It is not surprising that China is discussed extensively in Japan’s recently released Defense of Japan 2022 report, as Beijing increases its aggressive behavior in the region. This includes strengthening its training and collaboration with Russia and massively increasing the size and sophistication of its navy, nuclear arsenal, which now includes ground-based built silos, and the emergence of fifth-generation aircraft, such as the J-31 and J-20.
Yet, alongside these concerns, there are several other critical concerns identified in the report, namely, China’s growing use of artificial intelligence (AI) and “civil-military fusion” to “accelerate two-way transfer of military and civilian resources.”
The report also describes China’s use of AI in “intelligentized warfare,” which means that weapons systems, surveillance assets, and data processing speeds and capabilities are all being massively improved.
“Chinese military trends, combined with insufficient transparency about China’s defense policies and military affairs, have become a matter of grave concern to the region including Japan and the international community, and these trends have been intensifying in recent years,” the report noted.
AI-enabled “intelligentized warfare” can impact a wide sphere of weapons systems and technology programs, particularly in China where there is not a civilian-military divide when it comes to the exchange of technology. For instance, satellite data can be processed and transmitted more quickly, and warships, rockets, and even nuclear weapons could receive upgraded targeting information enabling them to change course mid-flight. A key question is whether Chinese AI rivals recent U.S. breakthroughs in shortening “sensor-to-shooter” time, advancing course-correcting ammunition, enabling multi-domain attack connectivity, and AI-powered information processing. While China’s emphasis on these things is well documented, it is unclear how far along the PLA is when it comes to shortening a combat “decision-making” cycle.
Can Chinese satellites send real-time targeting information to fifth-generation aircraft and ground launchers during combat? Can its hypersonic weapons change course mid-flight and use next-generation target data processing and guidance technology?
The PLA certainly does not have the same amount of fifth-generation aircraft to rival the United States and its allies. However, what is less known is the extent to which PLA stealth fighters possess any kind of “sensor fusion” data processing comparable to a U.S. F-35 stealth fighter. Specifically, can these advanced fighter jets receive sensor input from navigational data, targeting information, or weapons guidance and threat specifics? These kinds of attributes are what seem to set the F-35 apart when it comes to using AI-enabled target data processing to conduct strikes from standoff ranges. In effect, the F-35 can destroy enemy targets without being seen. This capability would be decisive during an air-war engagement, a circumstance that invites the question of just how advanced the technology in the Chinese J-20 and J-31 fighters is.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.