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Electronic and cyber warfare: A comparative analysis of the PLA and the Indian Army

  • Kartik Bommakanti

    Cyber Warfare (CW) and Electronic Warfare (EW) are crucial to combat in modern warfare. Both are products of Signals Intelligence and constitute one part of Information Warfare (IW) and what is known as Network Centric Warfare (NCW). This paper explores how the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China and the Indian Army (IA) have approached CW and EW. Both the PLA and the IA acknowledge NCW as doctrinally important. Organisationally and in Command and Control (C2), the PLA has undergone significant reforms; the same is not true for the IA. As opposed to the PLA, the IA is yet to fully acknowledge and recognise the complementarities between EW and CW. This paper is part of ORF’s series, ‘National Security’.

    Find other research in the series here:


Kartik Bommakanti, “Electronic and Cyber Warfare: A Comparative Analysis of the PLA and the Indian Army”, ORF Occasional Paper No. 203, July 2019, Observer Research Foundation.

Few have addressed the question of how Cyber Warfare (CW) and Electronic Warfare (EW) capabilities intersect in the conduct of land operations by the Indian Army (IA) and China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). This paper explores the effects of cyber and electronic warfare on land operations. It examines the complementarities, similarities and differences between cyber warfare and electronic warfare, and how their relationship has long been recognised by strategic studies experts.

Cyberspace operations and EW occur across the electromagnetic spectrum. This paper demonstrates their importance in ground combat missions by undertaking a comparative analysis of the performance of the PLA and the IA in terms of capabilities, doctrine, and command organisation. The analysis is less concerned with Psychological Operations (PSYOPs) and Military Deception (MILDEC), which are integral to IW operations; the focus is on establishing technical links between CW and EW, Command and Control (C2), and doctrine. EW and CW are integral to Network Centric Warfare (NCW). NCW is geared to generating combat power by effectively networking all the elements of warfighting. It involves connecting geographically dispersed forces to enhance battlespace awareness, which include troops, platforms, weapons, sensors and decision mechanisms for sustained dynamically synchronised operations. NCW is not exclusively about technology, but as much about synchronising command and operational or tactical doctrine for the effective execution of military operations and missions according to the commander's intent.1

China recognises the linkages between CW and EW and has an established C2 structure that integrates the two components into a single information warfare force. The PLA, however, has yet to release an official doctrine on offensive and defensive operations in the cyber domain, and more generally, in the area of IW; this, despite PLA experts since the 1990s having already articulated the importance of Information Operations (IO) in Joint Warfare.2

A note on sources: Most of the extant work on China used in this paper are either English translations of Chinese analyses, or Western sources on PLA’s capabilities in the domains of CW and EW and the growing linkages between the two. Meanwhile, India’s views are gleaned from existing doctrines of the IA and the tri-service. India is yet to formulate a coherent view on the challenges and opportunities about CW and EW to the same extent as China.

This analysis focuses on the military-operational domain of not simply CW, but the complementarities between CW and EW on the battlefield. What is the scope of integration between Indian and Chinese armies? Relative to the PLA, how much more integrated are the Indian Army’s EW and CW capabilities at different echelons? China is known to adopt an integrated approach to the cyber and electronic domains; India is not. Beyond purely capabilities and the functional fusion between CW and EW, India needs a command structure that can cope effectively with the combined activities and demands of CW and EW across the electromagnetic spectrum.

This paper makes the case that integration and not just coordination is fundamental to the effective and synchronised use of cyber warfare and electronic warfare capabilities. China has moved carefully and methodically to create an integrated CW and EW as part of its Information Warfare (IW) strategy. The cyber-electronic integration is vital, which are both a part of the Electromagnetic Spectrum (EMS) or at least rely on the EMS for transmission.

The succeeding analysis will first define what “cyber warfare” and “electronic warfare” mean. It then defines “cyber weapons” and “electronic weapons” and how the cyber and electronic domains are linked. The third part evaluates the presence and integration of CW and EW capabilities by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA); the analysis is done for the Indian Army in the subsequent section. The paper closes with an evaluation of where the Indian Army stands relative to the PLA in the integrated use of CW and EW capabilities for military operations.

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Kartik Bommakanti

Kartik Bommakanti

Kartik Bommakanti is a Senior Fellow with the Strategic Studies Programme. Kartik specialises in space military issues and his research is primarily centred on the ...

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Kartik Bommakanti

Kartik Bommakanti