China’s Assessment

Analysis from

China now maintains one of the world’s most active strategic nuclear and missile weapon modernisation programs. It encompass land, sea and air launched weapons, and China is researching and developing space technology. Additionally, Asian sources have told Jane’s that China will field a missile defence system before 2025. While China has long enunciated a public nuclear and space doctrine that embraces the concepts of “No First Use” and “Minimal Deterrent,” as well as “No Weapons In Space,” its exact nuclear and military space doctrines and the true disposition of its nuclear and space orders of battle are among the most closely held secrets of the PLA. In contrast to the missile forces of the US and Russia, China’s Second Artillery also has very important and increasing non-nuclear warfighting missions and capabilities. Notably, in the event of a major military campaign, such as an attack against Taiwan, the PLA would seek to integrate non-nuclear missile and space strikes by the Second Artillery and other services into a complex co-ordinated joint-forces warplan.

To ensure that it can complete its missions, the PLA: is deploying three types of land-based Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs); is about to deploy a second-generation Submarine/Sea Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM); is in the process of building up its Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) and Short-Range Ballistic Missiles (SRBM) missile forces; is now deploying new mobile long range Land Attack Cruise Missiles (LACMs); and is testing and building new ground-launched direct ascent anti-satellite interceptors. China’s main missile deterrent challenge comes from the United States and China is hard-pressed to maintain sufficient missile numbers and sophistication to overcome anticipated US national and regional defences. US missile defence co-operation with Japan and Taiwan is of most concern to the utility of the PLA non-nuclear missile forces, while Beijing is also very wary of the US extending missile defence co-operation to India, South Korea and Australia. To overcome these challenges China is gradually building up its missile numbers in all categories. But less is known about whether China is going to place multiple warheads on its new DF-5 Mod 2 and DF-31A ICBMs, and JL-2 SLBMs, a move that could allow China to very quickly increase its nuclear warhead numbers. To overcome Taiwan’s specific missile defences, China now targets the island with over 1,100 SRBMs and over 400 LACMs, and is developing cheaper artillery rockets into SRBMs. From late 2006 to mid 2007, China revealed a new 3,000 km range version of the DF-21 with multiple warheads and two new versions of the DF-15 SRBM.

China’s successful destruction of a polar orbit weather satellite on 11 January 2007, on its third attempt, and then its successful January 11, 2010 missile warhead interception test, capped a three-decade old programme to develop missile defences and anti-satellite weapons. China spent much of the 1980s and most of the 1990s vigorously opposing US missile defence initiatives, especially in Asia, but its opposition has been muted over the last decade. One reason may be that China has mastered many missile defence technologies. Moreover, it is also clear that the PLA views military space capabilities as an essential component of China’s larger space power ambitions, which include military, civil and scientific programmes. Initial direct ascent interceptors based on the DF-21 IRBM will in the future likely be joined by high orbit capable systems based on new mobile solid fuel ICBMs and a new air launched space launch vehicle, as well as high energy laser systems. China’s Shenzhou manned space capsule program has set a precedent for future Chinese manned military space programmes. China’s direct ascent ASAT program may have aided the development of its new anti-ship ballistic missiles, which was tested in 2006.

While China has traditionally refused to expose and limit its nuclear forces by joining arms control agreements, it protested vehemently when the US decided to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. China has joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and, in 1996, China announced an end to its nuclear weapons testing programme.

In terms of foreign co-operation, while China has promised to adhere to the Missile Technology Control Regime, it has also enabled Pakistan to build successive solid fuel SRBMs and MRBMs and also LACMs. China also provided critical help to enable Pakistan to build nuclear weapons and some of this knowledge has been proliferated to Iran and Libya. China has also been accused of helping North Korea obtain advanced missile staging technology and has helped provide direct and indirect missile technology assistance to Iran. In 2006 and 2007, the US has sanctioned Chinese companies for assisting Iran’s missile programs. Elsewhere, China and Turkey have co-developed a SRBM. China is a partner in Europe’s Galileo navigation satellite program and European officials would like additional co-operative programmes, while the US has yet to overcome fears that such co-operation would accelerate Chinese military space capabilities.

Political control over China’s nuclear forces is exercised by the chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC). The PLA’s Second Artillery Corps maintains China’s land-based nuclear missiles and comes under the operational control of the military supreme command or General Staff Department. The PLA Navy retains operational control over sea-based nuclear missiles while the PLA Air Force maintains operational control over some nuclear weapons, although China’s nuclear-equipped submarines, nuclear equipped bombers and other tactical nuclear weapons would also placed under the direct control of the CMC during wartime. Control of non-nuclear missiles would likely devolve to Joint Force commanders. Like nuclear weapons, space weapons would also fall under the direct control of the CMC, while operational control is likely exercises by the organisations under the General Equipment Department (GED) that control space activities. There has been some reporting that China will form a separate “Space Force” and that the GED, Second Artillery and PLA Air Force have been jockeying over who will control military space.

The Communist Party leadership requires the complete loyalty of its nuclear force leaders and the Second Artillery, in particular, has long had a reputation of being a highly educated force. The Party has been careful to promote the Second Artillery as a prestige organisation with a powerful mission. China’s political leadership has also given nuclear, missile and space forces a high priority for funding over the last 15 years. It is not possible to ascertain PLA spending in this area, but the development of new ICBMS, SLBMs, IRBMs, SRBMs, LACMs and anti-satellite weapons indicates a substantial resource commitment.

There has been no reported instance of foreign deployment for the Second Artillery. While location of Second Artillery bases has been relatively constant, the internal deployments of Second Artillery forces are consistent with military requirement to strike potential adversaries. For example, Base 52 in Tonghua would support potential operations on the Korean Peninsula or against Japan. The most important internal deployments for the Second Artillery are its bases and units dedicated to potential operations against Taiwan. This buildup began in earnest in the mid-1990s in part to compensate for the PLA’s lack of modern precision strike aircraft. However, now Second Artillery SRBMs are more accurate and are increasingly complemented by PLA Air Force fighters and bombers carrying PGMs, and the PLA Navy and the air force also have accurate LACMs. Additionally, it is also likely that the PLA will deploy increasing numbers of new longer range satellite-guided artillery rockets like the 200 km range WS-2 and even longer range variants, adding yet another layer of PGMs available to PLA campaign commanders.

In March 2009, the Pentagon reported that China had 350 to 400 DF-15 SRBMs and 700 to 750 DF-11 Mod 1 SRBMs. The large number of DF-11s indicates that they too now arm Second Artillery units. DF-15 Mod 1 SRBMs that are mainly armed with non-nuclear warheads. A small number of DF-15s may carry tactical nuclear warheads or new radio frequency warheads. DF-15s are stationed in two brigades in the Nanjing MR opposite Taiwan and include some newer longer-range DF-15 Mod 1s capable of reaching Okinawa. Their missions are to destroy high-value fixed military and civilian infrastructure targets. The PLA intends to co-ordinate non-nuclear Second Artillery missile strikes with follow-on precision PLA Air Force strikes.

The development of highly accurate SRBMs and, very soon, Land-based Cruise missiles (LBCMs), has meant that the army, navy and air force can also conduct non-nuclear strategic strikes. The army controls one or two brigades of DF-11 Mod 1 missiles based in Fujian Province and a unit on Hainan Island. The air force has some C-601-derived YJ-63 LACMs that are launched from modified H-6 bombers. It can be expected that the Second Artillery, navy and air force will operate new, smaller Tomahawk-like LACMs . Asian sources note that navy and air force LACMs will be based on the YJ-62 anti-ship missile, while the Second Artillery’s LACM will be built by a second firm.

Declared Policy TOP

China’s state secrecy and cultural abhorrence of revealing what is considered to be sensitive data mean that there is very little concrete information about the government’s policy towards weapons of mass destruction. China has repeatedly stated it adheres to a “No First Use” policy that its nuclear weapons would only be used as second strike systems but that they would be capable of ‘the destruction of cities’. Under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which China signed in 1992, Beijing agreed to prohibit the first use of nuclear weapons and to promote the establishment of nuclear-free zones. However, in recent years the level of discussion in military academic journals has raised concern that China may be adjusting its NFU policy, especially to include for the more aggressive use of nuclear weapons to win a possible war over Taiwan.

China’s commitment to its “No First Use” policy has been undermined by its willingness to promote ambiguity over how it may or may not use nuclear weapons in struggle to control Taiwan. For example, Chai Yuqiu, a vice principal with the Nanjing Army Command College, told the Ta Kung Pao newspaper in January 2008 that China’s no-first-use nuclear policy is not unlimited, saying, “The policy of not to use nuclear weapons first is not unlimited, without conditions, or without premises,” Chai also noted, “China will never use nuclear weapons first, especially not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear countries…When big powers equipped with nuclear arms disregard the completeness of sovereignty and territory of Chinese people and make frequent moves that are unconventional and hurt the fundamental interests of Chinese people, however, it is not impossible to break such a strategy on tactical issues.”

China has not yet employed either its nuclear or non-nuclear missiles in actual combat. The closest China has come to employing its missiles were missile “demonstrations” in 1995 and 1996 near Taiwan. From 21 to 23 July 1995, PLA Second Artillery units fired six DF-15 SRBMs into a circular area northwest of Taipei. Taiwanese officials noted that the PLA moved the missiles to firing positions from their base in Leping in late January 1995, about the same time that the Chinese government was announcing a major new policy toward Taiwan with conciliatory elements, illustrating how China might use political deception to cover military attacks. The second demonstration took place in conjunction with an early PLA joint forces exercise in early March 1996. In a clear escalation from the July demonstration, the March 1996 demonstration used two impact zones outside Taiwan’s major ports of Kaohsiung and Keelung. On March 8 the Second Artillery fired three DF-15 SRBMs, two into the Kaohsiung zone and one into the Keelung zone. A second DF-15 was fired into the Kaohsiung zone on March 13. At the same time the PLA conducted one of its first major “combined arms” exercises.

The entire period from early 1995 through the March 1996 exercises marked a rich period in which the Chinese leadership combined political and military power moves, plus subtle and not so subtle psychological warfare to try to influence political actors in Taiwan and the US, as well as intimidate public opinion. The current build up of missile forces facing Taiwan, the development of anti-ship ballistic missiles, anti-satellite weapons and non-nuclear radio frequency weapons were likely all accelerated following the 1995 to 1996 confrontation over Taiwan.

US sources have also reported that close to the time of the March 2008 Taiwan presidential election, the PLA moved SRBMs out of their bases in a manner meant to be conspicuous to US intelligence satellites. Though a more subtle show of force than during the 1996 election, it still showed an inclination of hostility toward Taiwan even though the more pro-China leaning Kuomintang Party was widely expected to win. Since then, China had resisted over repeated appeals from Taiwan to “scrap” or “remove” missiles from positions near Taiwan.

In October 1994 China pledged to the US to abide by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) accord but was immediately in violation of its pledge by its assistance, through the 1990s and currently, of Pakistan’s solid-fuel missile programme. Chinese missile technology and engineering assistance has been critical in the success of Pakistan’s Shaheen 1, Shaheen 2 and Ghaznavi solid-fuel missile programmes. The latter is a copy of the DF-11 Mod 1 SRBM, while the Shaheen 1 is an extended range modification of the DF-11 Mod 1. The Shaheen 2 is apparently a unique design. Some sources indicate that China has sold non-nuclear radio frequency warhead technology to Pakistan. Since 2000 in reports mandated by the US Congress, the CIA has noted China’s continued assistance to Pakistan’s missile programmes. China has played a key role in assisting North Korean missile developments based on purchased Russian missile technology, to include the solid-fuelled third stage of the Taepodong-1 missile launched in 1998.

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