Image credit: China Photos/Getty Images

April 09, 2019

Learning Without Fighting: New Developments in PLA Artificial Intelligence War-Gaming

By Elsa B. Kania

A lack of recent experience in combat is often characterized as a major liability and potential disadvantage for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in any future conflict scenario. [1] Despite notable advances in its capabilities in recent years, apparent shortcomings remain in the “software” of the PLA’s training and readiness, and perhaps even its will to fight and courage (China Brief, December 1, 2016). The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has not been at war since its 1979 conflict with Vietnam—of which several current military leaders, including members of the Central Military Commission, are veterans—and there are intense concerns today about the perils of “peace disease.” Today, the PLA’s contemporary experiences in military operations other than war (MOOTW), including counter-piracy and peacekeeping operations, offer only limited experience of direct relevance to potential high-end conflict scenarios. In future fights, the PLA could confront a range of difficulties that could include the apparent rigidity of its command structure, and the relative inexperience of its officers and enlisted personnel. Despite major reforms, the PLA could continue to struggle with joint operations, even as it seeks to leverage a new doctrinal approach that is still being formulated (Diplomat, June 6, 2017). At the same time, the PLA is redoubling its efforts in military innovation, rapidly developing and looking to operationalize emerging technologies—particularly artificial intelligence (AI)—that may require major adaptations in concepts, structures, and training.

Read the full article in The Jamestown Foundation's China Brief.

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