Chinese Advances Combining Minds and Technologies for Military Success

October 2023 No Comments

Panelists:  Dr. Brendan Mulvaney (China Aerospace Studies Institute (CASI)), Joshua Baughman (China Aerospace Studies Institute (CASI)), Dean Cheng (Potomac Institute for Policy Studies; United States Institute of Peace), David Vernal (Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation, Stanford University)

Moderator: Dr. Nicholas Wright (Georgetown University)

Date: 16 November 2023

Speaker Session Summary

China’s government and its the military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), have been striving to close the gap between their technological capabilities and those of the US. China has been quickly modernizing its military since the early 1990s. Dr. Mulvaney emphasized that the control China’s government enjoys over the whole of Chinese society is one factor that has contributed to its quick advancement in the application to science and technology to its military. Communication technology is an especially relevant type of technology for the future of conflict and competition. Chinese officials view information as a warfighting domain itself. Mr. Baughman emphasized that every person is a target in the information warfare domain and that each individual brain is a battle space. Information tools, such as social media, could impact individual soldiers and units’ decision making and will to fight.   Other forms of technology, including artificial intelligence (AI), have especially strong implications for warfighting. China realizes this and has shifted its focus from the mass production of technology to focusing on refinement and efficiency. The increasing efficiency of communication technology does not mean that the information domain will be easy to navigate. This is because the environment is being increasingly flooded with new information and data. Even the trajectory of generative AI is difficult to predict because of the technology’s rapid development and the impressive commercial investment it has attracted, despite unanswered questions about its limitations. Col (Ret) Vernal predicted that generative AI will eventually become household technology and revolutionize coding and other knowledge work, including national security work, whether or not it ultimately contributes to autonomy or direct battlespace advancements

Speaker Session Recording

Briefing Materials

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Dr. Brendan Mulvaney is currently the Director of the China Aerospace Studies Institute at National Defense University.  He is a Marine who served for a quarter of a century, where he flew more than 2000 hours as a AH-1W Cobra pilot, and was an Olmsted Scholar in Shanghai, China. He enlisted in 1991 and was commissioned in 1993 after graduating from UC San Diego. He earned his Master’s in Leadership from the University of San Diego in 2002, and was selected as one of only three Marine Olmsted Scholars for 2003. He studied at Fudan University in Shanghai, China from 2003-2005 where he earned his Ph.D. in International Relations. He served several tours in California, Iraq, Japan, and the Western Pacific.  He served as the first Director of the Commandant’s Red Team, and supervised the implementation of Red Teaming in the Marine Corps.  In 2013 he transferred to the U.S. Naval Academy, where he was the Associate Chair for the Languages and Cultures Department, and taught Mandarin Chinese, Chinese culture, and cross-cultural literacy.  

Joshua D. Baughman (“Josh”) currently serves as an Analyst at Air University’s China Aerospace Studies Institute (CASI).  His research centers on China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) activity in the cyber and information domain, as well as work on the PLA Rocket Force. He guest lectures at the National Defense University and Institute of World Politics, in both master’s and doctoral level courses, on topics such as China’s cyber strategy and misinformation efforts. He presents and publishes regularly, and has received international recognition for his work on the metaverse and generative AI.  Josh previously worked at National Defense University (NDU) College of Information and Cyberspace (CIC), US Air Force Academy and Tsinghua University in Beijing.  Collectively, he spent three years living in Beijing working as an editor and journalist on China security issues, as well as a television host, director, writer and producer. In his spare time, Josh volunteers for the Military Cyber Professionals Association, a 501(c)(3) educational nonprofit charity, as part of national leadership as the Chief Marketing Officer.

Dean Cheng was recently appointed a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, a Senior Adviser with the US Institute of Peace, and a non-resident fellow with the George Washington University Space Policy Institute. He retired as the Senior Research Fellow for Chinese Political and Military Affairs at the Heritage Foundation after 13 years. He is fluent in Chinese, and uses Chinese language materials regularly in his work. Prior to joining the Heritage Foundation, he worked at the Center for Naval Analyses, a Federally Funded Research and Development Center, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), and as an analyst with the US Congress’ Office of Technology Assessment. He is the author of the volume Cyber Dragon: Inside China’s Information Warfare and Cyber Operations (Praeger Publishing, 2016), and has written extensively on Chinese views of deterrence, Chinese views of space power, and Chinese mobilization to a number of studies on the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. He has testified before Congress numerous times, and spoken at the National Space Symposium, the US National Defense University, the USSTRATCOM Deterrence Symposium, Harvard, and MIT.

David Vernal is a retired Air Force colonel, whose last assignment was as Director of Intelligence for 16th Air Force (Air Forces Cyber), the service’s operational arm of U.S. Cyber Command. In his 27-year career, he also co-led interagency development of cyber operations policy for the Obama administration as a director on the National Security Council staff, and studied as an Olmsted Scholar in Taipei, Taiwan. He holds degrees from Harvard University, Air War College, and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, where he is researching generative AI applications for national security as an affiliate of Stanford’s Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation.

Dr. Nicholas Wright is affiliated with Georgetown University, University College London (UCL), Intelligent Biology and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He combines neuroscientific, behavioral and technological insights to understand decision-making in politics and international conflict, in ways practically useful for policy. He works with Governments. He has academic (e.g. Neuron) and general publications (e.g. Foreign Affairs). He edited a book on Artificial Intelligence, China, Russia and Global Order (2019, Air University Press). He has a medical degree from UCL, a BSc in Health Policy from Imperial College London, Membership of the Royal College of Physicians (UK), and an MSc and PhD in Neuroscience from UCL.


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