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Second Artillery Corps (SAC)

COMMANDER: Yang Guoliang


OTHER NAMES: Strategic Rocket Forces (SRF); Strategic Missile Forces (SMF); Strategic Missile Corps (SMC); Strategic Nuclear Forces (SNF)

Established on 1 July 1966, the Second Artillery Corps maintains control over China's nuclear and conventional strategic missile forces, consisting of short-, medium-, long-, and intercontinental-range ballistic missiles.  It dates back to the formation of a ground-to-ground missile training group on 9 December 1957 which was later reorganized into strategic guided missile combat battalions on 18 March 1960.1  One of these battalions launched the Second Artillery Corps' first missile in October 1963. The Second Artillery Corps made its first public appearance on 1 October 1984.3

The Second Artillery Corps is comprised of approximately 90,000 personnel and six ballistic missile bases4 and maintains control of over 100 nuclear warheads.5  Proportionally, the Second Artillery Corps is given priority funding.  Although it only makes up about 4 percent of the PLA, it receives 12 to 15 percent of the defense budget and about 20 percent of the total procurement budget.  When the PLA cut 1 million personnel in the 1980s, Second Artillery Corps ranks actually increased.6

Current Force Structure
China's current nuclear weapon's arsenal totals about 400 devices, with over 100 warheads deployed for use on China's ballistic missiles.  China maintains a number of different ballistic missiles in its inventory, including the medium-range DF-3A, DF-15 and DF-21, the intercontinental-range DF-4 and DF-5 and the submarine-launched JL-1.  China's newest missile, the road mobile DF-31, was tested on 2 August 1999 but probably has not entered into operation.  Bates Gill and James Mulvenon write that "Chinese nuclear force structure seems to defy simple categorization as either limited or minimal deterrence."7  While China's newer short-range and medium-range ballistic missiles use solid rocket motors, China's estimated 20 some ICBMs capable of hitting the US use liquid fuel and require launch preparation times of up to two hours. This coupled with the fact that China's missiles are deployed unfueled and without warheads indicate that China's ICBMs are limited to a second strike role and cannot launch on warning.  China's other ballistic missiles could be used in a nuclear role against targets in East Asia, South Asia and Russia, but they may also be used conventionally.

After its formation in 1966, Second Artillery Corps exercises may have languished because of the effects of the Cultural Revolution as there is no mention of exercises being conducted until the mid-seventies, when "China's strategic guided missile units organized a massive long-range firing practice with live warheads, involving moving operations, camouflaging, and launching."  In the early eighties the Second Artillery Corps conducted its first combined arms exercise.8  In a 1982 exercise simulating a Soviet armored invasion, the PLA and the Second Artillery Corps jointly repelled the Soviet attack using a tactical nuclear explosive.  Due to a lack of campaign tactics using tactical nuclear weapons, then Second Artillery Corps commander Lieutenant General Li Xuge ordered extensive theater nuclear missile exercises.9  During the mid 1990s the Second Artillery Corps trained in simulated post-nuclear strike10 and chemical-biological warfare environments.11  More recently, the Second Artillery Corps may also have held antimissile exercises.12  The Second Artillery Corps also conducts training with a computerized simulator.13

In 2001, the Second Artillary Corps Engineering College transferred 29 technical personnel from over 10 specialized disciplines.  The purpose was develop a new missile simulation training system.  The project was completed in a span of three months.14

Nuclear Doctrine
China's nuclear doctrine is thought to be minimal deterrence, which requires only a small number of warheads to inflict unacceptable damage on an enemy's cities.  However, as China's warheads become smaller and missile accuracies improve, China may change to a doctrine of limited deterrence.  Under limited deterrence a country is "able to inflict enough counterforce and countervalue damage on the enemy such that it backs down and is thus denied victory."15 China would then have to have the ability to attack missile, naval and air bases, logistical centers, C4I nodes as well as cities.  However, to carry out a doctrine of limited deterrence, China would need to upgrade its entire nuclear force structure.    Some Chinese strategists argue that limited deterrence would require China to have a "greater number of smaller, more accurate, survivable, and penetrable ICBMs; SLBMs as countervalue retaliatory forces; tactical and theater nuclear weapons to hit battlefield and theater military targets and to suppress escalation; ballistic missile defense to improve the survivability of the limited deterrent; space-based early warning and command and control systems; and anti-satellite weapons to hit enemy satellites."16

Clearly, such an undertaking would require immense efforts and huge sums of money, which has led many scholars to believe that China's nuclear doctrine is driven more by the limits of its technology and less by an analysis of its strategic options.  In fact, John Lewis and Hua Di argue that for many years missile designers did not concern themselves with nuclear strategy, though the targets they designed missiles to hit -- Japan, the Philippines, Guam and the continental United States -- did imply a strategic retaliatory doctrine.  In addition, the Second Artillery Corps also did not concern itself with nuclear strategy and assumed that "nuclear strategy was a matter to be debated and decided upon by leaders in the Central Military Commission."  No consideration was given to nuclear strategy by the Second Artillery Corps until the mid-1980s.17  However, the Second Artillery Corps is thought to play a significant role in China's current development of nuclear doctrine.18

Conventional Doctrine
Because China lacks an effective air force, missiles are its only means to conduct conventional long range strikes.  Mark Stokes writes in China's Strategic Modernization that the Chinese leadership, believing that a quick strike is best, may order missile strikes on airfields, air defenses, ports and C4I nodes "as soon as they believe war is inevitable."  He also writes that "the PLA believes that the US is most vulnerable when it is deploying forces and logistics to the area of operations.  A preemptive strike during this phase, many PLA strategists believe, will significantly offset an enemy's technological advantages."19

The Second Artillery Corps is viewed as an essential element of the PLA's warfighting plans and is thus involved extensively in joint operations.  Second Artillery Corps officers are now required to be part of joint commands.20   Because of its intrinsic value in joint operations, the Second Artillery Corps may be required to increase its missile force to provide continuous support throughout a campaign.21  In 2000, US intelligence assessments put the number of missiles opposite Taiwan at 200, with China adding 50 new missiles every year.22

The Second Artillery practices group launches (sequential missile launches from different bases) to test its rapid response and retaliatory capabilities.  This tactic was used in Sino-Soviet war scenarios and during the missile firings near Taiwan in 1995 and 1996.  Units frequently practice mobile launches and work to shorten pre-launch times.23

Command and Control
As a separate arm of China's military, the Second Artillery maintains its own command and lines of communication with its bases and does not need to pass information through the regional military commands.  Ultimate authority to use nuclear weapons rests with the Chairman of the Central Military Commission (currently Jiang Zemin) after top leaders have reached a consensus.  A decision to use nuclear weapons may also require a consensus decision within the Central Military Commission and other senior military leaders.24

Since the end of 1997 the Second Artillery Corps has promoted a number of missile experts to command positions at and above the regimental level in order to promote professionalism.25   It is reported that over 85 percent of the officers of the Second Artillery Corps are at least college educated.26 A report in late 2000 stated that SAC currently "formed a 100-strong contingent of missile technology experts."27  To improve the Second Artillery Corps' communication links, China has developed a "missile controlling system," "electronic command system," and a "universal message processing system."28

The Second Artillery Corps reportedly maintains strict discipline.  While other military units have become involved in business activities, the Second Artillery Corps has refrained from such practices.  All personnel are prohibited from using training days for other activities as well as from using military equipment and vehicles for business.  In addition, personell are prohibited from attending parties at local restaurants and dance halls.  The unit has provided its own entertainment facilities for its troops, though.29

China's Missile Bases
The Second Artillery Corps is headquartered in Qinghe, a suburb of Beijing and maintains at least seven missile bases each with one to three missile brigades and regiment-level special departments responsible for chemical defense, communications, training, security and four launch battalions.  Each base also has training and nuclear warhead maintenance units and reports directly to the Second Artillery Corps commander.30  Each missile brigade commands a number of permanent launch sites.  For ease of maintenance, each missile brigade is responsible for only one type of missile.31

Below the brigade are the battalions, each with its own strategic missile carrier or several tactical missile systems.  Each battalion also has support companies specializing in C3I, logistics, security and engineering.  Mobile missile crews spend most of their time traveling from site to site and are required to know the location of the launch sites in their own region as well as the launch sites of neighboring regions.32

Many of China's strategic missiles are based in silos or caves in order to survive a first strike.  Following American and Soviet practice, China originally planned to house their DF-4 and DF-5 in silos, but began to rethink this method in the 1970s as the survivability of silo-housed missiles was called into question.  The Chinese studied cave-basing and rail-mobile basing for the DF-4 and eventually decided on a procedure of "in-cave storage/preparation and out-cave erection/filling/firing."33  China also studied alternative basing modes for the DF-5, but decided to keep these missiles in silos due to their large size.  However, to improve survivability fake silos were built to confuse opponents.34  China's most recent land based missiles, such as the DF-21 and DF-31, are solid fuel road mobile missiles that can be launched much more rapidly and hidden in a variety of locales.

In the 1990s the PLA began increasing the number of launch sites in eastern  and southern China in order to improve operational flexibility during a crisis.  As a result, a number of the best launching brigades were transferred from north China to east and south China."35

Strategic Missile Bases

Base #


Base and Selected Brigade locations

Reported Missile Types

51 Base


Headquarters: Shenyang, Liaoning Province

Brigades: Tonghua, Dengshahe 

DF-3A/CSS-2 (Tonghua, Dengshahe)

DF-21/CSS-5 (Tonghua)

52 Base


Headquarters: Huangshan, Anhui Province

Brigades: Leping, Lianxiwang

DF-15/CSS-6 (Leping)

DF-3A (Lianxiwang)

53 Base


Headquarters: Kunming, Yunnan Province

Brigades: Chuxiong, Jianshui 

DF-21/CSS-5 (Chuxiong)

DF-3A/CSS-2 (Jianshui)

54 Base


Headquarters: Luoyang, Henan Province

Brigades: Luoning, Sundian 

DF-5/CSS-4 (Luoning)

DF-4/CSS-3 (Sundian)

55 Base


Headquarters: Huaihua, Hunan Province

Brigades: Tongdao (2 brigades) 

DF-4/CSS-3 (Tongdao)

56 Base


Headquarters: Xining, Qinghai Province

Brigades: Datong, Delingha Da Qaidam 

DF-3A/CSS-2 (Datong)

DF-4/CSS-3 (Delingha, Da Qaidam)



Headquarters: Yidu, Shandong Province


80301 Unit.  The 80301 Unit is headquartered in Shenyang, Liaoning Province.  Its complement of DF-3A and DF-21 cover the Korean peninsula and Japan, including Okinawa.

80302 Unit.  The 80302 Unit is headquartered in Huangshan, Anhui Province and is the Second Artillery's most important unit for conducting strikes against Taiwan.  The 815th brigade in Leping took part in the March 1996 missile exercises off the coast of Taiwan.  During a wartime situation the 815th brigade would disperse to prearranged sites in Fujian Province in to order to be able to strike the entire island of Taiwan.  Missiles are usually transported by rail for field deployments.

80303 Unit. The 80303 Unit is headquartered in Kunming, Yunnan province.  Its complement of DF-3A and DF-21 can strike targets in India and Southeast Asia.

80304 Unit.  The 80304 Unit is headquartered in Luoyang, Henan province.  Its DF-5 missiles can strike targets throughout the United States and Europe.

80305 Unit.  The 80305 Unit is headquartered in Huaihua, Hunan province.  Its DF-4 missiles can strike Guam.

80306 Unit.  The 80306 Unit is headquartered in Xining, Qinghai province.  Its DF-4 missiles can strike targets in India and Russia.  This unit may also have an experimental unit assigned to it.

[Table and  base source: Bates Gill and James Mulvenon, "The Chinese Strategic Rocket Forces: Transition to Credible Deterrence," unpublished study presented at China and Weapons of Mass Destruction, a seminar sponsored by the National Intelligence Council, November 1999. ]

Institutes under SAC include:


1.  Zhang Jiajun and Zao Zhi, "The Strong Contingent of Secret Rockets - The Historical Course of Development of China's Strategic Guided Missile Units," Xinhua, 7 July 1996 in FBIS, "PRC: Article on Guided Missile Units' Development," FBIS-CHI-96-135, 7 July 1996.
2.  Xu Zuzhi, "China's Strategic Missile Unit Now Possesses Figthing Capability under High-Tech Conditions," Zhongguo Xinwen She, 1 October 1999 in FBIS, "Background of China's Strategic Missile Unit," FTS19991002000093, 1 October 1999.
3.  Xu.
4. Mark Stokes, China's Strategic Modernization: Implications for the United States, Carlisle: Strategic Studies Institute, 1999, p. 93.
5.  Office of the Secretary of Defense, Proliferation: Threat and Response, 1996.
6.  You Ji, The Armed Forces of China, London: I.B. Taurus, 1999,  p. 85.
7.  Bates Gill and James Mulvenon, "The Chinese Strategic Rocket Forces:  Transition To Credible Deterrence," unpublished study presented at China and Weapons of Mass Destruction, a seminar sponsored by the National Intelligence Council, November 1999.
8.  Xu.
9.  You, p. 95-96
10.  "The Casting of China's Shield of Peace - A Record of Actual Events in the Development of the Second Artillery Corps," Xinhua, 7 July 1996 in FBIS, "PRC: Development of Second Artillery Corps," FBIS-CHI-96-137, 7 July 1996.
11.  "PRC: Strategic Missile Troops Enhance Combat Capabilities," Xinhua, in FBIS, FBIS-TAC-96-007, 23 May 1996.
12.   Xu.
13. "PRC: Strategic Guided Missile Training Simulator Passes Approval," Zhongguo Tongxun She, in FBIS, FBIS-CHI-96-151, 2 August 1996.
14.  Feng Jia'an and Li Jun, "2d Artillery Corps Engineering College Develops Missile Simulation Training System," Beijing Jiefangjun Bao, 15 February 2001, p. 2 in FBIS CPP20010215000054.
15. Alastair Iain Johnston, "China's New 'Old Thinking': The Concept of Limited Deterrence", International Security, Vol. 20, No. 3 (Winter 1995/96),
p. 19
16. Ibid. p. 20.
17. John Wilson Lewis and Hua Di, "China's Ballistic Missile Programs: Technologies, Strategies, Goals," International Security, Vol. 17, No. 2, (Fall 1992), p. 20.
18. Michael D. Swaine, "The PLA and Chinese National Security Policy: Leaderships, Structures, Processes," The China Quarterly, June1996, p. 382.
19. Stokes, p. 97.
20. You, p. 99.
21. Ibid, p. 100
22. "Address of Admiral Dennis Blair, Commander in Chief, US Pacific Command," Carnegie International Non-Proliferation Conference, Carnegie Ednowment for International Peace website, 16 March 2000.
23. Ibid, p. 93.
24.Gill and Mulvenon.
25. Zhang Jiajun, "Experts Enter Decisionmaking Bodies of Strategic Guided Missile Units at and Above the Regimental Level," Xinhua, 22 June 1998 in FBIS, FBIS-CHI-98-176, 25 June 1998.
26. "PLA Daily on Performance of Strategic Missile Force," Liberation Daily, in FBIS, FTS19991123000762, 16 November 1999.
27. "China's Second Artillery Corps Forms 100-Strong Contingent of Missile Experts" Xinhua, 27 Dec 2000 in FBIS, CPP20001227000128.
28. Xu.
29. Zhang Jiajun and Li Chenghua, "Newsletter," Xinhua, 9 April 1996 in FBIS, FBIS-CHI-96-080, 9 April 1996.
30. Stokes, pp. 93-94.
31. Ibid, p. 94.
32. You, p. 105.
33. Lewis and Hua, p. 24.
34. Ibid. p. 25.
35. You, p. 53.

For more on China's nuclear deployments, see:

China's nuclear modernization programs:



China's nuclear testing program:



China's existing nuclear and nuclear-related capabilities:



Related issues:



CNSThis material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, agents. Copyright © 2007 by MIIS.

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