Modernization of PLA 2nd Artillery

Modernization of PLA 2nd Artillery


In November 2002, during the 16th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, the then General-Secretary, President of China and Chairman of Chinese Central Military Commission (CMC) Jiang Zemin announced, in his political report to the Congress, a plan for the implementation an RMA (Revolution in Military Affairs) based reform of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the entire Chinese national defence (i.e. military-industrial) complex. The goal behind the introduction of this RMA was to decrease, with a target of 2010, the Chinese gap behind the leading armies of the world – i.e. to minimize the PLA lag behind American Forces.


Jiang Zemin stressed that, for this purpose, the PLA and Chinese defence industry should concentrate their efforts on the accomplishment of this double mission: finishing the PLA mechanization and developing the informatization of the PLA. However, it was only after Jiang Zemin’s speech on this subject in March 2003 that the ‘RMA based reform with Chinese characteristics’ really started. It additionally accelerated after Jiang Zemin’s speech on 1 September 2003, at the Chinese Defence S&T University in Changsha city, when the CMC announced a 200,000 reduction of troop numbers in 2003-2005 and other measures aimed at the smooth development of the RMA.


Indeed, during 2003-2004 the image of the PLA changed greatly and much of this was down to large-scale mechanization along with the informatization of PLA units. In parallel, it appeared that only the 2nd Artillery (PLA Strategic Missile Corps) became the primary object of overall modernization through mechanization and informatization. As a result, by the beginning of 2005 the 2nd Artillery was qualitatively upgraded and quantitatively expanded compared with its 2002 level. However, much greater changes are expected to be on the way in 2005-2008.


Brief information about C4K(kill)ISR system-building in China.
On 16 April 2003, the
Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the PLA, Xiong Guangkai, made a report entitled ‘New (PLA) RMA problems’ during the Forum of Chinese Scientists organized by Chinese Academy of Sciences. The report particularly stressed the following: ‘Command and control should be upgraded. In the 1960s and 1970s, many leading world armies had already successfully introduced C3I (command, control, communication and intelligence) systems. Presently, in accordance with the introduction of computers, these systems were upgraded to C4I, C4ISR and even to C4K(kill)ISR systems.’1

In November 2003, an article in China Military Science emphasized that ‘command, control & information systems development came extremely swiftly: from C2, C3, C3I, C4I, C4ISR they developed to C4KISR, which is reliant upon the precision striking system.’2 Another article in the same issue of that journal also mentioned the military systems development from C4I and C4ISR to C4KISR systems.3

Evidently, by the end of 2003 the C4KISR concept, with stress on the K(kill) component, had spread among PLA strategists. The key to implementing this component lies with the 2nd Artillery and is being achieved by installing many state of the art long-range ballistic and cruise missiles.


This article will deliberately avoid the description of the 2nd Artillery’s short range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) and various ground-based Land Attack Cruise Missiles (LACMs). Attention will instead be concentrated on the 2nd Artillery’s intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).


ICBMs in the PLA’s 2nd Artillery

The most comprehensive survey of the PLA’s strategic missile potential – i.e., ICBMs capable of reaching American territory – is given an article in the July 2003 issue of China Communism Research, entitled ‘China ICBM forces: construction and real power’. It would be opportune to go through this survey.


1) DF-5 ICBM

The Dongfeng 5A (DF-5A) ICBM is an improved silo-based missile, which uses liquid fuel, has a maximal range of 13,000 km and is capable of covering the entire territory of the US. All these missiles have been installed on combat duty and additionally upgraded between 1981 and 1998.


By the year 2002, DF-5A forces of the 2nd Artillery consisted of three brigades:

a)      The 803rd Brigade was established on 1 October 1984. By the end of 2002, it was located near Huaihua town in Hunan Province, around 750 km northwest of Guangzhou city. This brigade is considered as ‘the model one, never missing the target’.

b)      The 804th Brigade was formed in the late 1980s. By the end of 2002, it was located in the western part of Henan Province, not far from Luoyang city, around 700 km southwest of Beijing.

c)      The 818th Brigade was introduced in 1996 and is located in Hunan Province, the same as the 803rd Brigade.


DF-5A ICBMs utilized in these brigades are mounted in stationary silos to allow maximum protection from the enemy. Sophisticated engineering works and the introduction of computer systems have decreased greatly the launch preparation time of these missiles.


2) DF-31 mobile ICBM

The Dongfeng-31 (DF-31) ICBM is a comparatively new capability of the 2nd Artillery. It uses solid fuel and is based on a mobile launching platform (multi-wheeled heavy truck). Its dynamic characteristics make it more flexible than the DF-5A missile, but it has a disadvantage with its range being only 8000 km. These missiles were demonstrated to the world, for the first time, on 1 October 1999, during a huge military parade in Beijing. 

a)      The first brigade equipped with DF-31 ICBMs is the 813th Brigade, formed in 1998-1999, and is located near Nanyang city of Henan Province, about 1100 km southwest of Beijing. These ICBMs are capable of reaching Hawaii and Alaska – if the DF-31 did not exceed 8000 km. However, in 2001-2002 it became known that the real range of DF-31 could approach 10,000 km.

b)      The second brigade equipped by DF-31 ICBMs, the 820th Brigade, was established in 2000. It is located near Laiwu city of Shandong Province, somewhat 400 km southeast of Beijing. It is unknown if the range of DF-31 missiles in the 813th Brigade is equal to 8000 km or 10,000 km; but, almost for sure, the 820th Brigade is equipped with upgraded DF-31A ICBMs of about 10,000 km range. Multiple sources in Hong Kong and Beijing confirm this fact. 


The development of DF-31 started as early as 1978 and it was initially developed to be used against the USSR. However, in September 1994, China and Russia signed an agreement not to use nuclear weapons against each other. Finally, in April 1996, China and Russia became ‘strategic partners’. After this, America became the major target – maybe even the sole target – of Chinese ICBMs and the designed range of 8000 km appeared to be insufficient for the DF-31: even if this ICBM is located in northeastern Heilongjiang province, near the Russian border, it will only be capable of reaching the northwestern corner of the continental US. That is why China developed the DF-31A in the 1990s, with a range of about 10,000 km. Such a missile, if launched from Henan Province, is able to cover almost the entire western part of the US.


3) Hidden ICBM forces of the PLA

According to some statements of Chinese strategists, the 2nd Artillery has considerable ‘hidden’ ICBM forces. The DF-4 Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) is of particular interest. These IRBMs are very similar to LM-1 missile boosters, used in China during the first half of 1970s to launch Dongfanghong satellites. It is extremely easy, utilizing modern technology, to upgrade the LM-1 booster, thus transforming DF-4 IRBM into an ICBM. The DF-4 initially had a 4000 km range. By 1980, DF-4 had been upgraded and its range reached 4800 km. The improved DF-4 has the following characteristics (LM-1 characteristics are given in parentheses):

a)      It is a liquid fuel missile located in a stationary silo (the same).

b)      The total length of the DF-4, including a warhead, is 28 metres (29.86 metres), maximum diameter 2.25 metres (2.5 metres) and a maximum weight of 80 tonnes (81.5 tonnes). Thus, the DF-4 ICBM and the LM-1 missile booster are very similar.

c)      DF-4 is capable of delivering an H-bomb with a 3 Megaton yield (LM-1 is capable of delivering a 300 kg satellite to low orbit).


In the 1990s, the PLA further upgraded the LM-1 missile booster. This resulted in the emergence of the LM-1D missile booster with improved characteristics. Notably, the LM-1D became high-precision and capable of delivering 1000 kg satellites (instead of 300 kg like before) to an orbit of 200 km from the Earth’s surface. The first LM-1D was successfully used for satellite launching in January 1997.


However, according to reliable data, new LM-1D missile boosters are mostly used for upgrading the existing DF-4 IRBMs into DF-4A ICBMs with a range of 10,000 km or more. DF-4A is still a silo-based liquid fuel missile, but its major characteristics are close to those of DF-5A ICBMs. As a result, the PLA created three additional ICBM brigades:

the 805th Brigade in Hunan Province, near Tongdao town, and the 812th and 814th Brigades in northwestern Qinghai Province, about 3000 km to the west of Beijing.


All three of them have been re-equipped with DF-4A missiles, in a comparatively cheap way, in the second half of the1990s.


4) China’s total ICBM potential

Eventually, by 2002, the 2nd Artillery included eight ICBM brigades, namely three DF-5 brigades, three DF-4A brigades and two DF-31 brigades. Each brigade is composed of 12 ICBMs so by 2002 the 2nd Artillery had at least 96 ICBMs in total.


This dramatically contradicts the data published in 2000-2002 by leading international military analytical organizations and by the US government, which limit the Chinese strategic nuclear potential to 24 units of DF-5 ICBMs and several DF-31 ICBMs. These surveys terribly underestimate Chinese strategic nuclear missile potential. It is expected that before the year 2010 the number of DF-31 ICBM equipped brigades will increase from two to four. It is expected that the two new brigades will be the following: the 801st Brigade in Henan Province and the 806th Brigade in northeastern Liaoning Province.


Eventually, by 2007-2008 the PLA could have ten ICBM brigades with 120 ICBMs, including four brigades equipped with 48 DF-31 ICBMs. As expected, the majority of these ICBMs would carry several MIRVed (individually targeted) warheads each.4


Against America, with Russian technical assistance

Lin Changcheng and Niu Mingshi published in the December 2003 issue of China Communism Research an article on the ‘New estimation of China’s deterrence potential’, which, once again, gave a detailed description of 2nd Artillery brigades, their locations and missiles on combat duty.


Remarkably, the article emphasized that only the United States is presently the targeted by Chinese ICBMs and not a single one of these missiles is targeted at Russia. Moreover, PLA strategists consider that under the environment of the US National Missile Defense (NMD) project, the PLA should significantly expand its deterrence potential. In other words, ‘China should have at least 150 ICBMs, capable of hitting American territory’; moreover, these ICBMs should be mostly MIRVed. The development of ICBM brigades inside the PLA’s 2nd Artillery is with this goal in mind.5


A little bit later, this journal published an even more serious estimate of the 2nd Artillery’s plans regarding DF-31 ICBM deployment: ‘PLA plans to deploy [before 2015] nine brigades of DF-31. Six of them, equipped with DF-31A missiles [with a range of about 10,000 km] will target the continental United States. In total, this would make 108 ICBMs [12 units in one brigade] with 324 nuclear warheads [3 warheads per ICBM]’.6


It is well known that during the last decade Russia was China’s major source of advanced weapon and weapon manufacturing technology. This also included strategic capabilities as reported in another article in China Communism Research, which summarized Chinese-Russian military-technological co-operation in 1992-2002: ‘[In 2002] approximately 2000 Russian [weapon R&D] specialists worked in China. They were engaged in research and development in such areas as [weapon] lasers, miniaturization of nuclear warheads, cruise missiles, space-based weapon, nuclear submarines’.7


Indeed, it is reported that a large group of Russian nuclear specialists is working in China’s southwest Sichuan Province, at a major nuclear weapons development and manufacturing facility, since at least 1994. Reportedly, they contributed a lot to the development of Chinese miniaturized MIRVed nuclear warheads, to be used in a mobile DF-31 ICBM. Just this will allow each DF-31 ICBM – as well as its submarine-borne variety, JL-II SLBM, to be installed on ‘094’ project strategic submarines (also built with heavy Russian assistance) – to carry up to four MIRVed 90-kiloton nuclear warheads. The quoted above articles emphasize that DF-31 is very similar – by its major parameters – to the newest Russian SS-27 Topol-M ICBM, with a 10,000 km range. There are serious grounds to consider (though direct evidence is absent) that the DF-31 used major technological attributes of the Topol-M.


It should be noted that the PLA and its 2nd Artillery established ties with Russian Strategic Forces in June 1999, when a high-ranking PLA delegation headed by CMC Deputy Chairman General Zhang Wannian visited a Russian strategic missile base, located near Novosibirsk, which was equipped with SS-25 Topol ICBMs.8 These ties have been upgraded in 2000-2004, along with general improvement of Chinese Russian military and military-technological co-operation.


Moscow, from its side, is very comforted by the development of Chinese nuclear forces. Beijing has no secrets from its Russian ally and informs it about any new strategic missile testing of the 2nd Artillery, just like it did in July 2004.9 It is clear that Beijing and Moscow’s friendship is growing – particularly after the signing of the Sino-Russian Friendship and Cooperation Treaty in July 2001, which stated that their nuclear arsenals could be used against America and its close allies only.



Alexandr Nemets

The author is a Contractor, Foreign Systems Research Center, Scientific Applications International Corp (SAIC)



1 ‘Zhonggong nianbao 2004 yi jun’ (Military section of China Communism Research Yearbook 2004), p.12, Taipei, China Communism Research Institute, 2004.

2 Zhongguo Junshi Kexue (China Military Science) journal, Beijing, #6, 2003, p.125, article ‘On the logistics informatization of PLA’.

3 . Zhongguo Junshi Kexue (China Military Science) journal, Beijing, #6, 2003, p.114, article ‘Information platform: the Revolution of Medium System in Warfare’.

4 Zhonggong yanjiu (‘China Communism Research’) journal, Taipei, #7, July 2003, pp.80-90, Lin Changcheng, Niu Mingshi ‘PLA real potential in ICBMs’; the authors are using a lot of sources in this article; in parallel, they, evidently, are using the data of Taiwanese military intelligence.

5 Zhonggong yanjiu (‘China Communism Research’) journal, Taipei, #12, December 2003, pp.68-77, Lin Changcheng, Niu Mingshi ‘New estimation of China’s deterrence potential’.

6 Zhonggong yanjiu (‘China Communism Research’) journal, Taipei, #7, July 2004, pp.81-93, Lin Changcheng ‘PLA develops 2nd generation of strategic ballistic missiles’.

7 Zhonggong yanjiu (‘China Communism Research’) journal, Taipei, #10, October 2004, pp.65-75, Luo Shengxiong ‘Russian-Chinese military co-operation and its influence on Taiwanese security’.

8 Shijie Ribao (World Journal) daily, NY, June 13 1999, p.A2; Russian ITAR-TASS agency, June 13 1999.

9 Shijie Ribao (World Journal) daily, NY, July 12 2004, p.C1; Russian ITAR-TASS agency, July 12 2004 Moscow.

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