17 August 2012

A Competitive Strategy with Chinese Characteristics? The Second Artillery’s Growing Conventional Forces and Missions

Michael S. Chase and Andrew S. Erickson, “A Competitive Strategy with Chinese Characteristics? The Second Artillery’s Growing Conventional Forces and Missions,” in Thomas Mahnken, ed., Competitive Strategies for the 21st Century: Theory, History, and Practice (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012), 206-18.

THE TRANSFORMATION of the Second Artillery Force (SAF)—the part of the PLA responsible for most of China’s conventional and nuclear ballistic and land-attack cruise missiles—is one of the centerpieces of the PRC’s military modernization program. In a relatively short period, China has progressed from a limited and vulnerable nuclear ballistic missile capability to one of the world’s most impressive nuclear and conventional ballistic missile programs. As the U.S. Department of Defense’s report on Chinese military and security developments puts it, “China has the most active land-based ballistic and cruise missile program in the world.”

In doing so, China is filling the vacuum created when the United States and Russia—still the world’s most capable missile producers in some respects—signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty on December 8, 1987. This prohibited both sides from producing nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (300 to 3,400 miles) and forced them to destroy their existing inventories.

According to the U.S. National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC), China is “developing and testing offensive missiles, forming additional missile units, qualitatively upgrading certain missile systems, and developing methods to counter ballistic missile defenses.” Chinese writers rarely offer detailed descriptions of China’s deployed or developmental missile systems, but they appear increasingly confident about China’s missile capabilities. As one Chinese source states,

With the remarkably swift development of science and technology, the weapons of the Second Artillery are being replaced by better models, one after the other. New models and new equipment series are being distributed among the troops, and old equipment is given a longer life and heightened effectiveness through technological updates.

According to the SAF’s authoritative Science of Second Artillery Campaigns, “Nuclear weapons are the most important tools of national deterrence strategy.” But nuclear deterrence is subject to a number of limitations. As the book’s authors point out, “Nuclear deterrence plays a huge role in terms of its shock value, but it is clearly restrained by international public opinion.”Consequently, the threshold for nuclear deterrence and nuclear counterattack operations is very high. Conventional missiles are much less destructive than nuclear weapons, however, and there are therefore fewer constraints on their use. Chinese military writers state that this makes conventional missiles much more flexible instruments of deterrence. Indeed, according to Science of Second Artillery Campaigns, “In the primary direction of military struggle the means of deterrence against the primary operational opponent are conventional weapons; and the main components of conventional means of deterrence are conventional missiles.”

For all these reasons, conventional missiles have emerged as the centerpiece of a PLA strategy that seeks to increase China’s ability to assert control over contested areas of its maritime periphery, foremost among them Taiwan. The essence of this strategy is to develop weapon systems and strategies that match Chinese strengths against the weaknesses of potential opponents in a cost-effective manner. Conventional missiles promise to further these ends by holding both land-based targets and surface ships at risk. The main goals of this approach appear to be deterring Taiwan from pursuing independence and raising the potential costs of U.S. intervention in the event of a regional crisis or conflict. The authors have found no Chinese sources that use the term competitive strategy to define this approach, but from a U.S. perspective the concept may offer a valid description of what Beijing seeks to accomplish. This chapter surveys the emerging doctrine, force structure, and operations of the Second Artillery’s conventional forces to offer insights into the challenges that they may pose to U.S. military operations in the Western Pacific.


… The volume’s Part III explores the U.S.-China military balance. …in Chapter 12, Michael S. Chase and Andrew S. Erickson describe China’s nuclear and missile forces. They explain that China’s growing missile force is emerging as one of the central elements of its anti-access approach and cornerstones of its strategic posture. They argue that China is currently moving toward a strategy based on a combination of “effective nuclear deterrence” and conventional deterrence based on the Second Artillery’s growing conventional strike capabilities. …


The U.S. today faces the most complex and challenging security environment in recent memory— even as it deals with growing constraints on its ability to respond to threats. Its most consequential challenge is the rise of China, which increasingly has the capability to deny the U.S. access to areas of vital national interest and to undermine alliances that have underpinned regional stability for over half a century. Thus, the time is right for the U.S. to adopt a long-term strategy for dealing with China; one that includes but is not limited to military means, and that fully includes U.S. allies in the region.

This book uses the theory and practice of peacetime great-power strategic competition to derive recommendations for just such a strategy. After examining the theory of peacetime strategic competition, it assesses the U.S.-China military balance in depth, considers the role of America’s allies in the region, and explores strategies that the U.S could adopt to improve its strategic position relative to China over the long term.


Thomas G. Mahnken is currently the Jerome E. Levy Chair of Economic Geography and National Security at the U.S. Naval War College and a Visiting Scholar at the Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies at The Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

He served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy Planning from 2006-2009. In that capacity, he was responsible for the Department’s major strategic planning functions, including the preparation of guidance for war plans and the development of the defense planning scenarios. Prior to that, he served as a Professor of Strategy at the U.S. Naval War College. From 2004 to 2006 he was a Visiting Fellow at the Merrill Center at SAIS. During the 2003-04 academic year he served as the Acting Director of the SAIS Strategic Studies Program.

He served on the staff of the Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel and the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction. He served in the Defense Department’s Office of Net Assessment, where he conducted research into the emerging revolution in military affairs. He also served as a member of the Gulf War Air Power Survey, commissioned by the Secretary of the Air Force to examine the performance of U.S. forces during the war with Iraq.

He is the author of Technology and the American Way of War Since 1945 (Columbia University Press, 2008), Uncovering Ways of War: U.S. Intelligence and Foreign Military Innovation, 1918-1941 (Cornell University Press, 2002), and (with James R. FitzSimonds) of The Limits of Transformation: Officer Attitudes toward the Revolution in Military Affairs (Naval War College Press, 2003). He is editor (with Thomas A. Keaney) of U.S. Military Operations In Iraq: Planning, Combat, and Occupation (Routledge, 2007), (with Joseph A. Maiolo) of Strategic Studies: A Reader (Routledge, 2007), (with Emily O. Goldman) of The Information Revolution in Military Affairs in Asia (Palgrave McMillan, 2004) and (with Richard K. Betts) of Paradoxes of Strategic Intelligence: Essays in Honor of Michael I. Handel (Frank Cass, 2003).

He earned his master’s degree and doctorate in international affairs from SAIS and was a National Security Fellow at the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University. He was a summa cum laude graduate of the University of Southern California with bachelor’s degrees in history and international relations (with highest honors) and a certificate in defense and strategic studies.







The concept of competitive strategies / Thomas G. Mahnken —
Competitive strategies : theoretical foundations, limits, and extensions / Stephen P. Rosen —
Strategic interaction : theory and history for practitioners / Bradford A. Lee —
Barriers to acting strategically : why strategy is so difficult / Barry D. Watts —
U.S. competitive strategy during the Cold War / Gordon S. Barrass —
Overview of the competitive strategies initiative / Daniel I. Gouré —
Soviet military thought and the U.S. competitive strategies initiative / John Battilega —
The state of the U.S.-China competition / James Holmes —
The Chinese view of the competition / Jacqueline Newmyer Deal —
The power projection balance in Asia / Dan Blumenthal —
The undersea balance / Owen Coté —
A competitive strategy with Chinese characteristics? : the Second Artillery’s growing conventional forces and missions / Michael S. Chase and Andrew S. Erickson —
Japan’s competitive strategies at sea : a preliminary assessment / Toshi Yoshihara —
Strategic competition in the western Pacific : an Australian perspective / Ross Babbage —
Developing a strategy for a long-term Sino-US competition / James P. Thomas and Evan B. Montgomery —
China’s maritime salient : competitive strategies on the oceanic front for the 21st century / Paul S. Giarra —
Cultural barriers to implementing a competitive strategy / James R. FitzSimonds.