23 July 2012

The Conventional Missile Capabilities of China’s Second Artillery Force: Cornerstone of Deterrence and Warfighting

Michael S. Chase and Andrew S. Erickson, “The Conventional Missile Capabilities of China’s Second Artillery Force: Cornerstone of Deterrence and Warfighting,” Asian Security, 8.2 (Summer 2012): 115-37.

Abstract: Since its establishment in the early 1990s, the conventional missile component of the People’s Liberation Army’s Second Artillery Force (SAF) has emerged as a centerpiece of China’s accelerating military modernization program. The conventional missile force has grown in size and sophistication, and China has developed a doctrine for its employment. Chinese military publications emphasize that it plays an increasingly important role in deterrence and warfighting. In particular, Chinese sources underscore its role in achieving information dominance, air superiority, and sea control as well as countering third-party intervention. China’s development of advanced conventional missile capabilities highlights the growing vulnerability of fixed bases and surface ships. Moreover, organizational tendencies, could fuel dangerous escalation. In response to these challenges, the United States must adapt its traditional approach to military operations and deterrence in the Asia-Pacific.


 The transformation of the Second Artillery Force (SAF) – the part of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) responsible for most of China’s conventional and nuclear ballistic missiles and land-attack cruise missiles (LACM) – is one of the most important elements of Chinese military modernization. China has progressed rapidly from having a limited and vulnerable nuclear ballistic missile capability to having one of the most impressive nuclear and conventional ballistic missile and land-attack cruise missile programs of any nation. This transformation is underscored by the 2010 unclassified report on Chinese military power issued by the US Department of Defense (DoD), which states that “China has the most active land-based ballistic and cruise missile program in the world.” …

The remainder of this article consists of five parts. The first reviews the development of China’s conventional missile force. The second surveys its emerging doctrine for deterrence and strike operations. The third examines the conventional missile capabilities China is developing and deploying to enable the SAF to implement these force employment concepts. The fourth provides an overview of recent developments in SAF training. The fifth assesses the challenges that China’s growing conventional missile force capabilities may pose to the United States and its allies and friends in the Western Pacific and offers recommendations for US planners and policymakers. … … …

Additional information


The views expressed here are those of the authors alone. They thank Thomas Christensen, Roger Cliff, M. Taylor Fravel, Alastair Iain Johnston, Mark Stokes, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful suggestions.


1. The scope of this article is limited to the conventional ballistic and LACMs deployed by the SAF, but it should be noted that China’s conventional missiles also include air-launched LACMs in the inventory of the PLA Air Force (PLAAF), land-based coastal defense cruise missiles, and antiship cruise missiles launched from aircraft, surface ships, and submarines.

2. DoD, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2010 (Hereafter, DoD [2010]), p. 1.

3. Recent studies that are completely or partially devoted to assessing the conventional missions and capabilities of the SAF include Ron Christman, “Conventional Missions for China’s Second Artillery Corps,” Comparative Strategy Vol. 30, No. 3 (July 2011), pp. 198–228; Ron Christman, “Conventional Missions for China’s Second Artillery Corps: Doctrine, Training, and Escalation Control Issues,” in Andrew S. Erickson and Lyle J. Goldstein, eds., Chinese Aerospace Power: Evolving Maritime Roles (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2011), pp. 307–327; Vitaliy O. Pradun, “From Bottle Rockets to Lightning Bolts: China’s Missile-Centric Strategy and PLA Strategy against Military Intervention,” Naval War College Review Vol. 64, No. 2 (Spring 2011), pp. 7–38; Evan S. Medeiros, “Minding the Gap’: Assessing the Trajectory of the PLA’s Second Artillery,” in Andrew Scobell and Roy Kamphausen, ed., Right-Sizing the People’s Liberation Army: Exploring the Contours of China’s Military (Carlisle, PA: US Army War College, Strategic Studies Institute, 2007), pp. 143–190; Kenneth Allen and Maryanne Kivlehan-Wise, “Implementing Second Artillery Doctrinal Reforms,” in James Mulvenon and David M. Finkelstein, eds., China’s Revolution in Doctrinal Affairs: Emerging Trends in the Operational Art of the People’s Liberation Army (Alexandria, VA: Center for Naval Analyses, 2005), pp. 159–220; Mark A. Stokes, “The Chinese Joint Aerospace Campaign: Strategy, Doctrine, and Force Modernization,” in James Mulvenon and David M. Finkelstein, eds., China’s Revolution in Doctrinal Affairs: Emerging Trends in the Operational Art of the People’s Liberation Army (Alexandria, VA: Center for Naval Analyses, 2005), pp. 221–306; and Bates Gill, James Mulvenon, and Mark Stokes, “The Chinese Second Artillery Corps: Transition to Credible Deterrence,” in James C. Mulvenon and Andrew N. D. Yang, eds., The PLA as Organization: Reference Volume v1.0 (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2002), pp. 510–586.

4. NASIC, Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat, NASIC-1031-0985-09, April 2009, p. 3.

5. Wang Yongxiao, Cao Jienbing, and Tao Shelan, “” [Second Artillery Uses Science and Technology to Strengthen Forces – Rapid Missile Strike Capability Makes New Strides],  [China News Agency], July 23, 2007.

6. See “Treaty between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Elimination of their Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles,” available at http://www.state.gov/www/global/arms/treaties/inf2.html

7. Christman, “Conventional Missions for China’s Second Artillery Corps,” p. 307.

8. Peng Guangqian and Yao Youzhi, eds., The Science of Military Strategy (Hereafter, SMS) (Beijing: Military Science Press, 2005), pp. 217–221.

9. SMS, pp. 218–219.

10. PLA, Second Artillery Force, [The Science of Second Artillery Campaigns] (hereafter, SSAC) (Beijing: PLA Press, 2004), p. 274.

11. SMS, p. 219.

12. SSAC, p. 274.

13. “The prevention from action by fear of the consequences. Deterrence is a state of mind brought about by the existence of a credible threat of unacceptable counteraction.” Committee on the US–Chinese Glossary of Nuclear Security Terms, English–Chinese, Chinese–English Nuclear Security Glossary (Hereafter, Glossary) (Washington and Beijing: National Academies Press and Atomic Energy Press, 2008), p. 16. Available at http://www.nap.edu/catalog/12186.html This official document has been endorsed by the SAF and China’s nuclear weapons establishment.

14. There is also a specific Chinese word for compellence, (weibi), defined as “The use of force to compel a desired action by one’s adversary.” Glossary, p. 9.

15. On the distinctions between deterrence and compellence, see Thomas C. Schelling, Arms and Influence (New Haven, CT: Yale, 1966), pp. 69–78.

16. Li Bin, “China’s Nuclear Strategy,” paper presented at Carnegie International Nonproliferation Conference, Washington, DC, June 25–26, 2007. Available at http://www.carnegieendowment.org/files/deter_disarm_li.pdf

17. SMS, p. 213. The Chinese terms are from p. 230 of the Chinese edition.

18. SMS, p. 215.

19. Zhao Xijun, [Intimidation Warfare: A Comprehensive Discussion of Missile Deterrence] (hereafter, IW) (Beijing: National Defense University Press, 2005), p. 178.

20. SMS, pp. 216–217.

21. John Wilson Lewis and Hua Di, “China’s Ballistic Missile Programs: Technologies, Strategies, Goals,” International Security Vol. 17, No. 2 (Fall 1992), p. 6.

22. Lewis and Hua, “China’s Ballistic Missile Programs,” p. 6.

23. David M. Finkelstein, “China’s National Military Strategy: An Overview of the Military Strategic Guidelines,’” in Roy Kamphausen and Andrew Scobell, eds., Right Sizing the People’s Liberation Army: Exploring the Contours of China’s Military (Carlisle, PA: US Army War College, 2007), pp. 135–136.

24. The term “assassin’s mace” ( or ) is best translated in colloquial English as “silver bullet.” It is widely used in the Chinese strategic-studies literature. There is little evidence that it refers to specific hidden capabilities or “black” programs. An intelligent discussion of this issue is found in Alastair Iain Johnston, “Towards Contextualizing the Conception of a Shashoujian (Assassin’s Mace)” (Harvard University Faculty of Arts and Sciences, August 2002).

25. SSAC, p. 54.

26. The authors wish to thank one of the reviewers for bringing this information to their attention.

27.  [Headquarters of the Second Artillery Armament Department], “‘’– [The Long Sword’ Owes Its Sharpness to the Whetstone—A Witness’s Account of the Build-Up of the Two Capabilities of a Certain New Type of Missile], in Second Artillery Political Department, ed.,: [Glorious Era: Looking Back on Second Artillery Development and Advances in the Reform and Opening Period, 1978–2008] (Beijing: Central Literature Press, 2008), pp. 681–682.

28. SSAC, p. 54.

29. On the 1995–96 Taiwan Strait Crisis, see Robert S. Ross, “The 1995–1996 Taiwan Strait Confrontation: Coercion, Credibility, and the Use of Force,” International Security Vol. 25, No. 2 (Fall 2000), pp. 87–123.

30. Authors’ correspondence with Mark Stokes.

31. See Wang Houqing and Zhang Xingye, ed., [The Science of Campaigns] (Beijing: National Defense University Press, May 2000), pp. 367–384.

32. “China’s National Defense in 2006,” Information Office of the State Council, People’s Republic of China, December 29, 2006.

33. Mark Stokes, China’s Evolving Conventional Strike Capability (Arlington, VA: Project 2049, September 14, 2009), pp. 6–8. Available at http://project2049.net/documents/chinese_anti_ship_ballistic_missile_asbm.pdf

34. For more on campaign firepower assaults, see Zhang Yuliang, ed., [The Science of Campaigns] (Hereafter, SOC [2006]) (Beijing: National Defense University Press, 2006), pp. 161–172.

35. DoD, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China (Washington, DC: Office of the Secretary of Defense, August 24, 2011) (Hereafter, DoD [2011]), p. 51. Available at http://www.defense.gov/pubs/pdfs/2011_CMPR_Final.pdf

36. For more on the joint blockade campaign, see SOC (2006), pp. 276–292.

37. Wayne A. Ulman, “China’s Military Aviation Forces,” in Erickson and Goldstein, eds., Chinese Aerospace Power, p. 42.

38. For more on the joint anti-air raid campaign, see SOC (2006), pp. 312–330.

39. Ulman, “China’s Military Aviation Forces,” p. 41.

40. This is a theoretical construct; there is no reason that both sides could not engage in such actions simultaneously in different areas.

41. SSAC, pp. 401–402.

42.  [Headquarters of the Second Artillery Logistics Department], “  ” [A New Exploration of the Theories and Practice of Logistics Support in Wartime], in Second Artillery Political Department,, p. 638.

43. IW, p. 83.

44. IW, pp. 77–78.

45. SSAC, p. 270.

46. SSAC, p. 270.

47. IW, p. 114.

48. SSAC, p. 271.

49. SSAC, p. 271.

50. IW, p. 167.

51. IW, p. 171.

52. IW, p. 171.

53. SSAC, p. 46.

54. IW, p. 17; SSAC, pp. 139–141.

55. SSAC, pp. 78–79.

56. SSAC, p. 79.

57. See SOC (2006), pp. 616–628.

58. SOC (2006), p. 317.

59. SOC (2006), p. 400.

60. SOC (2006), pp. 616–628.

61. SOC (2006).

62. DoD (2011), p. 30.

63. DoD (2010), p. 66.

64. DoD, Military Power of the People’ Republic of China 2009 (Hereafter DoD [2009]), p. 22.

65. DoD (2011), p. 30.

66. If the PLA has achieved its desired level of SRBM deployments, it seems likely that the SAF may be shifting its focus in the coming decade to building its LACM and MRBM forces and other longer-range conventional missiles reportedly under development.

67. Mark Stokes, “Expansion of China’s Ballistic Missile Infrastructure Opposite Taiwan,” AsiaEye, April 18, 2011. Available at http://blog.project2049.net/2011/04/expansion-of-chinas-ballistic-missile.html

68. DoD (2009), p. 22.

69. DoD (2011), p. 47.

70. Zhang Han and Huang Jingjing, “New Missile Ready by 2015.’” Global Times, February 18, 2011. Available at http://military.globaltimes.cn/china/2011-02/624275.html

71. Ministry of Defense, “National Defense Report,” in Editorial Board, [Republic of China Centennial 2011 National Defense Report] (Taipei, Taiwan: Ministry of Defense, 2011), p. 60.

72. DoD (2010), p. 2.

73. SSAC, pp. 401–402. Submunitions are smaller weapons ejected as a warhead approaches its target. EMP, which may be generated by nuclear and nonnuclear means, is a burst of electromagnetic radiation that can damage electronics through current and voltage surges. Antiradiation weapons home in on selected radar emissions.

74. China’s LACM capabilities also include air-launched variants such as the YJ-63 and a new long-range air-launched LACM. The YJ-63 reportedly has a range of about 200 km and is carried by the PLAAF’s B-6 bombers. China is currently enhancing this capability with an upgraded bomber and new long-range air-launched cruise missile. The B-6 armed with this new LACM will extend the reach of China’s regional precision strike capabilities out to 3,000 km, bringing US bases on Guam within range of the PLAAF’s conventional antiaccess capabilities. DoD (2011), p. 33; “KongDi-63 Air-Launched Land Attack Cruise Missile,” China’s Defence Today, October 20, 2008, available at http://www.sinodefence.com/airforce/weapon/kd63.asp

75. DoD (2010), p. 66.

76. DoD (2010), p. 66.

77. SMS, p. 228.

78. Wang Congbiao, “Studying Jiang Zemin’s On Science and Technology,’” Yangcheng Wanbao, February 13, 2001.

79. Jing Zhiyuan and Zhang Haiyang, “” [Mobilization Order for the Second Artillery’s Military Training in 2011], [Rocket Force News], January 1, 2011, p. 1.

80. Xu Changlei and Li Yongfei, “Mighty Missile Force Adds Informatized Wings,” Rocket Force News, May 1, 2010, p. 2.

81. See, for example, Xu Changlei, Chen Leixiang, and Li Yongfei, “ ” [A Certain Brigade Takes Aim at Transformation of Training, Sets Up New Opposing-Force Training Exercise Subjects], Rocket Force News, February 19, 2011, p. 2.

82. Li Yan, Zhang Xianqiu, and Ge Song, “At a Certain Training Base, The Sly Blue Force’ Pushes the Red Force’ to Increase Their Aggressivenesss,’” Rocket Force News, June 21, 2010, p. 2.

83. Yu Juncheng, “” [Temporary Launch Pad Established Immediately], Rocket Force News, May 20, 2006, p. 1.

84. Ma Zhongbo, “” [All-Personnel, All-Equipment, and All-Element Exercise Involving Multiple Approaches, Directions, and Subjects], Rocket Force News, August 1, 2006, p. 2.

85. Yan Xifei, Tang Licheng, and Zhang Jiangang, “Blue Force in Action,” Rocket Force News, June 11, 2010, p. 4.

86. “Second Artillery Red–Blue Force Confrontational Exercise Emphasizes Training in a Complex Electromagnetic Environment,” [PLA Daily], August 26, 2006.

87. Wang Tie and Wu Yanbing, “All-Army Camouflage Specialty Group Deputy Head Wang Xiangwei: My Profession Is Fraud and Deception,’” China Youth, October 1, 2003, pp. 24–26.

88. “” [Our Strategic Missile Force’s Crack Shot Brigade’], PLA Daily, July 6, 2010. Available at http://www.chinamil.com.cn/jfjbmap/content/2010-07/06/content_32516.htm

89. “” [PLA’s First Female Missile Launch Company’ Formally Established], PLA Daily, November 19, 2011. Available at http://www.chinamil.com.cn/jfjbmap/content/2011-11/19/content_71414.htm

90. See, for example, “” [Turning a Launch Exercise into War’ – Unsheathing a Sharp Sword in the Gobi Night], Rocket Force News, October 11, 2011.

91. DoD, Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2006 (Hereafter DoD [2006]), p. 16.

92. See “PLA Holds High-Technology War Exercise,” People’s Daily, August 25, 2006. Available at http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/200608/25/eng20060825_296647.html

93. See “” [From Fortresses and Mountains One after Another, the Long Sword Comes out to Attack at the Right Time], PLA Daily, July 15, 2009, available at http://www.chinamil.com.cn/site1/zbxl/2009-07/15/content_1836648.htm; “,” [Stress Tight Encirclement, Develop Fire-Bathed Flying Swords], PLA Daily, July 6, 2009, available at http://www.chinamil.com.cn/site1/zbxl/2009-07/16/content_1837457.htm; “” [Thunderbolt Shakes the Heavens, Long Sword Splits the Great Desert], PLA Daily, July 17, 2009, available at http://www.chinamil.com.cn/site1/zbxl/2009-07/17/content_1839084.htm; and “” [A Certain Second Artillery Base’s All-Territory Mobile Operations Capability Initially Takes Shape], PLA Daily, October 4, 2009, available at http://www.chinamil.com.cn/jfjbmap/content/2009-10/04/content_9430.htm

94. See “” [Chengdu Military Region Cross-Region Mobile Exercise Forces Participate in Joint Counterattack Actual Forces Training], PLA Daily, October 23, 2010. Available at http://chn.chinamil.com.cn/zgjy/2010-10/23/content_4545566.htm

95. See “Lanzhou MAC Organizes First Fire Strike Exercise of Joint Tactical Corps,” PLA Daily, November 3, 2010, available at http://eng.chinamil.com.cn/news-channels/china-military-news/2010-11/03/content_4327348.htm, and “ ” [Lanzhou Military Area Command Organizes First Fire Strike Exercise of Joint Tactical Corps – Joint Combat Training Covering the Tactical Level], PLA Daily, November 2, 2010, available at http://www.chinamil.com.cn/jfjbmap/content/2010-11/02/content_42054.htmThe article reports that in recent years, the command has organized annual joint training exercises involving the PLAAF and SAF troops.

96. Jing and Zhang, “Mobilization Order for the Second Artillery’s Military Training in 2011.”

97. Chang Sheng and He Tianjin, “Base Steps Up Level-by-Level Integrated Training, Boosts Core Military Capabilities,” Rocket Force News, June 21, 2010, p. 2.

98. Ding Haiming and Liang Pengfei, “4  ” [Four Second Artillery Missile Brigades in Joint Training Conduct Live Launches, Hit Targets Exactly], PLA Daily, July 17, 2009, p. 5. According to this report, which describes a strategic missile force exercise: “The battlefield situation is presented in real time on a large electronic screen in the forward command post. In the joint training, an integrated command platform simultaneously directs the combat operations of several missile brigades and hundreds of launch units, on the one hand communicating with frontline missile brigades and launch battalions, exercising precise command and control over the missile group’s launches.”

99. Xu Changlei, “Demonstrating Prowess on the Training Ground with a Unit’s New Field Combat Operations Command Post,” Rocket Force News, May 11, 2010.

100. “PLA’s New Missile Tested Successfully and Begins to Equip Strategic Rocket Forces,” PLA Daily, October 16, 2006.

101. See, for example, Yue Xiaolin, Li Fumin, and Yu Xihong, “  ” [A Certain Base Exerts Works Toward Strengthening the Core Function of Core Battle Position Personnel: Admirable Competition on Two Commanders, One Operator’ Exercise Ground], Rocket Force News, July 31, 2010, p. 2.

102. Zhang Ligang, He Tianjin, and Kang Fashun, “” [Second Artillery Military Training Conference Held at a Certain Base], Rocket Force News, August 15, 2006, p. 1.

103. “   ” [Deeply Study and Implement Chairman Hu’s Important Speech, Continuously Create a New Situation in the Scientific Development of the Second Artillery – Selection of Speeches at the Discussions and Exchanges in the Second Artillery 2010 Second High- and Intermediate-Level Cadres’ Theory Training], Rocket Force News, October 12, 2010, p. 3.

104. “Building Command Tent’ that Can Win Decisive Victories, Viewing Training Amid Transformation, about the Difficulty in Training for Command and Staff Organs – Analysis of Critical and Difficult Issues in Military Training of the Second Artillery Units, Part IV,” Rocket Force News, July 22, 2008, p. 2.

105. “” [Cultivate Talents Tightly around the Goal of Informatization Buildup], Rocket Force News, June 3, 2008, p. 3.

106. On Taiwan’s vulnerability to Chinese conventional ballistic and cruise missile strikes, see David A. Shlapak, David T. Orletsky, Toy I. Reid, Murray Scot Tanner, and Barry Wilson, A Question of Balance: Political Context and Military Aspects of the China–Taiwan Dispute (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2009); and William S. Murray, “Revisiting Taiwan’s Defense Strategy,” Naval War College Review Vol. 61, No. 3 (Summer 2008), pp. 13–38.

107. On the potential implications for US military operations, see Roger Cliff, Mark Burles, Michael S. Chase, Derek Eaton, and Kevin L. Pollpeter, Entering the Dragon’s Lair: Chinese Anti-Access Strategies and Their Implications for the United States (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2007).

108. Chen Long, “PLA Should Foster Offensive Defense Thinking in Developing Long-Range Strike Weapons,” China National Defense News, January 13, 2012, available at http://eng.mod.gov.cn/Opinion/2012-01/13/content_4337482.htm; and “ :’ [Guard against the US Unreasonably Interrupting the Asia-Pacific’s Momentum’],  [Global Times], January 6, 2012; “Pentagon Plan Changes Game in Asia,” Global Times, January 6, 2012, available at http://www.globaltimes.cn/NEWS/tabid/99/ID/691074/Pentagon-plan-changes-game-in-Asia.aspx

109. See James C. Mulvenon, Murray Scot Tanner, Michael S. Chase, David R. Frelinger, David C. Gompert, Martin C. Libicki, and Kevin L. Pollpeter, Chinese Responses to US Military Transformation and Implications for the Department of Defense (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2006).

110. For a study of the vulnerability of air bases to missile attacks, see John Stillion and David T. Orletsky, Airbase Vulnerability to Conventional Cruise-Missile and Ballistic-Missile Attacks: Technology, Scenarios, and US Air Force Responses (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 1999).

111. For in-depth analysis of options to counter antiaccess threats, see Jan van Tol, Mark Gunzinger, Andrew F. Krepinevich, and Jim Thomas, Air Sea Battle: A Point of Departure Operational Concept (Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, May 2010), available at http://www.csbaonline.org/publications/2010/05/airsea-battle-concept/ For further discussion of some of these concepts, see Jose Carreno, Thomas Culora, George Galdorisi, and Thomas Hone, “What’s New about the Air Sea Battle Concept?” Proceedings Vol. 136, No. 8 (August 2010), available at http://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2010-08/whats-new-about-airsea-battle-concept

112. See Thomas J. Culora, “The Strategic Implications of Obscurants: History and the Future,” Naval War College Review Vol. 63, No. 3 (Summer 2010), pp. 73–84.

113. This traditional approach was exemplified by actions such as the deployment of two aircraft carrier groups to the area around Taiwan during the 1995–96 crisis and the deployment of a carrier to participate in naval exercises in the Yellow Sea in late 2010 following provocative North Korean actions that included sinking the South Korean warship Cheonan and shelling South Korean civilians on Yeonpyeong Island.

114. On escalation risks, see Forrest E. Morgan, Karl P. Mueller, Evan S. Medeiros, Kevin L. Pollpeter, and Roger Cliff, Dangerous Thresholds: Managing Escalation in the 21st Century (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2008).