hit the big container vessle on its own, China ain’t got nothing to do with that.
Another way to look at it is according to the old saying, that those who failed to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
In these times of global advancement, the US should not be overconfident about its military capabilities. Those capabilities while considered advance at creation may lack discovery of new variables brought by today’s interaction among peer. Thus friendly collision are possible without interference given that war victories of the past were focus mainly on winning not considering all other collateral damages. Therefore, a rethinking process is necessary rather than sole finger pointing.
surely not much bang for the dollar…except for the collisions with merchant ships.
We Are Being Played By Chinese On All Fronts!!! Never Under Estimate Your Enemy??? They Want To Take Us Down Period.
I think bill should blame Poseidon for the collision
Not China. Correct analysis provided here
S according to Benson, "There’s no motive to hack US warsips just to cause a little damage during peaceful times." What if they foresee a world war with the US or are planning an attack on the US in the near futre? Then it would certainly be advantageous to take down 2, or 4 or more of the US fleet that are patrolling their waters. Isn’t that a kind of grey terror attack as a prelude to open warfare written into Russia’s war manuals, if it’s not in the Chinese strategies? Benson is not a very foreward thinking analyst is he?
Actually it was the little green men who hacked them
America IS AT WAR…
WAR HAS BEEN DECLARED AGAINST HER BY THE BRICS…
One ONLY need take the camera used to FOCUS on these INCIDENTS one-by-one and ZOOM OUT to view the WHOLE PICTURE… ALL AT ONCE…
The NK nuclear program is being FUNDED, BACKED and USED as a Ruse… a DIVERSION of US FOCUS and RESOURCES as Russia and China COMPLETE PREPARTION’S… perfect missile and electronic warfare tech…. and the like…
Little treads like this are DEAD ON….
"The enemy of MY ENEMY IS MY FRIEND!!!"
Is their mantra… they’re playing "The Art of War" to PERFECTION…
Thiru is talking cow sense. Indian navy is way below in terms of hardware and software. India bought most of their military hardwares from Russia, US and Europe.
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