The Chinese military has two very different faces. The one they show is of soldiers, jets, and ships—all with questionable capabilities. The face that China’s military doesn’t show, however, is the one that has U.S. legislators worried.
This other face is what China’s military thinkers call their “trump cards” or “assassin’s mace” weapons. They’re a collection of weapons and systems designed to allow China to fight a technologically advanced country by disabling technology that would otherwise put China’s military at a disadvantage.
On June 6, one of China’s recently retired generals warned the United States of these weapons.
“We often speak of trump card equipment,” Lt. Gen. Wang Hongguang, who retired in 2012, wrote in an opinion piece in China’s state-run Global Times. He then said that China will use these weapons suddenly, and warned Americans in their “pride and arrogance” to “not get trampled beneath us.”
Wang’s opinion piece was in response to a May 15 article published in The National Interest by Kyle Mizokami, “Five American Weapons of War China Should Fear.” Mizokami discusses the current-generation jets, ships, and submarines of the U.S. military.
In his response, Wang vaguely discusses China’s weapons meant to counter weapons that give the United States a technological edge.
Wang says China’s various cruise and ballistic missiles will deal with the U.S. aircraft carrier “nemesis.”
He then says that for U.S. stealth jets like the F-22, which Mizokami says could “likely penetrate Chinese air defenses,” Wang vaguely says China has “many types” of aircraft detection systems, which he claims he can’t detail for “secrecy reasons.”
He then states, “May I suggest to Americans, when using stealth aircraft it’s best to keep away from the Chinese mainland. Remember! Remember!”
Wang’s statements are of course opinion, yet the Chinese military’s heavy focus on its trump card and assassin’s mace weapons do have U.S. legislators concerned.
The terms broadly include weapons intended to disable or destroy U.S. military communications and technology. The weapons range from anti-satellite missiles, to using nuclear warheads to generate an electromagnetic pulse that can destroy electronics in large areas.
A report from the National Ground Intelligence Center, declassified in 2011, states “These modern Trump Card and Assassin’s Mace weapons will permit China’s low-technology forces to prevail over U.S. high-technology forces in a localized conflict…”
It states that assassin’s mace weapons include “older or existing technology” while trump cards are “newer technology that has been developed in high secrecy.” Similar to Wang’s claims that China would use the weapons by surprise, the report states “The element of surprise is critical to both.”
The Pentagon’s annual report on China’s military, released last week, states that China is both “pursuing a variety of air, sea, undersea, space and counterspace, and information warfare systems” and aiming to “dominate the information spectrum in all dimensions of the modern battlespace.”
A key purpose of such weapons would be to blind the U.S. military’s satellites, and cut off communication channels. Communication and satellite coverage are the backbone of U.S. military operations.
The report cites Chinese military writings that “emphasize the necessity” of destroying systems, including U.S. communications satellites, to “blind and deafen the enemy.”
It adds that China would use “strikes against U.S. warships, aircraft, and associated supply craft, as well as the use of information attacks to hamper tactical and operational communications and computer networks.”
U.S. military forces have likewise been training to operate in an environment that has been affected by such weapons. The military was directed by Congress in 2013 to hold exercises in environments where satellite and communication systems are down.
A report by the Pentagon to the U.S. Congress states the U.S. military is maturing its ability over time to operate in environments where communications and satellite coverage is not available.