17 July 2014

China’s Strategic Rocket Force: Upgrading Hardware and Software (Part 2 of 2)

Andrew S. Erickson and Michael S. Chase, “China’s Strategic Rocket Force: Upgrading Hardware and Software (Part 2 of 2),” Jamestown China Brief 14.14 (17 July 2014).

Part One of this article covered the modernization of the People’s Liberation Army Second Artillery Force’s (PLASAF) conventional arsenal and the “conventionalization of deterrence”—the creation of doctrines that rely on advanced non-nuclear weapons to deter U.S. and other international intervention in a regional conflict (read the first part in China Brief, Vol. 14, Issue 13). While PLASAF has made these changes, it has also upgraded its nuclear capabilities, including discussions of ways in which nuclear weapons can deter conventional attacks despite China’s No First Use policy. But for upgraded hardware to achieve its goals, it must be commanded and operated by higher caliber, better-prepared soliders, a challenge that is increasingly important to this branch.

Enhancing Nuclear Deterrence Credibility

Deterrence is a moving target: To maintain its credibility, PLASAF must continue to improve specific conventional and nuclear capabilities. PLA publications highlight the growing importance of conventional deterrence capabilities, which continue to enjoy rapid qualitative and quantitative development. Meanwhile, Chinese military sources also emphasize the continuing relevance of nuclear deterrence. Even if only modest quantitative growth is pursued, this suggests a continual need to modernize nuclear forces and increase their sophistication to ensure that they outpace ballistic missile defense (BMD) and other potentially threatening developments.

The most recent edition of the Science of Military Strategy, published by the Academy of Military Science in 2013, underscores the importance of China’s development of a “lean and effective nuclear retaliatory force,” which it identifies as a key component of its “deterrence system” (weishe tixi). PLA analysts see this as a challenge, because China faces a “complex nuclear security environment.” The main adversary China must deter is the United States, but China cannot ignore other nuclear-armed countries in its neighborhood, such as India, which is also modernizing its nuclear capabilities. PLA analysts also express concerns about technological developments they see as possible threats to the credibility of China’s nuclear deterrent, most notably missile defense and conventional prompt global strike (CPGS) capabilities. (SMS, p. 171). PLASAF nuclear missile force modernization plays a central role in China’s attempts to address these challenges.

For the first part of this two-article series, see Andrew S. Erickson and Michael S. Chase, “China’s Strategic Rocket Force: Sharpening the Sword (Part 1 of 2),” Jamestown China Brief 14.13 (3 July 2014).