House Armed Services Committee hearing on China’s use of emerging technologies

The following are relevant excerpts of a recent House Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities Holds Hearing on China’s Pursuit of Emerging Technologies.


REP. Elise Stefanik, R-NY, committee chairperson, OPENING STATEMENT (truncated):

Our committee and ETC subcommittee in particular has most recently reviewed in detail China’s advances in cyber capabilities and information warfare and also monitored their development of advanced weapons systems such as hypersonics and directed-energy. But this hearing today will take a broader focus and touch on many of the newer technologies that China is investing in to support their national objectives. China continues to increase their research and development investments at an alarming pace and is rapidly closing many of their technology gaps. More and more, we see China using only domestic Chinese firms and creating high market access barriers to support domestic capacity.

The effect is to replace any and all dependency on foreign companies, investments, and technologies aside from the obvious economic benefit of China being able to create millions of high-paying high-skilled jobs, there are also obvious national security implications should they corner the market on advanced technologies critical to national security. We also see them aggressively moving to acquire enabling commodity such as data and current trajectories have China on track to have roughly 30 percent of the world’s data by 2030.

Many of China’s published national level plans such as achieving dominance in artificial intelligence by 2030 indicate a top-down government-driven agenda that provides a roadmap for strategic collaboration between industry academia and their civil society. These plans when combined with resourcing effort and patience may propel China to leap ahead in many of the technology sectors we will talk about today. Most notably China’s leadership appears to recognize the connection between the development of many of these advanced technologies and economic growth. This is something we should remind ourselves of as we continue to examine this important topic. Perhaps it is a lesson we need to relearn amidst our debates on sequestration and continuing resolutions.

But China’s dominance in many of the technology sectors we will discuss today is not a foregone conclusion. What we learned today and in future hearings must be translated into action to inform and reform the Department of Defense in support of national level efforts so that the United States remains home to the world’s leading experts, researchers, and technological breakthroughs.

Today’s hearing is also timely because of the organizational changes currently underway in the Pentagon namely the re-establishment of the Undersecretary of Defense for research and engineering. I firmly believe that the undersecretary for R&E needs to be the prime mover to drive change and foster innovation within the department. A primary mission of this office should be to provide distinct direction and leadership to energize the defense industrial base, the military services, the Department of Defense labs, and to guide even newer initiatives such as the strategic capabilities office and the defense innovation unit experimental or DIUX, the defense digital service, and the algorithmic warfare working group.

To guide us through this important topic of China’s pursuit of emerging and exponential technologies, we have before us, a panel of experts, Mr. Dean Cheng senior research fellow with the Asia Study Center at the Heritage Foundation. Mr. Paul Scharre, director and senior fellow with the technology and national security program at the Center for a New American Security and Mr. William Carter deputy director and fellow with the Technology Policy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.


REP. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., RANKING MEMBER:

In addition to insight on China’s specific technological advancements, it’s important to understand what strategy, practices, policies, and investments China has employed and what they have exploited to achieve parity or width or superiority to the United States. In addition, it should trouble us all that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has predicted that China could overtake the United States in total R&D spending by 2019.


Cheng:

To begin it is essential to recognize that the PRC sees itself as competing with the United States in the Information Age. What this means is first that China is competing with the United States in a long-term struggle for ultimately political supremacy but that is founded upon economic and technological basis. This does not preclude cooperation with other countries in pursuit of economic benefits but it does require recognizing that China sees this ultimately as a political struggle. And by the information age we mean that the currency of power in the Chinese view is information as much as the amount of the electricity generated or steel smelted was the foundation for power during the Industrial Age. Information dominance is the key to the information age in the Chinese view, this means the ability to gather, to generate, to transmit, to assess, and to exploit information more rapidly and accurately than others.

As China’s science and technology base has improved, China is increasingly competing as a technology developer, not simply a technology acquirer. Where in the past there has been perhaps more emphasis on legal and illegal acquisition of technology, now China is developing technology on its own which means both a reduced time lag and a greater ability of China to set the very terms of the technology debate. Increasingly we see China developing technology as fast or faster than the United States. The fastest supercomputer in the world the top two, in fact, are both Chinese, and the Sunway TaihuLight, the number one in the world is entirely powered with Chinese-manufactured microchips.

China was the first to deploy quantum communication satellite and has engaged in longer distance quantum encrypted communications than any other country. The national security implications of this, I would hope, are obvious, the level of competition means that from the Chinese perspective improving the economy and S&T based benefits of the military while the military is available as part of the larger effort at strengthening the economy.

When the Chinese talk about improving information gathering, we’re not talking about just cyber, we are talking about space capabilities including countering potential adversaries through things like ASATs as well as jamming, information monitoring, supercomputers, even genetic information, information transmission improvements include quantum computing, 5g, better processors, information exploitation includes artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and augmented reality, information protection includes things like quantum encryption and inoculating the Chinese people through instruments such as the Great Firewall of China.

Japan’s competition with the United States in the 1980s was not that they invented the VCR, they didn’t, it was the United States, but in the ability to manufacture them by the container ship load with low failure rates, Toyota the machine that would go of itself is another example of production innovation, doctrinal innovation the German blitzkrieg harnessed known technologies in different ways and finally, organizational innovation we see this with the Chinese and the PLA strategic support force which has brought together their electronic network warfare and cyber warfare capabilities.

My understanding is that the Chinese in their own reporting do seem to be engaging in a broad set of directed energy efforts my — one of my focuses is on space issues and it does seem that China views directed-energy as potentially overcoming the political problem of kinetic energy Killigen (ph) satellites that is if you hit one with a something like what they did in 2007, you generate a lot of debris but if you fire up a sufficiently high powered laser or particle beam, you can fry the electronics, you can destroy the sensor package but you don’t generate a lot of debris in orbit which has important political implications.

…[A]t the end of the day nations like China exploit a variety of different methods and approaches [to acquire technology]; if they are shut down here, they may try to acquire it through a Canadian subsidiary or a German subsidiary and that is one of the other things to keep in mind.

I think that for too long we have been focused for good reason on the ongoing conflicts in places like Afghanistan and Iraq but these are countries that do not pose a technology challenge to us, recent events involving Russia, ongoing events involving China I think are providing a wake-up call, but I think that outside of perhaps this room and some quarters in the think tank and policy community, there is still this view that at the end of the day China and Russia really are somehow distant threats and laggard competitors rather than in some ways increasingly our peers.


Scharre:

China also combines a dynamic private sector with the government that plans and executes long-term strategies to increase China’s competitiveness. China has used this in recent years to execute plants to leap forward in artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, and quantum computing, China is a global leader in artificial intelligence second only to the United States. Baidu, Tencent, and Alibaba are all Chinese firms that are top tier AI companies and China also has a vibrant AI startup scene. Since 2014, China has surpassed the United States in the total number of publications in deep learning, an important subfield of AI.

While the quantity of publications does not necessarily equate to quality, Chinese AI researchers have won a number of recent high profile competitions and including one sponsored by the U.S. Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity IARPA. In the 2017 meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, there were roughly as many papers accepted from China as were from the United States. The U.S. still leads the world in AI patents but China is growing at a faster rate. Earlier last year July 2017 China published a national strategy for artificial intelligence. Under this plan, China’s goal is to be the global leader in AI by 2030. China’s plan includes focusing on the education and recruitment of top AI talent and they have followed this through with notable acquisitions of top-tier Silicon Valley AI researchers. News reports indicate that Chinese firms see the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies as an opportunity to draw away top U.S. technology talent as immigrants are responsible for one-quarter of startups in the United States.

China also has significant advantages in translating private sector advances in AI into national security applications because of its model of military civil fusion. In the United States, the Defense Department has struggled to break down largely self-imposed barriers to working with non-traditional defense companies that locked the duty out of crucial innovation in places like Silicon Valley.

China has a closer relationship between the public and private sector and is able to more easily spin in private sector innovations into the military. This means that not only is China a significant player in AI with a plan to be the world leader by 2030 but China has major advantages in translating these private sector gains into national security applications.

In 2017 Chinese researchers made major breakthroughs in developing a 10 cubit quantum processor and a quantum communication satellite. China is following up on these advances with national level investments including a $10 billion National Laboratory for quantum technology.

In these and other areas one of China’s biggest strengths relative to the United States is the government’s willing to willingness to develop and follow through a large-scale long-term investment plans. China has repeatedly demonstrated an ability to acquire foreign expertise by investing in foreign companies and then use that to improve Chinese indigenous capabilities. Chinese capacity for executing long-term strategies for technology development should not be underestimated and Chinese plans to be the global leader in critical technology areas such as artificial intelligence should be taken seriously.

If you talk to the services, their key metric is still metrics in steel and iron and people, we talk to the Navy, they’re going to talk about ships, the number of aircraft carriers, talk to the air force, they are going to talk about the number of tactical fighter aircrafts and bombers and the armory cares about number of brigade combat teams, and those are their kind of key metrics of national power and you know in World War two, that was a war won by steel and iron, right? The Allies outproduced the Axis powers; that’s not the era we are in today and so those are not necessarily the right metrics.

I think the fundamental problem here is that our cybersecurity architecture it’s just simply very, very porous and has a lot of vulnerabilities across the board and part of this is about you know really we’ve been we have incentivized efficiency over robustness and security as we’ve built up different kinds of computer architectures and so you know this is a place where finding ways to change the incentive structures and things like who pays when there’s you know a hack at a company that releases you know vital personal data, to change the incentive structure so that companies are incentivized to take cyber security more seriously might be ways to address that problem.

I would say two things in AI in particular, one is China understands that certain technologies are building blocks that enable other technologies to develop, we should take the same approach, think about what are the most fundamental breakthroughs that need to happen and then allow the private sector to commercialize and develop applications based on those breakthroughs.

A second piece is they look at the technology ecosystem fundamentally differently than we do. So when they think about AI, they’re thinking in the same breath about the Internet of Things, about ubiquitous connectivity miniaturization, material science, energy science, and when we think about our approach to R&D to support artificial intelligence, we also need to look at all of these enabling technologies. And finally, it’s not just the R&D space. Another example that I would point to in this area is China’s pursuit of basic resources and I think that that’s something that we haven’t quite gotten to connecting to AI yet but China’s approach to controlling lithium supplies and rare earth minerals is entirely based on their view of the potential of autonomous vehicles and other devices that are going to be using batteries.

And they’re pursuing diplomatic government and commercial relationships with countries like Bolivia that have lithium supplies, Chile and it’s not just lithium, it’s a range of other minerals. We need to take this approach, all these technologies are linked, all of these basic sciences feed into the development of AI, AI is a system of systems, and that’s the biggest thing that I would encourage. We should invest in the most fundamental building blocks across all of these areas on which people can then build really good AI.


Carter:

…China’s significant progress in key emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, cyber, space-based capabilities and anti-satellite weapons, electronic warfare, and quantum computing have transformed the global economy and global security environment and require a rethink of the way that we approach securing our nation.

Asia is a critical part of America’s future economically and strategically and we find ourselves in a new era of strategic competition with China, one defined by competing progress in advanced technologies. Our response to China’s progress in technology is essential to our future as we look at what China is doing, they have taken a page out of our playbook pursuing an offset strategy to overcome our conventional superiority by beating us in the race to the next generation of transformative technology. They were evaluating our military technology, our future strategy and doctrine, looking for gaps and weaknesses in our approach, so they can exploit them for their own advantage and developing national strategies to leverage both the private sector and their military complex to advance their own agenda. We must develop a national security technology strategy of our own to overcome China’s efforts to undermine our global position.

China’s technological efforts can be divided into two broad categories. First, they’re developing technologies to disrupt and degrade our military capabilities by exploiting our vulnerabilities in the information domain. Second, they’re investing in technologies that will determine the future balance both global economic and strategic power. They’ve made significant strides in both of these areas. China has already demonstrated the ability to significantly disrupt, degrade, and even destroy the infrastructure on which our military depends.

The PLA has tested a range of anti-satellite weapons expanded their electronic warfare capabilities and developed some of the most sophisticated offensive cyber capabilities in the world. China is also investing heavily in building its technological base to dominate the technologies of the future. In particular, China sees artificial intelligence and quantum technology as foundational to both economic and military competitiveness in the long term and has become not just a copycat or adopter of these technologies but an innovator in their own right.

Competition in AI between the U.S. and China has become neck-and-neck, Chinese researchers are now a fixture at AI conferences, Chinese companies have made significant breakthroughs in AI applications including natural language processing, real-time translation, imagery analysis, facial recognition and autonomous driving. And China has an advantage in translating these private sector gains and innovations into national security outcomes. In quantum, China may already be ahead.

As Paul mentioned China has launched a quantum communication satellite, established a quantum link between Beijing and Shanghai has invested billions of dollars into quantum computing and even claims to have tested quantum radar. Some of China’s claimed advances in quantum technology and in AI are likely embellished. But we’ve seen enough of China’s capabilities in this field that we must take them seriously. Our strategy to address China’s rise as a technology power must address both the long-term and the short-term threats.

In the short term, we must counter China’s efforts to exploit our military’s dependence on ICT technologies by investing in resiliency and ensuring that China never has enough confidence in their abilities to compromise our systems to justify a first strike.

In the long term, we must ensure that our world-leading education system and business environment work for us not for China. We must rethink the relationship between private sector innovation and our military’s technological edge to better leverage our greatest strengths, our private technology industry. We must push back against China’s efforts to acquire our technology and innovation but not push away China’s brightest minds and innovation capital if they want to send them to the United States. We must invest in fundamental R&D; that will form the basis of the next generation of technologies not by replicating or subsidizing the private sector’s efforts but by supporting the kind of long-term research that private companies are less willing to fund.

And we should build a strong base on which our private sector innovators can thrive by investing in education, creating strong commercial markets for transformative technologies and by protecting our company’s ability to compete in international markets.

…[W]hen you think about AI, the real value of AI, particularly from a national security perspective, is the integration of a bunch of technologies that individually might not seem very threatening.

I would agree with that [the Defense Department is moving toward more reliance on space-based capabilities].

I think there is a recognition of that vulnerability in the department and that they would like to move away from it but they find themselves balancing the impressive new capabilities these they can get out of some of these platforms that are dependent on these technologies with the vulnerability that it creates and also they’re struggling with the fact that the conflicts that we were actually engaged in today are not conflicts where our space-based assets are threatened, are not are not conflicts where our networks are really threatened.

So I think that leadership from Congress can be really meaningful in this area of pointing them towards the next era of threats.

I think that defensive space capabilities are important also thinking of our space-based capabilities in terms of resilience, so you know, one key area I think is creating more survivable, more replaceable, space-based architectures, larger constellations of smaller less sophisticated satellites that together generate a lot of capability, but are not individually as sophisticated. They’re cheaper, they’re easier to replace when they break, they’re faster to produce, that’s an example of the kind of thinking that I think we need to bring to DOD.

…I think there may be room to do more to combat China’s and to competitive practices but I would also say that there’s probably more reason for optimism about the U.S. commercial space sector today than there has been in a while.

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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