Monday, August 15, 2016

RAND Report on Cyber War with China

In the RAND report "War with China: Thinking Through the Unthinkable" Gompert, Cevallos and  Garafola assume a regional conventional war, using ships, submarines, aircraft, spacecraft and also cyber-war. RAND is a US based think tank, which also has a Canberra Office.

The authors suggest that "Escalating cyberwarfare, while injurious to both sides, could worsen China’s economic problems and impede the government’s ability to control a restive population." (p. xiv). Also that "We also assume that China would not attack the U.S. homeland, except via cyberspace, given China’s minimal capability to do so with conventional weapons." (p. 11) and:
"In the future, cyberwarfare against military, dual-purpose, and civilian systems could figure importantly in a severely intense war. ... Whether with kinetic or nonkinetic (namely, cyber) weapons, the highest targeting priority for China would be U.S. strike platforms, bases, and force concentrations in the region." (p. 19). 
Also the report warns that cyber-attacks could escalate to nuclear war:
"... it is important for the United States to be aware of potentially dangerous ambiguities involved in attacks on targets that the Chinese could regard as strategic: attacks on missile launchers, even if intended only to degrade China’s theater-range missile capabilities; attacks on high-level military C2, even if intended only to degrade China’s conventional-operational capabilities; cyberwarfare attacks on strategic systems;" (p. 30)
The report warns of the cost of cyberwar and the difficulty of preventing it harming civilian systems which support military operations:
"Would both countries not be tempted to crash telecommunications or air-traffic control or energy-distribution systems that support fighting, or interfere with government-service networks?" (p. 49)
What this report fails to address is the effect of deliberate attack and collateral damage on other countries. Cyber-attacks are difficult to confine to one geographic area and will likely effect interconnected international systems and national and local ones well away from the conflict. In addition both sides may well make use of cyber-attacks on third countries, as a way to send a low risk political signal.

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