Information Operations (IO) are one of the most important components of China’s way of war. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) uses IO to dominate its opponents and separate its adversaries internally and from their allies beginning during the Competition phase with an adversary. The PLA will also use IO continuously across strategic, operational, and tactical missions during the Crisis and Conflict phases. Tactically, the PLA will use IO to detect and acquire long-range targets, execute precise attacks from beyond the line of sight, and conceal its intent. The PLA believes that IO can limit adversarial advantages and reduce threats to its forces.
IO comprise a wide variety of capabilities with the intent to influence others in the information environment. The PLA’s IO include information warfare (IW)—also known as information confrontation—and psychological warfare. IW, consists of offensive and defensive actions that directly support military operations; whereas, psychological warfare pertains to deception, trickery, and concealment. IW is conducted as part of a campaign, which the Chinese define as a series of integrated operational battlefield activities that target enemy sensors, information channels, information processing, and decision making.
The PLA’s IO objective is to gain information dominance (or superiority). Information dominance means to deprive the enemy of information, deny or disrupt the enemy's ability to control information, and to ensure friendly forces enjoy the freedom of maneuver in the information domain. The PLA considers information dominance to be the new “high ground” in warfare, similar to the view of the air domain during the mid-20th century. Moreover, the PLA sees IO as cost-effective since it can achieve significant effects with relatively minimal expenditure in resources or risk to PLA forces.
The PLA’s IO has four primary characteristics: universal permeation, high target value, the importance of integration and synthesis, and the linkage between attack and defense. The U.S. Army will need to consider these characteristics when it conducts its own offensive information operations so we can achieve our objectives.
PLA soldiers prepare an attack exercise at a base in Shenyang, China, Aug. 16, 2017. / Source: DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro
Four principles describe the PLA’s concept of IO: actively attack, target nodes, achieve synthesis, and protect tightly. These principles of tactical information operations must be understood by the U.S. Army and its partners and allies to protect our forces and effectively employ our capabilities in other domains.
Information Operations are an integral part of PLA operations to shape the operational environment, shaping popular perceptions in contested space, limiting adversaries’ relative advantage across the diplomatic, information, military, and economic spheres, and degrading adversarial capabilities. As the United States and our allies continue to work to bolster regional and global partnerships to deter Chinese aggression and malign influence, IO will become an increasingly important tool of Chinese power to contest U.S. efforts to maintain the status quo of the rules based international order. Recognizing what to expect from the PLA’s IO—both its characteristics and principles—will help the U.S. Army protect its information processing and intelligence collection capabilities before and during maneuver operations during the Crisis and Conflict phases. Ultimately, effective IO can enable Army commanders to make timely decisions while limiting PLA forces’ ability to mass their combat capabilities if Conflict occurs.
 OE WATCH, MARCH 2020, “Considering The Ground Battlefield Under Informatized Conditions”, 26-27