The Second Artillery Corps (SAC) is an independent service arm (兵种) of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), directly subordinate to the Central Military Commission (CMC). The SAC did not gain the ‘service branch’ (军种) status like the Air Force and Navy and therefore is a grade lower in the Chinese military hierarchy. The force has a total strength of around 100,000 men, with around half serving in missile launch units.
The SAC is responsible for operating all of China’s land-based ballistic missile assets, both nuclear- and conventionally-armed. The force has also been equipped with strategic land-attack cruise missiles (LACM) since 2004. SAC units across the country receive logistic support from the military regions they are stationed in, but they receive orders directly from the CMC through a 4-tier chain of command: CMC, missile bases, missile brigades, and launch battalions.
China’s ballistic missile force traces its origin to 1958, when the PLA established a ballistic missile “seed” unit. Under an agreement between Moscow and Beijing in 1957, the Soviets delivered the equipment of a complete missile battalion equipped with the R-2 (SS-2 Sibling) short-range ballistic missile, along with 102 Strategic Rocket Force troops to train Chinese crew to operate the missile. However, Moscow soon stopped its assistance following the political fallout of the two countries in 1959, and held back the supply of liquid oxygen required for fuelling the missiles.
China continued its ballistic missile programme despite the withdrawal of Soviet assistance. On 10 September 1959, China successfully tested a Soviet-made R-2 missile fuelled with Chinese made liquid oxygen propellant. Two months later, a second test using a Chinese-built R-2 missile was carried out successfully.
The first operational missile unit, the 802nd Artillery Battalion, was activated in 1959. By 1961, a further four battalions (801st, 803rd, 804th, and 805th) were created in the Shenyang, Beijing, and Jinan Military Region. These units were known as “the Old Five”, the seeds of the PLA’s strategic missile force. In 1964, the five battalions were expanded into five regiments due to the expansion of the ballistic missile force.
On 6 June 1966, the Central Military Commission (CMC) issued an order to establish the headquarters of the Second Artillery Corps (SAC), with General Xiang Shouzhi appointed the Commander and General Li Tianhuan the Political Commissar. In October 1966, China successfully carried out its first missile-delivered nuclear weapon test.
In 1968, the 806th Missile Regiment was activated.
In March 1977, the 803rd Missile Regiment conducted a field missile launch drill. For the first time, the SAC troops were able launch missiles outside the missile test centre. The drill was carried out in a combat scenario, with 4 missiles fired from a non-previously selected launch site built by the regiment during the drill.
In 1983, the SAC conducted its first nuclear counter-attack exercise, with 4 Dongfeng 3 medium-range ballistic missiles fired. The exercise was observed by senior PLA leadership including the then Vice CMC Chairman Yang Shangkun.
In 1985, the missile regiments of the SAC were reorganised into brigades. In the same year, the 801st Brigade became the first operational unit to be equipped with the Dongfeng 5 ICBM.
Following the end of the Cold War, in the early 1990s the PRC military planners decided to equip the SAC with conventionally-armed theatre missiles to give the force both nuclear and conventional capabilities. During the 1995~96 Taiwan Strait Crisis, the SAC fired a total of ten Dongfeng 15 short-range ballistic missiles to the target zones near the Taiwanese coasts as an intimidation.
Operational units are organised into six missile bases (armies), a training bases, as well as a number of support, training, logistics, and engineering units. The SAC headquarters in the Qinghe Compound in northwest Beijing is responsible for overseeing the force’s administrative management, personnel affairs, recruitment, training, budgets, etc. However, in the event of a nuclear war, missile bases may receive orders directly from CMC.
A missile base is the largest operational organ in the SAC, each assigned with a specific target area. For example, Base 51 is responsible for covering targets in Northeast Asia; Base 52 is responsible for covering Taiwan; Base 53 is responsible for covering Southeast Asia; Base 56 is responsible for covering targets in South and Central Asia and Russia; Base 54 and Base 55 are responsible for covering targets in North America and Western Europe.
Each missile base is composed of a headquarters, a number of missile brigades, as well as support elements, which normally include a signal regiment, an electronic warfare regiment, an engineer battalion, a reconnaissance group, a survey/mapping group, a computer centre, a meteorological centre, maintenance workshops, a guard company, and missile and warhead storage. Additional engineering, air-defence, and chemical-defence units may be assigned if necessary. Some bases also have a battalion-sized specialist opposing force (OPFOR) unit for training and exercise.
The missile brigade is the principal operational unit that operates, protects, maintains and supports the missile troops. A missile brigade normally consists of a brigade headquarters, 4~6 launch battalions, a signal battalion, a tele-metry battalion, a launch site battalion, a technical battalion, a maintenance battalion, and a number of logistics and support units. Each brigade likely includes a mobile command post, a central depot, an assigned set of pre-surveyed launch sites, as well as a set of reserve launch sites. In peacetime, missile brigades reports to their base headquarters. In time of war, conventional missile brigades are likely subordinate to the war front command.
The launch battalion is the basic launch unit, responsible for the daily maintenance and operations of the missile systems. A launch battalion is only equipped with a single type of missile. Each launch battalion possibly consists of a fixed or mobile launch control centre, with a number of launch companies. There are microwave and radio data and voice communications links between the launch battalion and the missile brigade and base command centres.
A nuclear missile launch company may be in charge of a single missile, either silo-based or mounted on a transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) vehicle. A conventional missile launch company may deploy 5~6 TEL vehicles and 5~6 missile transport vehicles. A mobile launch company may also include an electric-power generation vehicle, a surveying vehicle, and a communications command vehicle.
|Dongfeng 3 (CSS-2)||MRBM||1X Nuclear||15~20||Road|
|Dongfeng 4 (CSS-3)||IRBM||1X Nuclear||15~20||Silo, Cave|
|Dongfeng 5 (CSS-4)||ICBM||1X Nuclear||20||Silo|
|Dongfeng 21 (CSS-5)||MRBM||1X Nuclear or HE||60~80||Road|
|Dongfeng 15 (CSS-6)||SRBM||1X HE||600~800||Road|
|Dongfeng 31 (CSS-9)||ICBM||1X Nuclear||10+||Road|
|Changjian 10||LACM||1X HE||50+||Road|
Order of Battle
Base 51 (Shenyang, Liaoning)
- 806th Missile Brigade (DF-31A ICBM)
- 810th Missile Brigade (DF-3A MRBM)
- 816th Missile Brigade (DF-15 SRBM)
- 822nd Missile Brigade (DF-21 MRBM)
Base 52 (Qimen, Anhui)
- 807th Missile Brigade (DF-21 MRBM)
- 811th Missile Brigade (DF-21 MRBM)
- 815th Missile Brigade (DF-15 SRBM)
- 817th Missile Brigade (DF-15 SRBM)
- 818th Missile Brigade (DF-15 SRBM)
- 819th Missile Brigade (DF-15 SRBM)
- 820th Missile Brigade (DF-15 SRBM)
Base 53 (Kunming, Yunnan)
- 802nd Missile Brigade (DF-21 MRBM)
- 808th Missile Brigade (DF-21 MRBM)
- 821st Missile Brigade (CJ-10 LACM)
Base 54 (Luoyang, Henan)
- 801st Missile Brigade (DF-5 ICBM)
- 804th Missile Brigade (DF-5 ICBM)
- 813th Missile Brigade (DF-31A ICBM)
Base 55 (Huaihua, Hunan)
- 803rd Missile Brigade (DF-5 ICBM)
- 805th Missile Brigade (DF-4 IRBM)
- 814th Missile Brigade (DF-4 IRBM)
- 824th Missile Brigade (DF-4 IRBM)
Base 56 (Xining, Qinghai)
- 809th Missile Brigade (DF-21 MRBM)
- 812th Missile Brigade (DF-31A MRBM)
- 823rd Missile Brigade (DF-21 MRBM)
- Training & Experimental Unit
Base 22 (Baoji, Shaanxi) – Nuclear warhead storage