PLA Rocket Force Explodes in Capability, but China Refuses to Explain Why

China Chinese army military soldiers Xi Jinping

It is worrying when a military increases its Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) launchers fivefold. China has done exactly this, but Beijing has never explained the reasons for this blunder.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is a secret organization, but the Missile Force takes the confusion to a whole new level. However, a researcher in the United States has shed much-needed light on the PLA Rocket Force (PLA RF), which is responsible for China’s conventional and nuclear-tipped missile inventory. In total, the PLA RF has 41 combat missile brigades, many of which were created only in the last decade.

Decker Eveleth of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey published an updated PLA RF order of war in July. Eveleth’s credentials are top notch, as he was the first civilian to identify massive missile silo areas being built deep in China in 2021. Eveleth warned: “Currently, Chinese nuclear thinking is a black box – we can see security operators being included in that box, and we can see military infrastructure and deployed military systems coming out of that box, but Since the Chinese military does not publicly talk about its views on nuclear weapons and deterrence, their precise thinking remains elusive to us.

The PLA RF has traditionally been quite small and has been kept at a low readiness level. This was hindered by China’s policy of “no first use” of nuclear weapons. However, in 2015, President Xi Jinping raised the Rocket Force into full service in its own right. A decade ago, China had only 50 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), of which only 30 could reach the US mainland. Now, the PLA RF has a variety of missiles that can perform specific missions such as neutralizing Taiwan’s defenses, targeting US warships at sea or in port, or launching retaliatory nuclear strikes.

The above report summarized: “China is currently in the process of radically expanding its arsenal of conventional and nuclear land-based missile launchers. Over the past decade, China has doubled the number of combat missile brigades in the PLA RF, and unveiled myriad new capabilities, including missiles capable of firing both conventional and nuclear warheads and missiles designed to avoid missiles. Includes missiles equipped with hypersonic glide vehicles. rescue.”

By 2028, China will have more than 1,000 ballistic missile launchers, of which 507 are nuclear-capable, 342–432 are conventional launchers and at least 252 are dual-capable launchers. Regrettably, China refuses to comment on this unprecedented growth and refuses to acknowledge its extent.

What, then, are some of the most important points raised in this report from the Middlebury Institute? From a figure of over 100 launchers, starting with ICBMs, the force will swell to over 500. Much of this increase comes from the 334 silos for solid-fuel ICBMs being built in large areas of the Yumen, Hami and Hanggin Banners. in the form of Jilantai. The latter site has 14 silos, which are used for training and developing concepts of operations. The Hanggin Banner site notably has separate command-and-control facilities, suggesting that it will have separate missiles for Yumen and Hami. Both the DF-31 and DF-41 variants have been offered as candidates for populating these silo areas.

Eveleth said construction of these silo areas continues, “… Yumen is closest to completion. Excavation and concrete pouring is mostly done. It is not clear how close they are to entering field operation. An extremely interesting detail is the construction of radar platforms and other support facilities for the radar at all three sites. This possibly indicates that the PLA RF will attempt to defend these areas with anti-aircraft weapons. It is difficult to know exactly how many missiles will be located at each site, but there are reasons to believe that China may use “shell game” tactics, whereby a limited number of missiles are periodically launched at a location to keep the opponent guessing. are moved from silo to silo forcing them to fire more missiles to destroy them in any given attack.

What implications can be drawn from China’s new trend towards missile silos? “The massive expansion in solid-fuel silos may be the result of their dwindling confidence in the survivability of mobile forces and an attempt to create a ‘missile sponge’ that would be large enough to absorb an American first strike and leave the United States . with some missiles to target China’s mobile forces.” The number of liquid-fuel ICBM silos is also increasing. For example, 18 DF-5 ICBM silos are being built at three different locations. In fact DF-5 silos will more than double over the next three years, from 18 to at least 48 operational silos.

The author continued: “Another notable fact about the new DF-5-pattern construction is that the silos have much larger support facilities than the silos built at the old DF-5 sites. The scale of facilities under construction may indicate a more alert state than previously believed,” possibly a launch-on-warning (reduced) capability.

In fact, in the report author’s opinion, “What is of most concern in China’s nuclear forces is not really the numerical expansion in launchers, but their apparent shift from a retaliation plan in which nuclear weapons are launched after an opponent has already accomplished one.” The firing of a large number of missiles was envisaged.” A low-level attack against the Chinese motherland. Under launch on alert, an incoming nuclear attack is detected in flight with satellites and ground-based radar, allowing the state to retaliate before incoming missiles strike their targets. China’s developing LOW capability, combined with solid fueled missile silos, means they can quickly launch a nuclear strike at a moment’s notice. A low currency presents new challenges in ensuring traditional conflicts remain traditional.

Other conclusions can also be drawn from the multiplication of DF-5 silos. “The expansion into liquid-fuel systems implies that China is concerned about the amount of damage their forces will be able to inflict. Liquid-fueled missiles such as the DF-5 are capable of carrying much heavier payloads than solid-fueled missiles, allowing the missile to carry a greater number of warheads and entry aids. Even a small spread of missiles from this could have a major impact on China’s ability to penetrate US missile defenses and strike American cities.

Another piece of evidence that highlights Chinese concern about penetrating US missile defenses is investment in Fractional Orbital Bombardment Systems (FOBS). FOBS was tested in August 2021, when a bomb went into orbit and circled the globe before impacting. FOBS allow the user to fire in unpredictable directions that are not protected by an opponent’s missile defense system. Referring to mobile ICBM units rather than stationary silo areas, Eveleth expects to deploy about 50 DF-41s once all brigades are on the field, up from 12-20 currently. A typical brigade has eight DF-41 ICBMs. The academic said the mobile ICBM force “continues to slowly evolve and modernize”. The Pentagon believes that China is exploring various basing options for the DF-41, particularly rails and silos.

The original DF-31 has been removed from active service, while most DF-31A units have been upgraded to the newer DF-31AG. Compared to the DF-31A’s less-mobile truck and trailer units, the latter are carried by 16×16 launcher vehicles. Some 48–56 DF-31AG launchers are believed to currently exist. Eveleth said this while analyzing China’s deep investment in nuclear weapons.

“At the strategic nuclear level, China’s rapid expansion of strategic ICBM launchers provides the Chinese nuclear deterrent with the ability to survive in the face of continued US superiority in adversarial missile defense, conventional precision strike systems, and fast-attack submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Is. However, at the present time, because the political drivers and thought processes behind China’s nuclear build-up are so difficult to assess, we have limited ability to predict where China’s nuclear expansion will stop, what underlying concepts they will ultimately adopt. , and how they might use their nuclear powers in the event of a crisis or conflict.

“Regardless of the actual capability of the existing US national missile defense system or the declared US intention with respect to the missile defense system, the PRC is concerned that the United States may in the future disable a substantial portion of incoming Chinese weapons, possibly a portion After destroying Chinese nuclear launchers negate the deterrent effect of nuclear arsenals on the ground with long-range conventional strikes.

Because of its immense range and nuclear warhead, the ICBM is considered the grandmother of all missiles. However, the PLARF also has a number of medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs, with a range of 1,000–3,000 km) and long-legged intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs, capable of flying up to 3,000–5,500 km) . Eveleth said that the MRBM and IRBM forces are “undergoing significant modernization”. Older types such as the nuclear DF-21A are in the process of being retired, with the conventional DF-21C likely to meet the same fate, as the DF-26 is preferred. The 3,000 km-range DF-26RF is the only IRBM operated by the PLA, but it is one of its most important missiles. The weapon can attack both naval and land targets, as well as nuclear missions thanks to swappable warheads. The US researcher said that the DF-26 inventory continues to grow, and probably already exceeds 216 launchers. The report estimates that by 2026 there will be 252 launchers in six different brigades.

China also deploys the DF-21D, an anti-ship ballistic missile with a range of 1,500 km. There could be about 48 launchers equipping the two brigades, but no new launchers are expected as this task is now being fulfilled by the new DF-26. The PLA also operates RF cruise missiles. “Cruise missiles have never been deployed as widely among the PLA RF as other system types, but nevertheless allow the PLA RF to launch precise low-emission strikes against regional targets.” Two important cruise missile types are the subsonic CJ-10/DF-10 with a range of 1,500–2,000 km, and the supersonic DF-100 capable of traveling about 2,000 km.

Also in the MRBM category is the DF-17, which carries a hypersonic glide vehicle for its armament. Eveleth said: “The PLA RF is doing a mix of replacing existing SRBM units and raising entirely new brigades equipped with the system. A new DF-17 brigade is very close to the Korean border. In fact, the report estimates that three more brigades will be added to this brigade within the next three years. The main target areas are Taiwan and the Korean Peninsula. Placing them close to Taiwan, for example, greatly reduces the warning time for Taiwan’s defenses in a conflict. The smallest missiles are classified as short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), which have a strike range of less than 1,000 km. The PLA RF fields the DF-11, DF-15 and DF-16 SRBMs.

Eveleth said their numbers are declining, but “they are unlikely to be retired entirely in the short term.” It is possible that the PLA RF is unwilling to give up its existing extensive magazine depth in those systems, even as more capable systems arrive on the scene.

Helpfully, Eveleth’s order of battle included a list of all known PLA RF brigades and their geographic coordinates, all of which have been identified using commercial satellite imagery. The growth of China’s missile power, especially its nuclear-armed arsenal, is deeply worrying. It reflects a change in Xi’s thinking, even if China refuses to specify what the strategic recalibration is. All this suggests that Beijing is moving away from its previous restrained second-strike nuclear stance to be able to deter nuclear war on many levels, including nuclear war.

This is very worrying, with which Eveleth agrees. “Even if China does not currently plan to use its new nuclear assets more aggressively, the fact that those assets are now in place and capable of doing so may lead to a possible eventual shift to a more aggressive posture.” It becomes very easy to do.”

Furthermore, “as Sino-US relations become increasingly volatile over the status of Taiwan, obtaining accurate data on China’s conventional and nuclear missile forces becomes more important than ever.” This is made worse by the PLA’s refusal to man the hotline at the behest of its political masters and discuss issues with the United States. 

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