Wednesday 24 September 2008

CHINA’S NUCLEAR FORCES: OPERATIONS, TRAINING, DOCTRINE,COMMAND,cONTROL,

FOREWORD
A decade ago, many scholars and policy analysts who followed China dismissed the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) as an antiquated force that was essentially infantry, fighting with decades-old weapons, poor communications, and World War II era doctrine.China’s nuclear forces were also technologically outmoded and fixed to silo or tunnel launch sites. Very
little information was available about China’s “Second Artillery Corps,” as China calls its strategic rocket forces. The United States knew that the PLA maintained a separate corps of rocket troops, but its doctrine and command and control structures remained shrouded
in secrecy. Chinese diplomats, political leaders, and security thinkers regularly announced that China would adhere to a “no first use” policy, but very little published military information was available about how China intended to use its missile forces in crisis orwar.
China’s nuclear deterrent.
China’s leaders and military thinkers see the United States as a major potential threat to the PLA and China’s interests primarily because of American military capabilities, but also because of U.S. security relationships in Asia. To respond to these perceived threats, China’s military thinkers are examining the relationships between conventional and nuclear ballistic
missile units in war and developing new doctrine for missile employment. There are explicit discussionsin PLA military literature and scientific journals on how to use ballistic missiles to attack deployed U.S. naval battle groups, particularly aircraft carriers.
Indeed, the Second Artillery Corps is developing a new class of maneuvering reentry vehicles with this mission in mind. In addition, there is also more open information revealed in these documents about frontal and national-level command and control of missile units.
The targets suggested for theater warfare and conventional guided missile campaigns at the
operational level of war are designed to achieve battlefield effects that will destroy an enemy’s ability to wage war effectively. Secondarily, the targets selected would disrupt the enemy’s economy, reconstitution and resupply capabilities:
• Enemy political centers;
• Economic centers;
• Major enemy military bases and depots;
• Enemy command centers;
• Enemy communications and transportation
networks; and,
• Major troop concentrations.
China’s strategic intercontinental ballistic missile force remains primarily retaliatory in nature. The PLA may employ theater and shorter-range ballistic missiles, however, as elements of a surprise attack or to preempt an enemy attack. PLA military thinkers recognize that long-range precision strike by conventional weapons is now an integral part of U.S. military doctrine. They
fear that a conventional attack on China’s strategic missile forces could render China vulnerable and leave it without a deterrent. This has led to a debate in China among civilian strategic thinkers and military leaders on the viability of the announced “no-firstix use” policy on nuclear weapons. Some strategists advocate departing from the “no-first-use” policy and
responding to conventional attacks on strategic forces with nuclear missiles.
The objectives for nuclear campaign planning are ambiguous enough to leave open the question of preemptive action by the PLA. According to A Guide to the Study of Campaign Theory, a major objective of Chinese nuclear planning is to “alter enemy intentions by causing the enemy’s will [to engage in war] to waver.” Preemption, therefore, would be a viable action that is consistent with the PLA’s history of “selfdefensive counterattacks.”
The PLA leadership has prioritized the objectives of nuclear counterattack campaigns as follows:
• Cause the will of the enemy (and the populace) to waver; • Destroy the enemy’s command and control system;1
• Delay the enemy’s war (or combat) operations;
• Reduce the enemy’s force generation and warmaking
potential; and,
• Degrade the enemy’s ability to win a nuclear
war.
The decision by Beijing to put nuclear and conventional
warheads on the same classes of ballistic missiles
and colocate them near each other in firing units of
the Second Artillery Corps also increases the risk
of accidental nuclear conflict. A critical factor in any
American decision will be the capabilities of American
space-based sensor systems. Accurate sensors may
be able to determine whether China launched a
conventional or nuclear-tipped missile, and such a
determination could prevent immediate escalation of
a crisis or conflict.
These are serious matters for the American armed
forces. China’s nuclear forces are evolving and the way
they are used is under debate. The way that the PLA
handles its commitment to dominating space and its
commitment to being capable of attacking American
command, control, communication, computers,
intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR)
systems affects strategic warning, missile defenses,
and command and control. For the Army, with the
responsibility to defend the United States against
missile attack, it means that watching the evolution of
this debate in China is critical to success.
ntroduction.
This monograph analyzes several recent Chinese
language books published by the People’s Liberation
Army (PLA) for information about China’s Second
Artillery Corps, their “Strategic Rocket Forces.” These
materials provide new insights into why China’s
leaders and military thinkers see the United States as a
major potential threat to the PLA and China’s interests.
The materials also discuss the relationships they see
between conventional and nuclear ballistic missile units
in war fighting doctrine. There are explicit discussions
of how to use missiles to attack deployed United States
naval forces. There are important discussions of how the
control of space relates to China’s nuclear deterrence.
There is also more open information revealed in these
documents about frontal and national-level command
and control of missile units. Finally, the materials
provide insights into the evolving debate in China
between civilian strategic thinkers and military leaders
on the viability of an announced “no-first-use” policy
on nuclear weapons.
The major insights in this monograph come from
exploiting sections of a doctrinal text published for PLA
institutions of higher military education by the Chinese
National Defense University, A Guide to the Study of
Campaign Theory.1 This book is an unclassified “study
guide” for PLA officers on how to understand and
apply doctrine in a restricted PLA book on campaign
doctrine in warfare, The Science of Campaigns.2 Other
recent books by PLA or Chinese government controlled
publishing houses validate the insights in the paper
and demonstrate how the PLA is going about achieving
its vision for modern war fighting. These include On
Strategic Command and Control, published by Military
Science Press in 2002; and Warfare in the Information
Age, published by National Defense University Press
in 2000.
To assist the PLA in its goal of attacking deployed
aircraft carrier battle groups, two PLA Air Force
(PLAAF) authors, Sun Yiming and Yang Liping, have
built a virtual roadmap for attacking joint U.S. data
control systems and military communications. They
have carefully consulted dozens of corporate web sites
and military tactical data link operator guides, as well
as North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and
U.S. military tactical and technical manuals, to produce
a virtual guidebook for electronic warfare and jamming
to disrupt critical U.S. cooperative target engagement
and command, control, communications, computers,
and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance
(C4ISR) data links: Tactical Data Links in Information
Warfare.3
On the debate over China’s “no-first-use” policy
among the academic community, younger PLA
authors, and the older generation of PLA leaders,
this paper relies on interviews with strategists and
PLA academics in 2006, and the book, International
Politics and China, published by Peking University
Press in 2005. The PLA’s traditional approach to the
subject is set forth in a doctrinal text, China’s National
Defense and World Military Affairs, endorsed by General
Zhang Wannian, who was chief of the General Staff
Department of the PLA at the time it was published.4
However, China’s traditional approach of “no-firstuse”
of nuclear weapons is under challenge by the new
generation of strategists. Finally, the paper explores
ways that the PLA’s concept of “active defense” relates
to nuclear doctrine.
The United States as the Greatest Potential Threat.
One of the key insights from these documents
is that China now identifies the United States as its
main potential enemy, although in some materials,
the references to the United States are indirect. This
is an important change in China’s strategic literature
because in the past, Russia (the Soviet Union) was
also identified as a principal threat to China. Now the
United States stands alone.
In part, this is because senior PLA leaders and
military strategists consider the United States to be the
most advanced military force on which to base their
own military development. They also see the United
States as the most advanced and likely potential
enemy against which they may need to employ
ballistic and cruise missiles or counter advanced C4ISR
technologies.
According to the monthly Hong Kong magazine,
Cheng Ming, after a large-scale Second Artillery
exercise, Vice Chairman of the Central Military
Commission (CMC) General Guo Boxiong addressed
the participants to discuss the posture the PLA should
maintain toward the United States. General Guo told
the exercise participants, “China must strive to increase
the capabilities of its strategic nuclear weapons if it
wants to stand firm against the United States, which
routinely treats China as an enemy in its strategic
planning.”5
In the view of many in the PLA, the military
power of the United States, the potential to use that
power to coerce or dominate China, and the ability to
threaten China’s pursuit of its own interests, presents
a latent threat to China. Additionally, China’s own
threats against democratic Taiwan, and the fact that
PLA leaders believe that the United States is likely to
come to Taiwan’s assistance in the event of Chinese
aggression in the Taiwan Strait, magnifies the threat
that PLA officers perceive from the United States.
This perceived threat drives the PLA to follow U.S.
military developments more carefully than those of
other nations and to be prepared to counter American
forces.
Over the past decade, authors at the PLA National
Defense University have singled out the United
States as the world’s greatest political, military, and
economic power, and the only such power that can act
on a global scale. An assessment of the U.S. nuclear
posture in the post-Cold War period said: “The goal
of America’s new military strategy after the collapse
of the Soviet Union is to maintain the U.S. position as
a world superpower and maintain America’s position
as a world leader. The maintenance of a strong nuclear
deterrent by the United States is an important tool for
the United States.”Today, PLA literature often refers to “great powers”
with the ability to coerce other countries because of
their nuclear and military capabilities, or PLA writers
refer to “hegemonic powers” that threaten peace. The
former phrasing, “great powers with the ability to
coerce other countries,” is an indirect reference to both
Russia and the United States. The latter formulation,
however, “hegemonic powers that threaten peace,” is
shorthand for the United States.
Major General Wang Baocun of the PLA Academy
of Military Science summarized the view of the United
States this way:
The new military transformation has led to the rise of
a United States possessed of overwhelmingly dominant
military might. The United States is also an arrogant
country with strong ambitions for hegemonism. The
United States will take advantage of its absolute
superiority in supreme military might in order to pursue
power politics and hegemonism, seek to maintain its
position as the world’s only superpower, and slow down
the process of mulitpolarization for the world’s strategic
structure.
Such a view is fueling the PLA’s efforts to build a
modern, information-based, digitized military force.
PLA thinkers believe that the missiles in the Second
Artillery Corps (Strategic Rocket Forces) are a “trump
card” that, when combined with information warfare,
will help the PLA to win a war against a more advanced
military.8 Indeed, even if the PLA did not envision
seeking a direct confrontation with the United States,
the awareness that the two countries could clash in the
event of a Chinese attack on Taiwan is enough to drive
PLA modernization.
General Zhang Wannian, then chief of the General
Staff Department of the PLA, has argued that “modern
limited warfare under high technology conditions is
conducted under a cloud of a threat of becoming a
nuclear war, and this cloud or shadow of nuclear war
will limit the scope of warfare.” He suggests that the
“forces of hegemony in the world will use nuclear
weapons to dominate other nations,” thus China
must have nuclear capabilities. In this context, the
reference to “forces of hegemony” is a part of Zhang’s
comments on the First Gulf War and is shorthand for
the United States. It is a clear reference to the United
States as a potential enemy. Moreover, Zhang’s book
contains other indirect references to the United States
as a potential enemy when he suggests that China’s
nuclear weapons can be used to “deter moves to split
the sovereign state,” a reference to Taiwan. Finally,
Zhang notes that the conduct of “bloody actual combat”
(during conventional war), in itself, is a deterrent
measure, and the more destructive the actual combat
in which a nation engages, the greater the likelihood of
effective deterrence.11
A good example of an indirect statement of
perceptions of the threat posed to China by the
United States is Xia Liping’s explanation of the logic
behind China’s strategy of “Active Defense.” Xia is a
reserve senior colonel in the PLA affiliated with the
Shanghai Institute for International Studies and Fudan
University. He set forth the concepts behind the “active
defense” strategy for the Chinese Communist Party
audience in a periodical from the Central Communist
Party School. Xia tells the reader that the CMC studied
and considered the conduct of the Gulf War (1990-91)
and in 1993 decided on a strategy of “active defense”
to meet the demand of the “world’s new revolution
in military affairs (RMA), as well as other factors
threatening China’s security.” The reference to the
Gulf War and the RMA are intellectual shorthand for
the United States. However, the concept of “active
defense” is not new in Chinese military thinking and is
embedded in the military doctrines espoused by Mao
Zedong.
The view that the United States has greater potential
than other nations to threaten China is consistent
with that in a book by one of the most respected PLA
strategists and leaders, Lieutenant General Li Jijun,
Thinking about Military Strategy. Li commanded a
Group Army in Manchuria and was responsible for the
ground warfare experiment that validated combined
arms group armies in the PLA. Later he was the director
of Deng Xiaoping’s military office. In retirement, he
teaches advanced military theory courses at the PLA
Academy of Military Science and at Beijing University.
Originally published in 1996, Li’s book was revised and
republished twice by the Academy of Military Science,
most recently in 2002.
In his evaluation of contemporary world security
threats, Li Jijun concludes that the major problem
facing China is “large countries” that create “threat
theories, including the countries that espouse the
‘China threat theory’.”13 Of course, this is a clear, albeit
indirect, reference to the United States as the nation
with the most capability to threaten China because of
its policies, its military power, and its alliances.
Li says,
. . . like England (in the Napoleonic age), the U.S. is
the world’s strongest power; the United States has the
greatest number of international interests and “colonial”
[like] relationships; U.S. military power is dispersed
widely throughout the world; the wide range of interests
and military deployments mean that U.S. forces are overcommitted
and stretched thin; and there is a great need
to work with allies and coalition partners to achieve
security goals.
Concern over the United States and its military
power is not limited to the PLA. One prominent
civilian scholar, Yan Xuetong, believes that the United
States is “the dominant world military power for a 10
to 20-year period, and in that period is the only threat
to China.” Yan spent a decade as a staff member of
the China Institute for Contemporary International
Relations, a government institute related to the
Ministry of State Security. Today he is a professor at
Tsinghua University and is still summoned to brief
senior military and civilian officials of the government
and the Chinese Communist Party.
China’s most recent White Paper on National
Defense, issued on December 29, 2006, also warns
“the United States is accelerating is realignment of
military deployment to enhance its military capability
in the Asia-Pacific region.” The White Paper further
expresses concern that “the United States and Japan
are strengthening their military alliance in pursuit of
operational integration” . . . while Japan’s military
posture is “becoming more external-oriented.”
Although there is passing discussion of the nuclear
forces of Russia and India in these publications, the
authors do not classify them as major strategic threats
to China. The same is true of Japan. The authors
acknowledge Japan as a military power, but Chinese
strategists seem to think that Japan’s populace remains
satisfied by the U.S. strategic nuclear umbrella.
Guided Missiles in Conventional War Campaigns.
New doctrine for the employment of missiles in
warfare emphasizes the value of strategic missiles as
a form of offset attack, particularly in China’s military
strategy of the “active defense.” The “active defense”
concept holds that warfare is a “holistic entity that
includes offensive as well as defensive action.”
In a strategic defense, according to PLA doctrine,
offensive action still carries the war to the enemy; thus,
counterattack is one form of offensive action within
a general strategic defense. PLA doctrine holds that
“active defense strategy does not acknowledge the
difference . . . between offense and defense, . . . and
sudden ‘first strikes’ in campaigns or battles as well
as ‘counterattacks in self defense’ into enemy territory
are part of the doctrine.” Some Chinese believe that
the concept of “active defense” permits the conduct of
preemptive attacks.
The doctrine in A Guidebook to the Study of Campaign
Theory gives specific guidance for the conduct of
conventional guided missile campaigns. According
to this text, the Second Artillery force has subordinate
to the headquarters a “conventional guided missile
campaign army group.” The army group must
be “continuously prepared for a rapid response,”
which indicates a series of prepared war plans are
maintained within the conventional force. The doctrine
for conventional guided missile forces calls for the
use of a “small amount of force as a deterrent against
attack.”
The targets suggested for conventional guided
missile campaigns are designed to achieve battlefield
effects that will destroy an enemy’s ability to wage
war effectively. In addition, the targets selected would
disrupt the enemy’s economy, reconstitution and
resupply capabilities:
• Enemy political centers;
• Economic centers;
• Major enemy military bases and depots;
• Enemy command centers;
• Enemy communications and transportation
networks; and,
• Major troop concentrations.
The Second Artillery Conventional Guided Missile
Campaign Army Group operates under the direct
leadership of the CMC. However, conventional
battlefield missiles are assigned to military regions or
war fronts and operate under the control of the regional
or frontal commander.
There are regular references to the need to “mass
(or concentrate) fires” against critical targets. General
Zhang Wannian reminds the PLA in one text “from
the standpoint of firepower, air bombardment,
artillery, and guided missiles must be massed for the
greatest long-range destructive and killing effect.”
Xin Qin makes the same point several times in his
book, Information Age Warfare. He emphasizes that
“to ensure a decisive attack against a target, guided
missiles (ballistic or cruise missiles) must be massed
against their objective.” He notes that the effective
use of conventional ballistic missiles can “win a war
without engagement [i.e., without employing one’s
own troops in direct combat] if their offensive fires are
concentrated effectively.” He is very critical of Iraq
in the First Gulf War for failing to concentrate missile
fires effectively against decisive troop targets.
This approach to warfare of employing concentrated
ballistic and cruise missile fires clearly informs
the PLA’s strategy against Taiwan, where the shortrange
ballistic missile build-up has reached about 800.
In addition, the PLA has developed new classes of
land attack cruise missiles which could be used against
Taiwan. It is also likely that if the PLA decides to
use conventional ballistic or cruise missiles in naval
warfare, they will concentrate missile fire against key
naval formations.
There also is an identifiable logic chain of battlefield
lessons-learned and analysis that led the PLA to its
current doctrine. Strategists and senior generals in the
PLA were highly critical of Iraq’s performance in the
aftermath of the First Gulf War. The PLA’s studies from
the First Gulf War informed the campaign doctrine
and guidance on the use of missiles today in texts like
A Guide to the Study of Campaign Theory.
To illustrate how these lessons affect military
thought today, in Information Age Warfare, Xin Qin, a
PLA staff officer, argues that Iraq never used its ballistic
missiles effectively. Iraqi missile forces failed by not
gathering the necessary intelligence of American and
allied assembly areas, and they compounded that
failure by not taking the initiative to attack them. He
argues for the massing of fires against critical targets
by ballistic missile forces. Xin believes that if Iraq had
massed its “guided missile strength against the weaker
coalition forces before they left training and assembly
areas, they [those forces] could have been destroyed
before they moved into combat formations and attack
positions.”
This has been the consistent view in the PLA for
over a decade. General Zhang Zhen, then vice chairman
of the CMC, endorsed it in Guided Missile Combat and
High Technology Wars. In that book, the authors point
out that “the combat power of missiles is very high,
but they must be used on enemy troop concentrations,
important bases or facilities, or other command and
control nerve centers in a sudden attack by concentrated
fires.” They go on to point out, “Iraq fired 81 Scud
missiles but failed to produce serious casualties or
to affect battlefield operations in a significant way.
Therefore, Iraq failed to take advantage of either the
killing power of missiles or their psychological effect
on operations.” The authors summarized their study
with the lesson that “missiles must be massed on
critical targets, [and] must be accurate” to be effective
in war.
With respect to Japan, the lessons that PLA planners
took from the Gulf Wars mean that in the future,
defense planners in the United States and Japan must
watch for a parallel buildup of DF-21s. The PLA will
need more of these mobile, medium-range missiles
to develop a parallel level of threat against Japan and
Okinawa and the capability to carry out that threat,
should it be necessary to do so in the future.
Attacking Deployed Carrier Battle Groups.
The PLA seems to believe it is coming close to
achieving a goal stated a decade ago—being able to
attack a deployed U.S. aircraft carrier battle group with
ballistic missiles. It is not clear, however, if the intent is
to use conventional warheads or to conduct a nuclear
attack. Nor is it clear if, in the event of a nuclear attack,
the carrier battle group would be targeted directly or if
a high altitude burst would be used to ensure that only
electro-magnetic pulse effects are felt, destroying U.S.
command, control, and sensor systems and clearing
the way for a conventional attack.
One PLA Academy of Military Science researcher
expressed the view that to engage in modern war, thePLA must be able to “attack the enemy’s knowledge
systems and such high value targets as communications,
carrier battle groups, and aviation warfare units.”
According to an officer from the Navy Command
Academy who addressed a PLA-wide conference on
missile warfare, “the Second Artillery is the major
factor in successfully attacking an enemy naval battle
group.” To accomplish such an attack, this officer
said:
The PLA must use all of its electronic warfare and
reconnaissance assets properly, must neutralize enemy
anti-missile systems and missile sensor systems, and
should use electronic jamming on the enemy fleet. The
PLA can then attack the enemy fleet or naval bases with
a combination of explosive, anti-radiation and fake
warheads to deceive enemy radar and sensor systems
and defeat a deployed battle group or one in port.40
For some time American naval officers have
dismissed this capability as beyond the grasp of the
PLA. American officers believe that China does not
have the space sensor systems, relay satellites, and
maneuvering warheads required to execute such an
attack. However, PLA officers seem convinced that
using ballistic missiles to attack naval battle groups is
a viable concept, and they are working to develop the
necessary systems to do so.
For a military force like the PLA, without a naval
air arm with a long reach, with a very limited aerial
refueling capability, and with older air platforms, using
ballistic missiles for this purpose makes sense. Three
PLA officers from the Second Artillery Command
Academy advance the idea that “guided missile forces
are the trump card (sa shou jian) in achieving victory in
limited high technology war.” The keys to achieving
such capabilities, in the argument of other PLA
officers, lie in three areas: the use of countermeasures,
the ability to achieve precision targeting, and the use of
space platforms to support the effort.
Two officers from the Second Artillery Engineering
College have studied how to modify a mobile trajectory
for warhead reentry into the atmosphere to determine
the effective range for attacking an enemy aircraft carrier
with ballistic missiles. They conclude that providing
terminal guidance will allow up to 100 kilometers of
maneuverability for a warhead during terminal attack.
They believe that a carrier “cannot effectively escape
an attack within a short period of time.”
Simulations to predict how the final attack ranges
for maneuvering targets at sea will affect maneuvering
reentry vehicles are also part of the research agenda
for Second Artillery engineering officers.45 They have
concluded that because a carrier battle group can project
force out to about 2,500 kilometers, the PLA must
reduce its missile warhead circular error probable to
attack maneuvering targets at sea outside the carrier’s
strike range.
Nuclear Counterattack Campaigns.
Long-standing published military doctrine,
statements by senior leaders, and the force preservation
measures undertaken by the PLA all support the
conclusion that the Second Artillery’s strategic
mission is principally to be a deterrent and retaliatory
force. The accounts of tunneling by Second Artillery
engineers in military press and journals, as well as
command and control measures, all reinforce this
conclusion. However, there is a debate going on in
China about the utility of “no-first-use” declarations.
Specifically, military thinkers in China are discussing
how to respond to conventional attacks on strategic
systems and how to respond to intelligence warning
of imminent strategic attack. The latter debate keeps
open the question of “preemptive counterattacks,”
something China has done in conventional war.
There are several large and unanswered questions
that this section of the paper attempts to address.
First, would the PLA execute a “preemptive nuclear
counterattack” if it believed an adversary was about
to attack China? One part of the PLA doctrine says,
“Advance warning may come to the Second Artillery
before an attack if there is notice that the enemy may
use nuclear weapons on any scale.” This implies that
the PLA might order a launch to preempt an enemy
surprise attack. Such a preemptive attack is consistent
with the concept of the “active defense,” which permits
sudden, surprise attacks into enemy territory and
“self-defensive counterattacks.” Moreover, as China
achieves improved levels of sophistication in space
surveillance, tracking, and relay, will judgments about
the propriety of “preemptive nuclear counterattack”
change?
Space is the area above 100,000 meters from sea
level. There are clear indications in PLA doctrine
that China wants the capacity to control space and
intends to control space immediately above its own
territory. One PLA officer has written “in peacetime
or wartime, enemy reconnaissance satellites are the
greatest threat to guided missile forces.” In addition,
Chinese military theorists are convinced that for the
security of China’s nuclear forces, the PLA needs antisatellite
countermeasures to stop an enemy’s ability to
use satellite surveillance against the Second Artillery
Corps. According to one officer writing in the journal,
China Military Science, “in order to assure the nation’s
space security, it is necessary to develop defensive
mechanisms; this requires work in the electro-magnetic
spectrum as well as firepower-based defenses.”
Taken together, these considerations undermine
the strength of China’s “no-first-use” guarantees. Even
the language in the 2006 National Defense White Paper
is somewhat ambiguous. The White Paper declares
“China remains firmly committed to the policy of no
first use of nuclear weapons at any time and under
any circumstances.” However, the next sentence of
the White Paper tells the reader “it unconditionally
undertakes a pledge not to use or threaten to use
nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states
or nuclear-weapon-free zones. . . .” One does not
need to be an international lawyer or grammarian to
understand that a “firm commitment to policy” is not
as strong a position as an “unconditional” pledge.
On January 11, 2007, China destroyed one of its own
weather satellites with a kinetic kill vehicle launched
on a Chinese missile. Earlier, in August 2006, a Chinese
ground-based laser blinded a U.S. reconnaissance
satellite over China. Thus, Beijing has demonstrated
an anti-satellite capability and has justified such actions
in its own military doctrine.
Notwithstanding the debate about China’s “nofirst-
use” policy, based on contemporary periodical
articles and military books, current doctrine is to
ensure that sufficient strategic missile forces survive a
nuclear attack for 3 to 5 days. After this period, Second
Artillery doctrine apparently calls for them to emerge,
deploy and retaliate in a nuclear counterattack.
The Second Artillery has three main missions:
deterrence, supporting conventional war with ballistic
missile attacks, and nuclear counterattack. With
regard to strategic systems, the PLA focus is “executing
nuclear counterattack campaigns.” The PLA’s plans
for nuclear counterattack campaigns are to “deter and
prevent the enemy from using nuclear weapons against
China” or to “execute a counterattack with nuclear
and precision conventional weapons.” The PLA’s
published doctrine, as well as statements by members
of the leadership, emphasize that China intends to
maintain a survivable nuclear force that can ride out
any nuclear attack, and then inflict a counterattack on
the enemy.
At the strategic level, A Guide to the Study of
Campaign Theory lays out the characteristics of a nuclear
counterattack campaign. The Second Artillery will use
long-range nuclear weapons to destroy strategic targets
several thousands of kilometers away. Campaign
planners envision carrying out a nuclear attack “only
after the enemy carries out a nuclear surprise attack,”
requiring a force that can absorb and survive an enemy
nuclear attack. The existing nuclear counterattack
campaign plans involve missile units of the Second
Artillery, supplemented by forces of the PLA Navy
(PLAN) and/or PLAAF. Moreover, now that the PLA
has developed longer-range, nuclear capable cruise
missiles, these campaign plans call for the Navy to use
submarine launched ballistic or cruise missiles. The
PLAAF could attack with nuclear cruise missiles or
bombs.
In planning nuclear counterattack campaigns, the
PLA gives primacy to the Second Artillery. Doctrine
says, “If it is a joint or combined nuclear counterattack
campaign plan, the Second Artillery will be the main
component combined with naval nuclear submarines
and air bombardment with nuclear weapons.”
China’s nuclear retaliatory plans require that the
Second Artillery maintain a force sufficient to “threaten
the opponent by striking his cities,” and employ a
strike force of “moderate intensity” that is “sufficient
and effective” to cause the enemy to incur “a certain
extent of unbearable destruction.” Thus, the size and
composition of any nuclear counterattack is a function
of a nuclear net assessment by Chinese political and
military leaders. It is a function of what they assess
as the level of damage the American public, and its
leaders, would find “unbearable.”
The objectives for nuclear campaign planning are
also ambiguous enough to leave open the question of
preemptive action by the PLA. According to A Guide
to the Study of Campaign Theory, major objective of a
nuclear counterattack campaign is to “alter enemy
intentions by causing the enemy’s will [to engage in
war] to waver.”61 Preemption, therefore, would be a
viable action that is consistent with the PLA’s history
of “self-defensive counterattacks.”
The PLA leadership has prioritized the objectives
of nuclear counterattack campaigns. These are:
• Cause the will of the enemy (and the populace)
to waver;
• Destroy the enemy’s command and control
system;
• Delay the enemy’s war (or combat) operations;
• Reduce the enemy’s force generation and warmaking
potential; and,
• Degrade the enemy’s ability to win a nuclear
war.
Generally, the targeting guidance to accomplish these
objectives is also set forth in A Guide to the Study of
Campaign Theory. The prioritized major targets for
nuclear missile forces are:
• “Enemy political and economic centers,
especially important urban areas, with a goal of
creating great shock in the enemy population’s
spirit and destroying their will to wage war;
• Destroy the critical infrastructure of the enemy to
weaken the enemy’s capacity for war (examples
for targets are petroleum refining, storage and
shipping links; electric power generation and
transmission lines; and major heavy industry);
• Enemy transportation networks;
• Major military targets such as air force and navy
staging areas and bases to degrade the ability of
these services to wage war; and,
• Major deployed military forces.”
Survive a Nuclear Attack: Then Retaliate.
The guiding motto for the Second Artillery
is “strictly protect counterattack capability and
concentrate [nuclear] fires to inflict the most damage in
the counterattack.” They emphasize that the Second
Artillery’s strategic warning system is closely tied to
the General Staff Department and that the Second
Artillery must continually keep up an estimate of
whether the enemy will use other forms of weapons of
mass destruction (WMD).
According to members of a Chinese delegation at
a 2005 strategic dialogue organized by the Defense
Threat Reduction Agency, the goals of China’s nuclear
policy are to maintain a retaliatory force of minimum
deterrent value and to hold enemy populations at risk.
China’s seeks to ensure reliable force with adequate
delivery systems that can survive a foreign attack
and maintains a “counter-value force” that requires
modernization.
The CMC and its General Staff Department
maintains light strategic forces. The Second Artillery
ensures that its communications with firing units
are secure and responsive to the Party political
leadership. Moreover, even in the computer age, PLA
thinkers prefer to rely on soldiers “at the trigger” over
automated command and firing systems.
To maintain the force at high levels of readiness,
strategic rocket force commanders gather intelligence,
maintain a system for indications and warning of
attack, and focus on force survivability.
Classes of Readiness for the Second Artillery.
According to A Guidebook to the Study of Campaign
Theory, the Second Artillery must “continually focus
on discovering the enemy’s attempts at attack, its
times of attack, and must always conduct defensive
exercises and preparations.” PLA doctrine requires
that the Second Artillery “operate and coordinate with
air, ground and other defensive organizations under
the direction of the CMC to implement a nuclear
counterattack campaign.”
The Second Artillery has a system of three classes
of readiness to which its units must adhere. Under
normal conditions, the firing units are at “Third Class”
status. In this status, forces train, conduct exercises
and conduct normal maintenance. If the CMC receives
some warning that the enemy may use nuclear
weapons, the CMC directs units to raise their readiness
levels to “Second Class” warning status. At this status,
units must prepare to move to firing positions or may
actually deploy to firing positions, many of which
can be tunnels or prepared underground, protected
positions. The highest readiness status is “First Class
Warning.” At “First Class Warning” status, missile
forces are fully ready to fire and are either deployed or
in combat positions and with their support elements,
warheads and fuel, waiting for a launch order.
When firing units actually move to firing positions,
the individual unit commanders are responsible for
the security of their own prime movers and must
conduct a check of the firing status of each missile
and the warheads. They must report this status to
the headquarters. After firing their missiles, they
will disperse and get the results of a post-firing
reconnaissance and new intelligence.
Combat orders must come through special
command department channels of the Second Artillery
or General Staff Department, but only the CMC can
send a launch order. The combat order will give the
current friendly and enemy situation, the status of the
war and a determination on the use of nuclear force,
the combat objectives for an attack, and the limits of an
attack. The actual firing order will contain the time
limits for each unit to fire and instructions for postfiring
movement and disposition.
Support for “Guaranteed Survivability and Strike.”
The concept of a “guaranteed strike” is fundamental
to PLA Second Artillery doctrine. This means that
strategic rocket forces must be able to ride out a nuclear
attack and emerge later to conduct their counterstrike.
To accomplish this, the Second Artillery maintains its
own support infrastructure including maintenance,
supply and food services, engineers, and road and rail
transport.
In a Second Artillery nuclear war simulations
exercise reported by China’s Xinhua news service,
China stayed with its “no-first–use” policy and
absorbed a nuclear strike. After the strike, the exercise
scenario required that the Second Artillery forces stay
in protected underground areas for as long as several
days before emerging to conduct a retaliatory “nuclear
counterattack.”
An article in Beijing Huojianbing Bao (Rocket Troops
Daily), the Second Artillery’s newspaper, provides
insight into the tactic of absorbing a strike, waiting a
fixed period of time, and then emerging for a “nuclear
counterstrike.” According to two Second Artillery
authors, a 2004 nuclear counterattack exercise had to
be stopped in its third day because the troops involved
in the exercise developed vomiting and diarrhea from a
spoiled food supply.83 The Second Artillery’s Logistics
Department adjusted the food supply in future
exercises, allowing soldiers to conduct the exercise
under “sealed” conditions and extended the safety of
the combat food supply. This assured that the Second
Artillery could remain underground long enough to
emerge safely and conduct a retaliatory strike.
In addition to the PLA Second Artillery Corps
engineering and construction units for tunneling and
the construction of roads, there is a transportation
support infrastructure integral to the organization. An
article in Huojianbing Bao discusses the Second Artillery
rail transport system. A mobile system moved what was
termed a “national treasure” by a “rail transportation
battalion of a special transportation regiment.”
Another article in the same paper documents the
importance of mobile missiles and mobility training.
Rapid mobility is a way to “improve survivability and
nuclear counterdeterrence.” There also is a continuous
program to upgrade and improve missile position
design inside the Second Artillery. The objectives of this
program are to ensure that missiles are positioned in a
way to avoid foreign reconnaissance, take advantage
of the geography and environment, and have the
maximum possible protection against foreign attack.
The objectives of these integrated support systems
are to meet the Second Artillery’s “guiding principles
for nuclear counterattack campaign strategy.” To
restate these principles, the guiding motto for the
Second Artillery is “strictly protect counterattack
capability and concentrate [nuclear] fires to inflict the
most damage in the counterattack”. To meet the first
requirement in this motto, protect and preserve the
force, the Second Artillery is to:
• Defend against the enemy’s precision weapons
attack;
• Defend against enemy air raids;
• Defend against enemy Special Operations
Forces attacking China’s nuclear forces;
• Organize to respond to sudden surprise attacks;
and,
• Organize to restore China’s nuclear warfighting
capability rapidly.88
To meet the second requirement in the motto, “guarantee
or safeguard the survivability of the nuclear response
system to counterattack,” Second Artillery doctrine
requires its forces to:
• Protect the nuclear counterattack campaign
plan;
• Conduct advanced preparations for a
campaign;
• Ensure the timely reliability of the system;
• Be prepared for a rapid response;
• Ensure response plans are complete and
comprehensive;
• Guarantee the survivability of the counter
attack force; and,
• Conduct comprehensive coordination with
other headquarters and commands.
Nuclear Command and Control.
Second Artillery Corps doctrine requires “comprehensive
coordination with other headquarters
and commands.” In order to maintain that level of
communication throughout the force, command
and control for missile forces is highly centralized,
redundant, and networked. Two PLA officers writing
in the book Missile Combat in High Technology Warfare
describe Second Artillery command and control this
way: “The nodes in a ballistic missile command
and control network are 1) the commander in chief
(tongshuaibu), 2) the command organizations of the
military departments, 3) the missile bases, and 4) the
firing units.” Furthermore, they say, “especially
where it concerns strategic missiles, the ability of
the commander in chief [this can also be translated
as “supreme command authority”] to control firing
orders must be executed quickly, and firing orders
must be encrypted (encoded).” Finally, PLA manuals
specify, “the war positions of the Second Artillery
are established by the supreme command authority
(tongshuaibu) in peacetime and are dispersed over a
wide area for strategic reasons.”
In a text published by the PLA National Defense
University, Wang Zhongquan provides a sophisticated
analysis of the U.S. strategic warning and nuclear
command and control system. Wang bases his analysis
on an extensive review of published American
literature, but there is no discussion in the text of
the dangers or utility of attacking, or disrupting the
command and control system. Nor is there a discussion
of the advisability of blinding the strategic warning
system. The text is a catalogue of the two systems
that could support offensive efforts by the PLA, or,
alternatively, one can read it as an example for the PLA
of how to structure effective warning and command
and control systems.
PLA texts emphasize that the Second Artillery’s
strategic warning system is closely tied to the General
Staff Department and that the Second Artillery must
continually keep up an estimate of whether the enemy
will use other forms of weapons of mass destruction.95
The use of the term tongshuaibu in this context is
uncommon, but not unheard of, in explanations of
Chinese command and control systems. Tongshuai can

mean supreme commander or commander in chief.
The Nationalist forces (Kuomintang, or KMT) used the
term to refer to a couple of major frontal headquarters
during the civil war. In the Huaihai Campaign, for
instance, in 1949, the KMT combat headquarters for
the campaign was called the Tongshuaibu. PLA military
histories also refer to Eisenhower’s headquarters for
Overlord and the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers
Europe as the tongshuaibu. Clearly, this use is meant to
designate a higher-level command authority than the
General Staff Department Operations Department.
On the 40th anniversary of the founding of the
Second Artillery, Hu Jintao spoke to an assemblage of
people that included Xiang Shouzhi, first commander
of the organization, and a number of previous leaders.
Hu was present in the combined capacity of President
of China, Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party,
and Chairman of the Communist Party CMC. In
Jiefangjun Bao, articles have referred to the PLAN
headquarters as the Navy’s tongshuaibu, and to the
CMC as the tongshuaibu. Thus, while it is possible
that the reference to a valid firing order means that it
comes from the commander of the Second Artillery,
the consensus among American scholars who follow
the PLA closely is that in the context of nuclear and
missile-firing orders, tongshuaibu refers to the CMC.
This is the highest and most centralized level of military
leadership in the Chinese Communist Party.In the
photo of Hu Jintao that appeared in Jiefangjun Bao
depicting his 40th Anniversary speech to the leaders of
the Second Artillery, Hu was wearing a PLA uniform
without insignia or rank. Moreover, to confirm that
the tongshuaibu is the CMC, in another account of Hu
Jintao’s speech published by Xinhua News Service, Hu
is quoted as saying “The Second Artillery Corps is a
strategic force directly commanded and used by the
Party Central Committee and the CMC and is our core
force for strategic deterrence.”
Second Artillery command orders are centralized,
encoded and protected, and require human
authentication. PLA military writers eschew completely
automated command and control systems. There is a
very strong emphasis on the need for a “man in the
loop” even in modern, information age warfare. One
writer specializing in command and control issues
makes the point that “no matter how advanced a
computer is used in a command and control system,
it will never substitute for the strength and utility of
the human brain.” The implications of this insistence
on a “man in the loop” for nuclear firing orders is that
the PLA will likely reject calls for automated protective
action links in its doctrine.
Discussions about No First Use.
New interpretations of the concept of the “selfdefensive
counterattack” in the strategy of active
defense and the general view that ballistic missiles
are a kind of trump card in war bring into question
whether the CMC will adhere to the stated “no-firstuse”
doctrine. Increasingly, China’s military thinkers
view missiles as a sort of “trump card” in war that will
guarantee success for the PLA. Military thinkers are
also very critical of the failure of Iraq’s military to use
ballistic missiles early, in mass, and effectively against
the American and allied military build-up in the First
Gulf War.
There is an open debate among civilian strategic
thinkers, younger military officers, and the older leaders
of the PLA on the utility of the “no-first-use” doctrine
for China. This is important to follow because the CMC
of the Chinese Communist Party ultimately has the
finger on China’s nuclear trigger, and technologically
oriented civilians today, not former leaders of the PLA,
control the CMC.
This leads to some doubt over whether its pledges
would survive a deep crisis or conventional conflict. As
discussed earlier in this paper, there is some ambiguity
over what type of warheads ballistic missiles used to
attack deployed naval battle groups would carry.
Moreover, as discussed earlier in this paper, China’s
National Defense in 2006 does not settle the ambiguity
over how the CMC might make its decisions on what
weapons to employ. There is also ambiguity over how
China might respond to intelligence warnings of attack,
and how China would respond to a conventional attack
on its strategic systems.
According to a university based professor, an expert
on arms control and disarmament often consulted
by the PLA, it was he who suggested to PLA and
central government policy planners that China should
consider a nuclear response if its strategic systems
were attacked, even if that attack was by conventional
means. Both the PLA and central government policy
planners were cool to this idea, the professor said.
Indeed, senior military officers and diplomats insisted
that China must strictly abide by its “no first use”
pledge. Nonetheless, the professor continues to push
the discussion, often supported by younger scholars
and military officers. The subject is not closed, and
policy could shift with leadership generations.
The campaign theory text by Xue Xinglin of the
National Defense University is quite clear on the matter
of China’s “no first use” policy. Xue writes that “the
PRC will conduct a nuclear counterattack only after
the enemy carries out a nuclear surprise attack.”102
Another seminal PLA text, for which former Chief of
the General Staff Department General Zhang Wannian
is credited as the editor, also makes explicit statements
that the PLA will not initiate the use of nuclear weapons
in war: “China’s nuclear force is a self-defensive force.
It is designed to protect the nation and deter nuclear
attack.”
Zhang Wannian’s explicit declaration echoes
statements in an earlier book by Lu Hui, a long-time
PLA expert on nuclear, chemical, and biological
weapons. Lu explains that the genesis of China’s own
nuclear program was nuclear threats by the United
States in the Korean War. The objective of becoming
a nuclear power was “breaking the United States and
Soviet great power monopoly on nuclear weapons.”104
Former defense minister and head of China’s nuclear
program General Zhang Aiping and the former head of
the PLA National Defense University General Zhang
Zhen endorse Lu’s book as authoritative.
Lu quotes a Japanese scholar to make the point that
one reason that China developed nuclear weapons was
so that “the world will note China’s latent power.”105
Lu reiterates that China’s goal in developing nuclear
weapons is to “break the monopoly of big nuclear
powers and their nuclear threat, but that at no time
and under no circumstances will China be the first
to use nuclear weapons—China will be a completely
independent state with nuclear weapons.”106 This
position accurately reflects the policies announced by
China’s senior leaders on a number of occasions.
Despite these statements of doctrine, there are
indications of dissent by junior officers. In a discussion
analyzing the First Gulf War, Xin Qin notes that
despite an advantage in ballistic missiles, Iraq’s forces
never used them effectively. Xin argues that had Iraqi
forces massed their ballistic missile fires early against a
weaker coalition that was just in the build-phase of its
deployment, they could have had a deadly effect. By
waiting for coalition forces to fully deploy, train and
disperse into combat formations, Iraqi forces missed
the opportunity to destroy the coalition before they
moved into combat. Xin’s conclusion is that Iraq did
not act decisively with initiative when it should have,
and it did not mass its fires for deadly effect.107 All of
this suggests that consideration be given to preemptive
action, especially using ballistic missiles, when enemy
intentions become clear, even if no attack has taken
place.
Xin goes on to argue that “when one is fighting an
enemy that fears heavy military casualties, one can
attack major enemy political, military, and economic
objectives in the enemy homeland and wipe out his
massed forces.”108 Such a form of war can become a
“war without engagement” because it uses long-range
weapons and massed fires to wipe out the enemy’s
combat capability. Later in the same book, however,
Xin makes the argument that “guided missiles are
limited tools in warfare. They have to be used only
against high value targets because their greatest worth
is as a deterrent tool. Thus, guided missiles are ‘political
weapons’ that have a political effect on a war.”109 The
final argument on the uses of missiles in war by Xin
is that missiles are weapons of choice to seize the
initiative in combat and regain the offensive. 110
Xin Qin is probably representative of a number of
younger PLA officers that are not committed by virtue
of long ideological education to the no first use of
nuclear weapons policy. Clearly, he and other junior
officers see the utility of preemption and the utility of
the first use of these weapons, if the calculus can come
out on China’s side and massive nuclear retaliation can
be avoided. Also, there is some ambiguity between the
use of missiles and nuclear weapons at the campaign
level and at the strategic level of war, but these younger
officers do not dismiss using them out of hand.
There is wide acceptance of the doctrine of no first
use at all levels of the PLA. Nonetheless, it is also
apparent that nuclear strategists chafe at the doctrine
and younger strategists, in particular, leave open in
their writings the possibility that China may have to
move away from this doctrine. Certainly at the theater
level, the PLA leaves itself room to preempt an attack,
even with nuclear weapons, if they believe this is a
“nuclear counterattack” on an enemy about to launch
a nuclear strike.
Conclusions.
Examining the doctrinal text, Zhanyi Lilun Xuexi
Zhinan (A Guide to the Study of Campaign Theory)
provided more information on China’s nuclear
doctrine, force deployment, command and control,
and survivability measures than has been available in
the past. Combining the examination of authoritative
doctrinal text with materials from the Chinese press
and those obtained through the Open Source Center
helped to confirm the authenticity of the doctrinal
text and provided supporting evidence for judgments
about the nature of China’s strategic rocket forces, their
organization, readiness levels, and their control.
Another critical factor in the nuclear threat equation
faced in the United States is the calculation by the
CMC that China is able to absorb nuclear strikes with
less catastrophic effects that the United States. This
judgment is a function of China’s historical military
culture, geography, and an intentional state-directed
policy of civil defense and risk distribution.111 For the
United States, this means that Chinese leaders may
miscalculate American will and mistakenly take risky
actions.
The decision by Beijing to put nuclear and
conventional warheads on the same classes of ballistic
missiles and colocate them near each other in firing
units of the Second Artillery Corps also increases the
risk of accidental nuclear conflict. If a country with good
surveillance systems, like the United States, detects a
missile being launched, it has serious choices to make.
It can absorb a first strike, see whether it is hit with a
nuclear or conventional weapon, and retaliate in kind;
or it can decide to launch a major strike on warning. If
the nation under attack has ballistic missile defenses,
it might be able to stop an incoming missile and seek FOREWORD
A decade ago, many scholars and policy analysts
who followed China dismissed the People’s Liberation
Army (PLA) as an antiquated force that was essentially
infantry, fighting with decades-old weapons, poor
communications, and World War II era doctrine.
China’s nuclear forces were also technologically
outmoded and fixed to silo or tunnel launch sites. Very
little information was available about China’s “Second
Artillery Corps,” as China calls its strategic rocket
forces. The United States knew that the PLA maintained
a separate corps of rocket troops, but its doctrine and
command and control structures remained shrouded
in secrecy. Chinese diplomats, political leaders, and
security thinkers regularly announced that China
would adhere to a “no first use” policy, but very little
published military information was available about
how China intended to use its missile forces in crisis or
war.
China’s nuclear deterrent.
China’s leaders and military thinkers see the
United States as a major potential threat to the PLA
and China’s interests primarily because of American
military capabilities, but also because of U.S. security
relationships in Asia. To respond to these perceived
threats, China’s military thinkers are examining the
relationships between conventional and nuclear ballistic
missile units in war and developing new doctrine
for missile employment. There are explicit discussionsin PLA military literature and scientific journals on
how to use ballistic missiles to attack deployed U.S.
naval battle groups, particularly aircraft carriers.
Indeed, the Second Artillery Corps is developing a
new class of maneuvering reentry vehicles with this
mission in mind. In addition, there is also more open
information revealed in these documents about frontal
and national-level command and control of missile
units.
The targets suggested for theater warfare and
conventional guided missile campaigns at the
operational level of war are designed to achieve
battlefield effects that will destroy an enemy’s ability to
wage war effectively. Secondarily, the targets selected
would disrupt the enemy’s economy, reconstitution
and resupply capabilities:
• Enemy political centers;
• Economic centers;
• Major enemy military bases and depots;
• Enemy command centers;
• Enemy communications and transportation
networks; and,
• Major troop concentrations.
China’s strategic intercontinental ballistic missile
force remains primarily retaliatory in nature. The PLA
may employ theater and shorter-range ballistic missiles,
however, as elements of a surprise attack or to preempt
an enemy attack. PLA military thinkers recognize that
long-range precision strike by conventional weapons
is now an integral part of U.S. military doctrine. They
fear that a conventional attack on China’s strategic
missile forces could render China vulnerable and
leave it without a deterrent. This has led to a debate
in China among civilian strategic thinkers and military
leaders on the viability of the announced “no-firstix
use” policy on nuclear weapons. Some strategists
advocate departing from the “no-first-use” policy and
responding to conventional attacks on strategic forces
with nuclear missiles.
The objectives for nuclear campaign planning
are ambiguous enough to leave open the question of
preemptive action by the PLA. According to A Guide
to the Study of Campaign Theory, a major objective of
Chinese nuclear planning is to “alter enemy intentions
by causing the enemy’s will [to engage in war] to
waver.” Preemption, therefore, would be a viable
action that is consistent with the PLA’s history of “selfdefensive
counterattacks.”
The PLA leadership has prioritized the objectives of
nuclear counterattack campaigns as follows:
• Cause the will of the enemy (and the populace)
to waver;
• Destroy the enemy’s command and control
system;1
• Delay the enemy’s war (or combat) operations;
• Reduce the enemy’s force generation and warmaking
potential; and,
• Degrade the enemy’s ability to win a nuclear
war.
The decision by Beijing to put nuclear and conventional
warheads on the same classes of ballistic missiles
and colocate them near each other in firing units of
the Second Artillery Corps also increases the risk
of accidental nuclear conflict. A critical factor in any
American decision will be the capabilities of American
space-based sensor systems. Accurate sensors may
be able to determine whether China launched a
conventional or nuclear-tipped missile, and such a
determination could prevent immediate escalation of
a crisis or conflict.
These are serious matters for the American armed
forces. China’s nuclear forces are evolving and the way
they are used is under debate. The way that the PLA
handles its commitment to dominating space and its
commitment to being capable of attacking American
command, control, communication, computers,
intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR)
systems affects strategic warning, missile defenses,
and command and control. For the Army, with the
responsibility to defend the United States against
missile attack, it means that watching the evolution of
this debate in China is critical to success.
ntroduction.
This monograph analyzes several recent Chinese
language books published by the People’s Liberation
Army (PLA) for information about China’s Second
Artillery Corps, their “Strategic Rocket Forces.” These
materials provide new insights into why China’s
leaders and military thinkers see the United States as a
major potential threat to the PLA and China’s interests.
The materials also discuss the relationships they see
between conventional and nuclear ballistic missile units
in war fighting doctrine. There are explicit discussions
of how to use missiles to attack deployed United States
naval forces. There are important discussions of how the
control of space relates to China’s nuclear deterrence.
There is also more open information revealed in these
documents about frontal and national-level command
and control of missile units. Finally, the materials
provide insights into the evolving debate in China
between civilian strategic thinkers and military leaders
on the viability of an announced “no-first-use” policy
on nuclear weapons.
The major insights in this monograph come from
exploiting sections of a doctrinal text published for PLA
institutions of higher military education by the Chinese
National Defense University, A Guide to the Study of
Campaign Theory.1 This book is an unclassified “study
guide” for PLA officers on how to understand and
apply doctrine in a restricted PLA book on campaign
doctrine in warfare, The Science of Campaigns.2 Other
recent books by PLA or Chinese government controlled
publishing houses validate the insights in the paper
and demonstrate how the PLA is going about achieving
its vision for modern war fighting. These include On
Strategic Command and Control, published by Military
Science Press in 2002; and Warfare in the Information
Age, published by National Defense University Press
in 2000.
To assist the PLA in its goal of attacking deployed
aircraft carrier battle groups, two PLA Air Force
(PLAAF) authors, Sun Yiming and Yang Liping, have
built a virtual roadmap for attacking joint U.S. data
control systems and military communications. They
have carefully consulted dozens of corporate web sites
and military tactical data link operator guides, as well
as North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and
U.S. military tactical and technical manuals, to produce
a virtual guidebook for electronic warfare and jamming
to disrupt critical U.S. cooperative target engagement
and command, control, communications, computers,
and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance
(C4ISR) data links: Tactical Data Links in Information
Warfare.3
On the debate over China’s “no-first-use” policy
among the academic community, younger PLA
authors, and the older generation of PLA leaders,
this paper relies on interviews with strategists and
PLA academics in 2006, and the book, International
Politics and China, published by Peking University
Press in 2005. The PLA’s traditional approach to the
subject is set forth in a doctrinal text, China’s National
Defense and World Military Affairs, endorsed by General
Zhang Wannian, who was chief of the General Staff
Department of the PLA at the time it was published.4
However, China’s traditional approach of “no-firstuse”
of nuclear weapons is under challenge by the new
generation of strategists. Finally, the paper explores
ways that the PLA’s concept of “active defense” relates
to nuclear doctrine.
The United States as the Greatest Potential Threat.
One of the key insights from these documents
is that China now identifies the United States as its
main potential enemy, although in some materials,
the references to the United States are indirect. This
is an important change in China’s strategic literature
because in the past, Russia (the Soviet Union) was
also identified as a principal threat to China. Now the
United States stands alone.
In part, this is because senior PLA leaders and
military strategists consider the United States to be the
most advanced military force on which to base their
own military development. They also see the United
States as the most advanced and likely potential
enemy against which they may need to employ
ballistic and cruise missiles or counter advanced C4ISR
technologies.
According to the monthly Hong Kong magazine,
Cheng Ming, after a large-scale Second Artillery
exercise, Vice Chairman of the Central Military
Commission (CMC) General Guo Boxiong addressed
the participants to discuss the posture the PLA should
maintain toward the United States. General Guo told
the exercise participants, “China must strive to increase
the capabilities of its strategic nuclear weapons if it
wants to stand firm against the United States, which
routinely treats China as an enemy in its strategic
planning.”5
In the view of many in the PLA, the military
power of the United States, the potential to use that
power to coerce or dominate China, and the ability to
threaten China’s pursuit of its own interests, presents
a latent threat to China. Additionally, China’s own
threats against democratic Taiwan, and the fact that
PLA leaders believe that the United States is likely to
come to Taiwan’s assistance in the event of Chinese
aggression in the Taiwan Strait, magnifies the threat
that PLA officers perceive from the United States.
This perceived threat drives the PLA to follow U.S.
military developments more carefully than those of
other nations and to be prepared to counter American
forces.
Over the past decade, authors at the PLA National
Defense University have singled out the United
States as the world’s greatest political, military, and
economic power, and the only such power that can act
on a global scale. An assessment of the U.S. nuclear
posture in the post-Cold War period said: “The goal
of America’s new military strategy after the collapse
of the Soviet Union is to maintain the U.S. position as
a world superpower and maintain America’s position
as a world leader. The maintenance of a strong nuclear
deterrent by the United States is an important tool for
the United States.”Today, PLA literature often refers to “great powers”
with the ability to coerce other countries because of
their nuclear and military capabilities, or PLA writers
refer to “hegemonic powers” that threaten peace. The
former phrasing, “great powers with the ability to
coerce other countries,” is an indirect reference to both
Russia and the United States. The latter formulation,
however, “hegemonic powers that threaten peace,” is
shorthand for the United States.
Major General Wang Baocun of the PLA Academy
of Military Science summarized the view of the United
States this way:
The new military transformation has led to the rise of
a United States possessed of overwhelmingly dominant
military might. The United States is also an arrogant
country with strong ambitions for hegemonism. The
United States will take advantage of its absolute
superiority in supreme military might in order to pursue
power politics and hegemonism, seek to maintain its
position as the world’s only superpower, and slow down
the process of mulitpolarization for the world’s strategic
structure.
Such a view is fueling the PLA’s efforts to build a
modern, information-based, digitized military force.
PLA thinkers believe that the missiles in the Second
Artillery Corps (Strategic Rocket Forces) are a “trump
card” that, when combined with information warfare,
will help the PLA to win a war against a more advanced
military.8 Indeed, even if the PLA did not envision
seeking a direct confrontation with the United States,
the awareness that the two countries could clash in the
event of a Chinese attack on Taiwan is enough to drive
PLA modernization.
General Zhang Wannian, then chief of the General
Staff Department of the PLA, has argued that “modern
limited warfare under high technology conditions is
conducted under a cloud of a threat of becoming a
nuclear war, and this cloud or shadow of nuclear war
will limit the scope of warfare.” He suggests that the
“forces of hegemony in the world will use nuclear
weapons to dominate other nations,” thus China
must have nuclear capabilities. In this context, the
reference to “forces of hegemony” is a part of Zhang’s
comments on the First Gulf War and is shorthand for
the United States. It is a clear reference to the United
States as a potential enemy. Moreover, Zhang’s book
contains other indirect references to the United States
as a potential enemy when he suggests that China’s
nuclear weapons can be used to “deter moves to split
the sovereign state,” a reference to Taiwan. Finally,
Zhang notes that the conduct of “bloody actual combat”
(during conventional war), in itself, is a deterrent
measure, and the more destructive the actual combat
in which a nation engages, the greater the likelihood of
effective deterrence.11
A good example of an indirect statement of
perceptions of the threat posed to China by the
United States is Xia Liping’s explanation of the logic
behind China’s strategy of “Active Defense.” Xia is a
reserve senior colonel in the PLA affiliated with the
Shanghai Institute for International Studies and Fudan
University. He set forth the concepts behind the “active
defense” strategy for the Chinese Communist Party
audience in a periodical from the Central Communist
Party School. Xia tells the reader that the CMC studied
and considered the conduct of the Gulf War (1990-91)
and in 1993 decided on a strategy of “active defense”
to meet the demand of the “world’s new revolution
in military affairs (RMA), as well as other factors
threatening China’s security.” The reference to the
Gulf War and the RMA are intellectual shorthand for
the United States. However, the concept of “active
defense” is not new in Chinese military thinking and is
embedded in the military doctrines espoused by Mao
Zedong.
The view that the United States has greater potential
than other nations to threaten China is consistent
with that in a book by one of the most respected PLA
strategists and leaders, Lieutenant General Li Jijun,
Thinking about Military Strategy. Li commanded a
Group Army in Manchuria and was responsible for the
ground warfare experiment that validated combined
arms group armies in the PLA. Later he was the director
of Deng Xiaoping’s military office. In retirement, he
teaches advanced military theory courses at the PLA
Academy of Military Science and at Beijing University.
Originally published in 1996, Li’s book was revised and
republished twice by the Academy of Military Science,
most recently in 2002.
In his evaluation of contemporary world security
threats, Li Jijun concludes that the major problem
facing China is “large countries” that create “threat
theories, including the countries that espouse the
‘China threat theory’.”13 Of course, this is a clear, albeit
indirect, reference to the United States as the nation
with the most capability to threaten China because of
its policies, its military power, and its alliances.
Li says,
. . . like England (in the Napoleonic age), the U.S. is
the world’s strongest power; the United States has the
greatest number of international interests and “colonial”
[like] relationships; U.S. military power is dispersed
widely throughout the world; the wide range of interests
and military deployments mean that U.S. forces are overcommitted
and stretched thin; and there is a great need
to work with allies and coalition partners to achieve
security goals.
Concern over the United States and its military
power is not limited to the PLA. One prominent
civilian scholar, Yan Xuetong, believes that the United
States is “the dominant world military power for a 10
to 20-year period, and in that period is the only threat
to China.” Yan spent a decade as a staff member of
the China Institute for Contemporary International
Relations, a government institute related to the
Ministry of State Security. Today he is a professor at
Tsinghua University and is still summoned to brief
senior military and civilian officials of the government
and the Chinese Communist Party.
China’s most recent White Paper on National
Defense, issued on December 29, 2006, also warns
“the United States is accelerating is realignment of
military deployment to enhance its military capability
in the Asia-Pacific region.” The White Paper further
expresses concern that “the United States and Japan
are strengthening their military alliance in pursuit of
operational integration” . . . while Japan’s military
posture is “becoming more external-oriented.”
Although there is passing discussion of the nuclear
forces of Russia and India in these publications, the
authors do not classify them as major strategic threats
to China. The same is true of Japan. The authors
acknowledge Japan as a military power, but Chinese
strategists seem to think that Japan’s populace remains
satisfied by the U.S. strategic nuclear umbrella.
Guided Missiles in Conventional War Campaigns.
New doctrine for the employment of missiles in
warfare emphasizes the value of strategic missiles as
a form of offset attack, particularly in China’s military
strategy of the “active defense.” The “active defense”
concept holds that warfare is a “holistic entity that
includes offensive as well as defensive action.”
In a strategic defense, according to PLA doctrine,
offensive action still carries the war to the enemy; thus,
counterattack is one form of offensive action within
a general strategic defense. PLA doctrine holds that
“active defense strategy does not acknowledge the
difference . . . between offense and defense, . . . and
sudden ‘first strikes’ in campaigns or battles as well
as ‘counterattacks in self defense’ into enemy territory
are part of the doctrine.” Some Chinese believe that
the concept of “active defense” permits the conduct of
preemptive attacks.
The doctrine in A Guidebook to the Study of Campaign
Theory gives specific guidance for the conduct of
conventional guided missile campaigns. According
to this text, the Second Artillery force has subordinate
to the headquarters a “conventional guided missile
campaign army group.” The army group must
be “continuously prepared for a rapid response,”
which indicates a series of prepared war plans are
maintained within the conventional force. The doctrine
for conventional guided missile forces calls for the
use of a “small amount of force as a deterrent against
attack.”
The targets suggested for conventional guided
missile campaigns are designed to achieve battlefield
effects that will destroy an enemy’s ability to wage
war effectively. In addition, the targets selected would
disrupt the enemy’s economy, reconstitution and
resupply capabilities:
• Enemy political centers;
• Economic centers;
• Major enemy military bases and depots;
• Enemy command centers;
• Enemy communications and transportation
networks; and,
• Major troop concentrations.
The Second Artillery Conventional Guided Missile
Campaign Army Group operates under the direct
leadership of the CMC. However, conventional
battlefield missiles are assigned to military regions or
war fronts and operate under the control of the regional
or frontal commander.
There are regular references to the need to “mass
(or concentrate) fires” against critical targets. General
Zhang Wannian reminds the PLA in one text “from
the standpoint of firepower, air bombardment,
artillery, and guided missiles must be massed for the
greatest long-range destructive and killing effect.”
Xin Qin makes the same point several times in his
book, Information Age Warfare. He emphasizes that
“to ensure a decisive attack against a target, guided
missiles (ballistic or cruise missiles) must be massed
against their objective.” He notes that the effective
use of conventional ballistic missiles can “win a war
without engagement [i.e., without employing one’s
own troops in direct combat] if their offensive fires are
concentrated effectively.” He is very critical of Iraq
in the First Gulf War for failing to concentrate missile
fires effectively against decisive troop targets.
This approach to warfare of employing concentrated
ballistic and cruise missile fires clearly informs
the PLA’s strategy against Taiwan, where the shortrange
ballistic missile build-up has reached about 800.
In addition, the PLA has developed new classes of
land attack cruise missiles which could be used against
Taiwan. It is also likely that if the PLA decides to
use conventional ballistic or cruise missiles in naval
warfare, they will concentrate missile fire against key
naval formations.
There also is an identifiable logic chain of battlefield
lessons-learned and analysis that led the PLA to its
current doctrine. Strategists and senior generals in the
PLA were highly critical of Iraq’s performance in the
aftermath of the First Gulf War. The PLA’s studies from
the First Gulf War informed the campaign doctrine
and guidance on the use of missiles today in texts like
A Guide to the Study of Campaign Theory.
To illustrate how these lessons affect military
thought today, in Information Age Warfare, Xin Qin, a
PLA staff officer, argues that Iraq never used its ballistic
missiles effectively. Iraqi missile forces failed by not
gathering the necessary intelligence of American and
allied assembly areas, and they compounded that
failure by not taking the initiative to attack them. He
argues for the massing of fires against critical targets
by ballistic missile forces. Xin believes that if Iraq had
massed its “guided missile strength against the weaker
coalition forces before they left training and assembly
areas, they [those forces] could have been destroyed
before they moved into combat formations and attack
positions.”
This has been the consistent view in the PLA for
over a decade. General Zhang Zhen, then vice chairman
of the CMC, endorsed it in Guided Missile Combat and
High Technology Wars. In that book, the authors point
out that “the combat power of missiles is very high,
but they must be used on enemy troop concentrations,
important bases or facilities, or other command and
control nerve centers in a sudden attack by concentrated
fires.” They go on to point out, “Iraq fired 81 Scud
missiles but failed to produce serious casualties or
to affect battlefield operations in a significant way.
Therefore, Iraq failed to take advantage of either the
killing power of missiles or their psychological effect
on operations.” The authors summarized their study
with the lesson that “missiles must be massed on
critical targets, [and] must be accurate” to be effective
in war.
With respect to Japan, the lessons that PLA planners
took from the Gulf Wars mean that in the future,
defense planners in the United States and Japan must
watch for a parallel buildup of DF-21s. The PLA will
need more of these mobile, medium-range missiles
to develop a parallel level of threat against Japan and
Okinawa and the capability to carry out that threat,
should it be necessary to do so in the future.
Attacking Deployed Carrier Battle Groups.
The PLA seems to believe it is coming close to
achieving a goal stated a decade ago—being able to
attack a deployed U.S. aircraft carrier battle group with
ballistic missiles. It is not clear, however, if the intent is
to use conventional warheads or to conduct a nuclear
attack. Nor is it clear if, in the event of a nuclear attack,
the carrier battle group would be targeted directly or if
a high altitude burst would be used to ensure that only
electro-magnetic pulse effects are felt, destroying U.S.
command, control, and sensor systems and clearing
the way for a conventional attack.
One PLA Academy of Military Science researcher
expressed the view that to engage in modern war, thePLA must be able to “attack the enemy’s knowledge
systems and such high value targets as communications,
carrier battle groups, and aviation warfare units.”
According to an officer from the Navy Command
Academy who addressed a PLA-wide conference on
missile warfare, “the Second Artillery is the major
factor in successfully attacking an enemy naval battle
group.” To accomplish such an attack, this officer
said:
The PLA must use all of its electronic warfare and
reconnaissance assets properly, must neutralize enemy
anti-missile systems and missile sensor systems, and
should use electronic jamming on the enemy fleet. The
PLA can then attack the enemy fleet or naval bases with
a combination of explosive, anti-radiation and fake
warheads to deceive enemy radar and sensor systems
and defeat a deployed battle group or one in port.40
For some time American naval officers have
dismissed this capability as beyond the grasp of the
PLA. American officers believe that China does not
have the space sensor systems, relay satellites, and
maneuvering warheads required to execute such an
attack. However, PLA officers seem convinced that
using ballistic missiles to attack naval battle groups is
a viable concept, and they are working to develop the
necessary systems to do so.
For a military force like the PLA, without a naval
air arm with a long reach, with a very limited aerial
refueling capability, and with older air platforms, using
ballistic missiles for this purpose makes sense. Three
PLA officers from the Second Artillery Command
Academy advance the idea that “guided missile forces
are the trump card (sa shou jian) in achieving victory in
limited high technology war.” The keys to achieving
such capabilities, in the argument of other PLA
officers, lie in three areas: the use of countermeasures,
the ability to achieve precision targeting, and the use of
space platforms to support the effort.
Two officers from the Second Artillery Engineering
College have studied how to modify a mobile trajectory
for warhead reentry into the atmosphere to determine
the effective range for attacking an enemy aircraft carrier
with ballistic missiles. They conclude that providing
terminal guidance will allow up to 100 kilometers of
maneuverability for a warhead during terminal attack.
They believe that a carrier “cannot effectively escape
an attack within a short period of time.”
Simulations to predict how the final attack ranges
for maneuvering targets at sea will affect maneuvering
reentry vehicles are also part of the research agenda
for Second Artillery engineering officers.45 They have
concluded that because a carrier battle group can project
force out to about 2,500 kilometers, the PLA must
reduce its missile warhead circular error probable to
attack maneuvering targets at sea outside the carrier’s
strike range.
Nuclear Counterattack Campaigns.
Long-standing published military doctrine,
statements by senior leaders, and the force preservation
measures undertaken by the PLA all support the
conclusion that the Second Artillery’s strategic
mission is principally to be a deterrent and retaliatory
force. The accounts of tunneling by Second Artillery
engineers in military press and journals, as well as
command and control measures, all reinforce this
conclusion. However, there is a debate going on in
China about the utility of “no-first-use” declarations.
Specifically, military thinkers in China are discussing
how to respond to conventional attacks on strategic
systems and how to respond to intelligence warning
of imminent strategic attack. The latter debate keeps
open the question of “preemptive counterattacks,”
something China has done in conventional war.
There are several large and unanswered questions
that this section of the paper attempts to address.
First, would the PLA execute a “preemptive nuclear
counterattack” if it believed an adversary was about
to attack China? One part of the PLA doctrine says,
“Advance warning may come to the Second Artillery
before an attack if there is notice that the enemy may
use nuclear weapons on any scale.” This implies that
the PLA might order a launch to preempt an enemy
surprise attack. Such a preemptive attack is consistent
with the concept of the “active defense,” which permits
sudden, surprise attacks into enemy territory and
“self-defensive counterattacks.” Moreover, as China
achieves improved levels of sophistication in space
surveillance, tracking, and relay, will judgments about
the propriety of “preemptive nuclear counterattack”
change?
Space is the area above 100,000 meters from sea
level. There are clear indications in PLA doctrine
that China wants the capacity to control space and
intends to control space immediately above its own
territory. One PLA officer has written “in peacetime
or wartime, enemy reconnaissance satellites are the
greatest threat to guided missile forces.” In addition,
Chinese military theorists are convinced that for the
security of China’s nuclear forces, the PLA needs antisatellite
countermeasures to stop an enemy’s ability to
use satellite surveillance against the Second Artillery
Corps. According to one officer writing in the journal,
China Military Science, “in order to assure the nation’s
space security, it is necessary to develop defensive
mechanisms; this requires work in the electro-magnetic
spectrum as well as firepower-based defenses.”
Taken together, these considerations undermine
the strength of China’s “no-first-use” guarantees. Even
the language in the 2006 National Defense White Paper
is somewhat ambiguous. The White Paper declares
“China remains firmly committed to the policy of no
first use of nuclear weapons at any time and under
any circumstances.” However, the next sentence of
the White Paper tells the reader “it unconditionally
undertakes a pledge not to use or threaten to use
nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states
or nuclear-weapon-free zones. . . .” One does not
need to be an international lawyer or grammarian to
understand that a “firm commitment to policy” is not
as strong a position as an “unconditional” pledge.
On January 11, 2007, China destroyed one of its own
weather satellites with a kinetic kill vehicle launched
on a Chinese missile. Earlier, in August 2006, a Chinese
ground-based laser blinded a U.S. reconnaissance
satellite over China. Thus, Beijing has demonstrated
an anti-satellite capability and has justified such actions
in its own military doctrine.
Notwithstanding the debate about China’s “nofirst-
use” policy, based on contemporary periodical
articles and military books, current doctrine is to
ensure that sufficient strategic missile forces survive a
nuclear attack for 3 to 5 days. After this period, Second
Artillery doctrine apparently calls for them to emerge,
deploy and retaliate in a nuclear counterattack.
The Second Artillery has three main missions:
deterrence, supporting conventional war with ballistic
missile attacks, and nuclear counterattack. With
regard to strategic systems, the PLA focus is “executing
nuclear counterattack campaigns.” The PLA’s plans
for nuclear counterattack campaigns are to “deter and
prevent the enemy from using nuclear weapons against
China” or to “execute a counterattack with nuclear
and precision conventional weapons.” The PLA’s
published doctrine, as well as statements by members
of the leadership, emphasize that China intends to
maintain a survivable nuclear force that can ride out
any nuclear attack, and then inflict a counterattack on
the enemy.
At the strategic level, A Guide to the Study of
Campaign Theory lays out the characteristics of a nuclear
counterattack campaign. The Second Artillery will use
long-range nuclear weapons to destroy strategic targets
several thousands of kilometers away. Campaign
planners envision carrying out a nuclear attack “only
after the enemy carries out a nuclear surprise attack,”
requiring a force that can absorb and survive an enemy
nuclear attack. The existing nuclear counterattack
campaign plans involve missile units of the Second
Artillery, supplemented by forces of the PLA Navy
(PLAN) and/or PLAAF. Moreover, now that the PLA
has developed longer-range, nuclear capable cruise
missiles, these campaign plans call for the Navy to use
submarine launched ballistic or cruise missiles. The
PLAAF could attack with nuclear cruise missiles or
bombs.
In planning nuclear counterattack campaigns, the
PLA gives primacy to the Second Artillery. Doctrine
says, “If it is a joint or combined nuclear counterattack
campaign plan, the Second Artillery will be the main
component combined with naval nuclear submarines
and air bombardment with nuclear weapons.”
China’s nuclear retaliatory plans require that the
Second Artillery maintain a force sufficient to “threaten
the opponent by striking his cities,” and employ a
strike force of “moderate intensity” that is “sufficient
and effective” to cause the enemy to incur “a certain
extent of unbearable destruction.” Thus, the size and
composition of any nuclear counterattack is a function
of a nuclear net assessment by Chinese political and
military leaders. It is a function of what they assess
as the level of damage the American public, and its
leaders, would find “unbearable.”
The objectives for nuclear campaign planning are
also ambiguous enough to leave open the question of
preemptive action by the PLA. According to A Guide
to the Study of Campaign Theory, major objective of a
nuclear counterattack campaign is to “alter enemy
intentions by causing the enemy’s will [to engage in
war] to waver.”61 Preemption, therefore, would be a
viable action that is consistent with the PLA’s history
of “self-defensive counterattacks.”
The PLA leadership has prioritized the objectives
of nuclear counterattack campaigns. These are:
• Cause the will of the enemy (and the populace)
to waver;
• Destroy the enemy’s command and control
system;
• Delay the enemy’s war (or combat) operations;
• Reduce the enemy’s force generation and warmaking
potential; and,
• Degrade the enemy’s ability to win a nuclear
war.
Generally, the targeting guidance to accomplish these
objectives is also set forth in A Guide to the Study of
Campaign Theory. The prioritized major targets for
nuclear missile forces are:
• “Enemy political and economic centers,
especially important urban areas, with a goal of
creating great shock in the enemy population’s
spirit and destroying their will to wage war;
• Destroy the critical infrastructure of the enemy to
weaken the enemy’s capacity for war (examples
for targets are petroleum refining, storage and
shipping links; electric power generation and
transmission lines; and major heavy industry);
• Enemy transportation networks;
• Major military targets such as air force and navy
staging areas and bases to degrade the ability of
these services to wage war; and,
• Major deployed military forces.”
Survive a Nuclear Attack: Then Retaliate.
The guiding motto for the Second Artillery
is “strictly protect counterattack capability and
concentrate [nuclear] fires to inflict the most damage in
the counterattack.” They emphasize that the Second
Artillery’s strategic warning system is closely tied to
the General Staff Department and that the Second
Artillery must continually keep up an estimate of
whether the enemy will use other forms of weapons of
mass destruction (WMD).
According to members of a Chinese delegation at
a 2005 strategic dialogue organized by the Defense
Threat Reduction Agency, the goals of China’s nuclear
policy are to maintain a retaliatory force of minimum
deterrent value and to hold enemy populations at risk.
China’s seeks to ensure reliable force with adequate
delivery systems that can survive a foreign attack
and maintains a “counter-value force” that requires
modernization.
The CMC and its General Staff Department
maintains light strategic forces. The Second Artillery
ensures that its communications with firing units
are secure and responsive to the Party political
leadership. Moreover, even in the computer age, PLA
thinkers prefer to rely on soldiers “at the trigger” over
automated command and firing systems.
To maintain the force at high levels of readiness,
strategic rocket force commanders gather intelligence,
maintain a system for indications and warning of
attack, and focus on force survivability.
Classes of Readiness for the Second Artillery.
According to A Guidebook to the Study of Campaign
Theory, the Second Artillery must “continually focus
on discovering the enemy’s attempts at attack, its
times of attack, and must always conduct defensive
exercises and preparations.” PLA doctrine requires
that the Second Artillery “operate and coordinate with
air, ground and other defensive organizations under
the direction of the CMC to implement a nuclear
counterattack campaign.”
The Second Artillery has a system of three classes
of readiness to which its units must adhere. Under
normal conditions, the firing units are at “Third Class”
status. In this status, forces train, conduct exercises
and conduct normal maintenance. If the CMC receives
some warning that the enemy may use nuclear
weapons, the CMC directs units to raise their readiness
levels to “Second Class” warning status. At this status,
units must prepare to move to firing positions or may
actually deploy to firing positions, many of which
can be tunnels or prepared underground, protected
positions. The highest readiness status is “First Class
Warning.” At “First Class Warning” status, missile
forces are fully ready to fire and are either deployed or
in combat positions and with their support elements,
warheads and fuel, waiting for a launch order.
When firing units actually move to firing positions,
the individual unit commanders are responsible for
the security of their own prime movers and must
conduct a check of the firing status of each missile
and the warheads. They must report this status to
the headquarters. After firing their missiles, they
will disperse and get the results of a post-firing
reconnaissance and new intelligence.
Combat orders must come through special
command department channels of the Second Artillery
or General Staff Department, but only the CMC can
send a launch order. The combat order will give the
current friendly and enemy situation, the status of the
war and a determination on the use of nuclear force,
the combat objectives for an attack, and the limits of an
attack. The actual firing order will contain the time
limits for each unit to fire and instructions for postfiring
movement and disposition.
Support for “Guaranteed Survivability and Strike.”
The concept of a “guaranteed strike” is fundamental
to PLA Second Artillery doctrine. This means that
strategic rocket forces must be able to ride out a nuclear
attack and emerge later to conduct their counterstrike.
To accomplish this, the Second Artillery maintains its
own support infrastructure including maintenance,
supply and food services, engineers, and road and rail
transport.
In a Second Artillery nuclear war simulations
exercise reported by China’s Xinhua news service,
China stayed with its “no-first–use” policy and
absorbed a nuclear strike. After the strike, the exercise
scenario required that the Second Artillery forces stay
in protected underground areas for as long as several
days before emerging to conduct a retaliatory “nuclear
counterattack.”
An article in Beijing Huojianbing Bao (Rocket Troops
Daily), the Second Artillery’s newspaper, provides
insight into the tactic of absorbing a strike, waiting a
fixed period of time, and then emerging for a “nuclear
counterstrike.” According to two Second Artillery
authors, a 2004 nuclear counterattack exercise had to
be stopped in its third day because the troops involved
in the exercise developed vomiting and diarrhea from a
spoiled food supply.83 The Second Artillery’s Logistics
Department adjusted the food supply in future
exercises, allowing soldiers to conduct the exercise
under “sealed” conditions and extended the safety of
the combat food supply. This assured that the Second
Artillery could remain underground long enough to
emerge safely and conduct a retaliatory strike.
In addition to the PLA Second Artillery Corps
engineering and construction units for tunneling and
the construction of roads, there is a transportation
support infrastructure integral to the organization. An
article in Huojianbing Bao discusses the Second Artillery
rail transport system. A mobile system moved what was
termed a “national treasure” by a “rail transportation
battalion of a special transportation regiment.”
Another article in the same paper documents the
importance of mobile missiles and mobility training.
Rapid mobility is a way to “improve survivability and
nuclear counterdeterrence.” There also is a continuous
program to upgrade and improve missile position
design inside the Second Artillery. The objectives of this
program are to ensure that missiles are positioned in a
way to avoid foreign reconnaissance, take advantage
of the geography and environment, and have the
maximum possible protection against foreign attack.
The objectives of these integrated support systems
are to meet the Second Artillery’s “guiding principles
for nuclear counterattack campaign strategy.” To
restate these principles, the guiding motto for the
Second Artillery is “strictly protect counterattack
capability and concentrate [nuclear] fires to inflict the
most damage in the counterattack”. To meet the first
requirement in this motto, protect and preserve the
force, the Second Artillery is to:
• Defend against the enemy’s precision weapons
attack;
• Defend against enemy air raids;
• Defend against enemy Special Operations
Forces attacking China’s nuclear forces;
• Organize to respond to sudden surprise attacks;
and,
• Organize to restore China’s nuclear warfighting
capability rapidly.88
To meet the second requirement in the motto, “guarantee
or safeguard the survivability of the nuclear response
system to counterattack,” Second Artillery doctrine
requires its forces to:
• Protect the nuclear counterattack campaign
plan;
• Conduct advanced preparations for a
campaign;
• Ensure the timely reliability of the system;
• Be prepared for a rapid response;
• Ensure response plans are complete and
comprehensive;
• Guarantee the survivability of the counter
attack force; and,
• Conduct comprehensive coordination with
other headquarters and commands.
Nuclear Command and Control.
Second Artillery Corps doctrine requires “comprehensive
coordination with other headquarters
and commands.” In order to maintain that level of
communication throughout the force, command
and control for missile forces is highly centralized,
redundant, and networked. Two PLA officers writing
in the book Missile Combat in High Technology Warfare
describe Second Artillery command and control this
way: “The nodes in a ballistic missile command
and control network are 1) the commander in chief
(tongshuaibu), 2) the command organizations of the
military departments, 3) the missile bases, and 4) the
firing units.” Furthermore, they say, “especially
where it concerns strategic missiles, the ability of
the commander in chief [this can also be translated
as “supreme command authority”] to control firing
orders must be executed quickly, and firing orders
must be encrypted (encoded).” Finally, PLA manuals
specify, “the war positions of the Second Artillery
are established by the supreme command authority
(tongshuaibu) in peacetime and are dispersed over a
wide area for strategic reasons.”
In a text published by the PLA National Defense
University, Wang Zhongquan provides a sophisticated
analysis of the U.S. strategic warning and nuclear
command and control system. Wang bases his analysis
on an extensive review of published American
literature, but there is no discussion in the text of
the dangers or utility of attacking, or disrupting the
command and control system. Nor is there a discussion
of the advisability of blinding the strategic warning
system. The text is a catalogue of the two systems
that could support offensive efforts by the PLA, or,
alternatively, one can read it as an example for the PLA
of how to structure effective warning and command
and control systems.
PLA texts emphasize that the Second Artillery’s
strategic warning system is closely tied to the General
Staff Department and that the Second Artillery must
continually keep up an estimate of whether the enemy
will use other forms of weapons of mass destruction.95
The use of the term tongshuaibu in this context is
uncommon, but not unheard of, in explanations of
Chinese command and control systems. Tongshuai can

mean supreme commander or commander in chief.
The Nationalist forces (Kuomintang, or KMT) used the
term to refer to a couple of major frontal headquarters
during the civil war. In the Huaihai Campaign, for
instance, in 1949, the KMT combat headquarters for
the campaign was called the Tongshuaibu. PLA military
histories also refer to Eisenhower’s headquarters for
Overlord and the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers
Europe as the tongshuaibu. Clearly, this use is meant to
designate a higher-level command authority than the
General Staff Department Operations Department.
On the 40th anniversary of the founding of the
Second Artillery, Hu Jintao spoke to an assemblage of
people that included Xiang Shouzhi, first commander
of the organization, and a number of previous leaders.
Hu was present in the combined capacity of President
of China, Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party,
and Chairman of the Communist Party CMC. In
Jiefangjun Bao, articles have referred to the PLAN
headquarters as the Navy’s tongshuaibu, and to the
CMC as the tongshuaibu. Thus, while it is possible
that the reference to a valid firing order means that it
comes from the commander of the Second Artillery,
the consensus among American scholars who follow
the PLA closely is that in the context of nuclear and
missile-firing orders, tongshuaibu refers to the CMC.
This is the highest and most centralized level of military
leadership in the Chinese Communist Party.In the
photo of Hu Jintao that appeared in Jiefangjun Bao
depicting his 40th Anniversary speech to the leaders of
the Second Artillery, Hu was wearing a PLA uniform
without insignia or rank. Moreover, to confirm that
the tongshuaibu is the CMC, in another account of Hu
Jintao’s speech published by Xinhua News Service, Hu
is quoted as saying “The Second Artillery Corps is a
strategic force directly commanded and used by the
Party Central Committee and the CMC and is our core
force for strategic deterrence.”
Second Artillery command orders are centralized,
encoded and protected, and require human
authentication. PLA military writers eschew completely
automated command and control systems. There is a
very strong emphasis on the need for a “man in the
loop” even in modern, information age warfare. One
writer specializing in command and control issues
makes the point that “no matter how advanced a
computer is used in a command and control system,
it will never substitute for the strength and utility of
the human brain.” The implications of this insistence
on a “man in the loop” for nuclear firing orders is that
the PLA will likely reject calls for automated protective
action links in its doctrine.
Discussions about No First Use.
New interpretations of the concept of the “selfdefensive
counterattack” in the strategy of active
defense and the general view that ballistic missiles
are a kind of trump card in war bring into question
whether the CMC will adhere to the stated “no-firstuse”
doctrine. Increasingly, China’s military thinkers
view missiles as a sort of “trump card” in war that will
guarantee success for the PLA. Military thinkers are
also very critical of the failure of Iraq’s military to use
ballistic missiles early, in mass, and effectively against
the American and allied military build-up in the First
Gulf War.
There is an open debate among civilian strategic
thinkers, younger military officers, and the older leaders
of the PLA on the utility of the “no-first-use” doctrine
for China. This is important to follow because the CMC
of the Chinese Communist Party ultimately has the
finger on China’s nuclear trigger, and technologically
oriented civilians today, not former leaders of the PLA,
control the CMC.
This leads to some doubt over whether its pledges
would survive a deep crisis or conventional conflict. As
discussed earlier in this paper, there is some ambiguity
over what type of warheads ballistic missiles used to
attack deployed naval battle groups would carry.
Moreover, as discussed earlier in this paper, China’s
National Defense in 2006 does not settle the ambiguity
over how the CMC might make its decisions on what
weapons to employ. There is also ambiguity over how
China might respond to intelligence warnings of attack,
and how China would respond to a conventional attack
on its strategic systems.
According to a university based professor, an expert
on arms control and disarmament often consulted
by the PLA, it was he who suggested to PLA and
central government policy planners that China should
consider a nuclear response if its strategic systems
were attacked, even if that attack was by conventional
means. Both the PLA and central government policy
planners were cool to this idea, the professor said.
Indeed, senior military officers and diplomats insisted
that China must strictly abide by its “no first use”
pledge. Nonetheless, the professor continues to push
the discussion, often supported by younger scholars
and military officers. The subject is not closed, and
policy could shift with leadership generations.
The campaign theory text by Xue Xinglin of the
National Defense University is quite clear on the matter
of China’s “no first use” policy. Xue writes that “the
PRC will conduct a nuclear counterattack only after
the enemy carries out a nuclear surprise attack.”102
Another seminal PLA text, for which former Chief of
the General Staff Department General Zhang Wannian
is credited as the editor, also makes explicit statements
that the PLA will not initiate the use of nuclear weapons
in war: “China’s nuclear force is a self-defensive force.
It is designed to protect the nation and deter nuclear
attack.”
Zhang Wannian’s explicit declaration echoes
statements in an earlier book by Lu Hui, a long-time
PLA expert on nuclear, chemical, and biological
weapons. Lu explains that the genesis of China’s own
nuclear program was nuclear threats by the United
States in the Korean War. The objective of becoming
a nuclear power was “breaking the United States and
Soviet great power monopoly on nuclear weapons.”104
Former defense minister and head of China’s nuclear
program General Zhang Aiping and the former head of
the PLA National Defense University General Zhang
Zhen endorse Lu’s book as authoritative.
Lu quotes a Japanese scholar to make the point that
one reason that China developed nuclear weapons was
so that “the world will note China’s latent power.”105
Lu reiterates that China’s goal in developing nuclear
weapons is to “break the monopoly of big nuclear
powers and their nuclear threat, but that at no time
and under no circumstances will China be the first
to use nuclear weapons—China will be a completely
independent state with nuclear weapons.”106 This
position accurately reflects the policies announced by
China’s senior leaders on a number of occasions.
Despite these statements of doctrine, there are
indications of dissent by junior officers. In a discussion
analyzing the First Gulf War, Xin Qin notes that
despite an advantage in ballistic missiles, Iraq’s forces
never used them effectively. Xin argues that had Iraqi
forces massed their ballistic missile fires early against a
weaker coalition that was just in the build-phase of its
deployment, they could have had a deadly effect. By
waiting for coalition forces to fully deploy, train and
disperse into combat formations, Iraqi forces missed
the opportunity to destroy the coalition before they
moved into combat. Xin’s conclusion is that Iraq did
not act decisively with initiative when it should have,
and it did not mass its fires for deadly effect.107 All of
this suggests that consideration be given to preemptive
action, especially using ballistic missiles, when enemy
intentions become clear, even if no attack has taken
place.
Xin goes on to argue that “when one is fighting an
enemy that fears heavy military casualties, one can
attack major enemy political, military, and economic
objectives in the enemy homeland and wipe out his
massed forces.”108 Such a form of war can become a
“war without engagement” because it uses long-range
weapons and massed fires to wipe out the enemy’s
combat capability. Later in the same book, however,
Xin makes the argument that “guided missiles are
limited tools in warfare. They have to be used only
against high value targets because their greatest worth
is as a deterrent tool. Thus, guided missiles are ‘political
weapons’ that have a political effect on a war.”109 The
final argument on the uses of missiles in war by Xin
is that missiles are weapons of choice to seize the
initiative in combat and regain the offensive. 110
Xin Qin is probably representative of a number of
younger PLA officers that are not committed by virtue
of long ideological education to the no first use of
nuclear weapons policy. Clearly, he and other junior
officers see the utility of preemption and the utility of
the first use of these weapons, if the calculus can come
out on China’s side and massive nuclear retaliation can
be avoided. Also, there is some ambiguity between the
use of missiles and nuclear weapons at the campaign
level and at the strategic level of war, but these younger
officers do not dismiss using them out of hand.
There is wide acceptance of the doctrine of no first
use at all levels of the PLA. Nonetheless, it is also
apparent that nuclear strategists chafe at the doctrine
and younger strategists, in particular, leave open in
their writings the possibility that China may have to
move away from this doctrine. Certainly at the theater
level, the PLA leaves itself room to preempt an attack,
even with nuclear weapons, if they believe this is a
“nuclear counterattack” on an enemy about to launch
a nuclear strike.
Conclusions.
Examining the doctrinal text, Zhanyi Lilun Xuexi
Zhinan (A Guide to the Study of Campaign Theory)
provided more information on China’s nuclear
doctrine, force deployment, command and control,
and survivability measures than has been available in
the past. Combining the examination of authoritative
doctrinal text with materials from the Chinese press
and those obtained through the Open Source Center
helped to confirm the authenticity of the doctrinal
text and provided supporting evidence for judgments
about the nature of China’s strategic rocket forces, their
organization, readiness levels, and their control.
Another critical factor in the nuclear threat equation
faced in the United States is the calculation by the
CMC that China is able to absorb nuclear strikes with
less catastrophic effects that the United States. This
judgment is a function of China’s historical military
culture, geography, and an intentional state-directed
policy of civil defense and risk distribution.111 For the
United States, this means that Chinese leaders may
miscalculate American will and mistakenly take risky
actions.
The decision by Beijing to put nuclear and
conventional warheads on the same classes of ballistic
missiles and colocate them near each other in firing
units of the Second Artillery Corps also increases the
risk of accidental nuclear conflict. If a country with good
surveillance systems, like the United States, detects a
missile being launched, it has serious choices to make.
It can absorb a first strike, see whether it is hit with a
nuclear or conventional weapon, and retaliate in kind;
or it can decide to launch a major strike on warning. If
the nation under attack has ballistic missile defenses,it might be able to stop an incoming missile and seek other ways to reduce tensions and a wide war.
A critical factor in any American decision will
be the capabilities of American space-based sensor
systems. Accurate sensors may be able to determine
whether China launched a conventional or nucleartipped
missile, and such a determination could prevent
immediate escalation of a crisis or conflict.
However, some PLA officers advocate the
capability for China to ensure that foreign surveillance
assets cannot observe China from space. Indeed,
on two occasions in recent months, the PLA has
taken actions to demonstrate that it has moved from
theoretical research and simulations of space warfare
to demonstrate the capability to blind or destroy
satellites over China. Moreover, the commander of the
Second Artillery Corps has postponed a visit to the
United States Strategic Command (STRATCOM) at the
invitation of the STRATCOM commander, to engage
in a strategic dialogue about such matters as a means
of threat reduction.
The discussion of the need to mass missile fire
and use missiles decisively, with surprise, in a theater
war also undermines the likelihood that China would
adhere to its own declared “no first use” policy. These
considerations also reinforce the need for the United
States to have effective ballistic missile defenses.
Perhaps the most serious questions raised in this
paper are about the PLA’s concentrated efforts to
attack a deployed, moving aircraft carrier battle group.
The PLA is coming closer to achieving that capability.
The ambiguity over what form any ballistic (or cruise)
missile attack might take creates a volatile situation in
case of any crisis over Taiwan, or between China and
Japan.
Finally, the debate inside China over the viability
of its “no first use” policy is real. At present, older
veterans of the Foreign Ministry and the PLA insist that
the policy stay unchanged. However, younger scholars,
soldiers, and diplomats will keep up the pressure to
pull back from this policy, which requires continued
attention and strategic dialogue with China’s policy
community.
At present, China has no real-time global space
surveillance capability. Therefore, warning of
impending nuclear attack must come from human
intelligence. A global surveillance capability requires a
system of relay satellites, which China is building but
has not achieved. Thus, as China’s space surveillance
improves over the next decade, its nuclear doctrine
will probably evolve.
These are serious matters for the American armed
forces. China’s nuclear forces are evolving and the way
they are used is under debate. The way that the PLA
handles its commitment to dominating space and its
commitment to being capable of attacking American
C4ISR systems affects strategic warning, missile
defenses, and command and control. For the Army,
with the responsibility to defend the United States
against missile attack, it means that watching the
evolution of this debate in China is critical to success