|

China’s New  Defence Service: The PLA Rocket Force
Dr Roshan Khanijo@

Introduction

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) established the PLA Army’s leading organ, the PLA Rocket Force and the PLA Strategic Support Force on December 31, 2015.China’s Second Artillery Force has been replaced by this PLA Rocket Force, and President Xi Jinping pointed out that  this was an important decision made by the CPC Central Committee and the CMC to realize the ‘Chinese Dream’ and the ‘Dream of a Strong Military’, a strategic initiative to build a modern military power system with Chinese characteristics. The question is what changes China wants to achieve through these reorganisations?

            President Xi Jinping, on 26 November 2015, had announced a comprehensive reform plan for the People’s Liberation Army, with the aim to streamline the command over China’s military. It involved structural changes like the reorganisation of the seven commands. It was stated that China will move to create new “battle zone commands” designed to streamline joint operations and the entire military structure would be overseen by a joint command, further emphasizing the necessity of interoperability between China’s military branches[1].The establishment of PLA Rocket Force and the PLA Strategic Support Force is a part of this process. 

            PLA Rocket Force is bound to have all the characteristics of China’s Second Artillery Force and the core function will continue to enhance China’s Strategic Deterrence Power, but there will be gradual changes to make this force more compatible for joint operations. This subtle combination of change and continuation will make this force a potent force. The first indicator of the continuation of policies is that the commander of the PLA Rocket Force is General Wei Fenghe, who had been a veteran as far as nuclear command is concerned. He was the chief of staff from 2006-2012 and then became the commander-in-chief of the Second Artillery Force from 2012 and now heads the PLA Rocket Force[2].This indicates a continuation of the policies. Further President Xi Jinping called the PLA Rocket Force the “core force of strategic deterrence, a strategic buttress to the country’s position as a major power, and an important building block in upholding national security.” He tasked the new force with enhancing China’s nuclear deterrence and counter-strike capabilities, and thus maintaining a strategic balance. He also urged the ‘Rocket Force’ to improve China’s ability to conduct medium- and long-range precision strikes.

Significance of the new policy

The reorganisation of the military is concomitant with President Xi Jinping’s long desire to reform the military to its new role. There are certain inherent advantages in this move for the PLA Rocket Force. Apart from the desire of the party to streamline the command structures, the most significant part is that now the ‘PLA Rocket Force’ will be one of the  service of the defence forces and not just an extension of the army looking after the land missile forces. Thus the creation of the Rocket Force is part of a larger move to restructure China’s military with a streamlined command under the direct control of the Central Military Commission and the new force is considered the fourth branch in China’s military, on equal footing with the PLA Army, Navy, and Air Force[3]. Secondly the conventional missile force will also be under the Rocket Force which confirms China’s continuation of its strategy of ‘Dual Deterrence” where China has tried to enmesh its conventional missile force to its strategic forces, thus strengthening the strategy of “Active Defense”. This “Active Defense” is an important indicator of China’s military thinking where the Chinese defensive posture (of attacking the adversary only when struck by it first) is matted through an offensive operational strategic posture, which can be achieved by being flexible, mobile and self-dependence through integrated combat forces. Thus a large number of conventional tactical and cruise missiles would be integrated in this force. In this sense the new Rocket Force will continue to enhance China’s nuclear deterrence and counter-strike capabilities; however a thrust towards improvement of China’s capability to attack medium and long range precession strikes, depicts a subtle ambition of China to emerge as a major power alongside US and Russia.

            Though the policy of ‘No-First Use (NFU)’ has been reiterated there are clear indicators that the triad especially the naval wing will take precedence and that China is enhancing its sea based nuclear deterrence capabilities.  An expert in ‘China Military Online’ had stated that the China may include submarines and bombers making it the first independent unit in the world with an integrated land, sea and air nuclear forces [4]. The Chinese nuclear force may thus be more integrated then US Russia and other nuclear weapon states. This will be a major challenge. However; the command and control of the sea based nuclear platforms like the SSBNs and the SLBMs will benefit from this new creation, as the triad requires a sophisticated Command and Control system. Further increases in the number of mobile ICBMs and the beginning of SSBN deterrence patrols will force the PLA to implement more sophisticated command and control systems and processes that safeguard the integrity of nuclear release authority for a larger, more dispersed force[5].”  Though operational changes may help in making the command more focused and sharp the strategies behind the Rocket Force would continue to revolve around NFU and  China will keep its “nuclear capability at the minimum level required for safeguarding its national security,” as stated by Yang Yujun, spokesperson for China’s Defense Ministry[6],

           Similarly the fifth leg of the defense force the PLA Strategic Support Force according to President Xi is a new-type combat force to maintain national security and an important growth point of the PLA’s combat capabilities[7]. This will provide appropriate cyber and intelligence support system during war. Thus a lot of thought process has gone in these transformations.

Conclusion

China has grown in its stature and this military modernisation is an indicator that China wants to strengthen its missile force and get it integrated with other defence forces; thereby enhancing China’s pursuit of having a strong military to realize its ‘China Dream’. Its strategy of ‘Local war under conditions of informationalisation will also get a boost with the creation of these two services mainly the ‘Rocket Force’ and the ‘PLA Strategic Support Force’.

 End Notes

 

[1] China's Plan for a New, Improved Military, By Shannon Tiezzi December 01, 2015,The Diplomat, at http://thediplomat.com/2015/12/chinas-plan-for-a-new-improved-military/

[2] China establishes Rocket Force and Strategic Support Force, Ministry of National Defence, The People’s Republic of China, at http://eng.mod.gov.cn/ArmedForces/second.htm

[3] The New Military Force in Charge of China’s Nuclear Weapons, Goodbye Second Artillery Force; hello PLA Rocket Force, By Shannon Tiezzi 

January 05, 2016 at http://thediplomat.com/2016/01/the-new-military-force-in-charge-of-chinas-nuclear-weapons/,

[4] China new Rocket Force may include nuke Submarines and Bombers,The Economic Times, Jan 11 2016 at http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/chinas-new-rocket-force-may-include-nuke-submarines-bombers/articleshow/50534274.cms

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] China establishes Rocket Force and Strategic Support Force, Ministry of National Defence The People’s Republic of China at http://eng.mod.gov.cn/ArmedForces/second.htm 


@ Dr Roshan Khanijo is the Senior Research Fellow and the Research Coordinator at the United Services Institution of India .

 Article uploaded on Jan 21, 2016

Disclaimer: The Views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation that she belongs to or of the USI. 

 

[1] China's Plan for a New, Improved Military, By Shannon Tiezzi December 01, 2015,The Diplomat, at http://thediplomat.com/2015/12/chinas-plan-for-a-new-improved-military/

[1] China establishes Rocket Force and Strategic Support Force, Ministry of National Defence, The People’s Republic of China, at http://eng.mod.gov.cn/ArmedForces/second.htm

[1] The New Military Force in Charge of China’s Nuclear Weapons, Goodbye Second Artillery Force; hello PLA Rocket Force, By Shannon Tiezzi

January 05, 2016 at http://thediplomat.com/2016/01/the-new-military-force-in-charge-of-chinas-nuclear-weapons/,

[1] China new Rocket Force may include nuke Submarines and Bombers,The Economic Times, Jan 11 2016 at http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/chinas-new-rocket-force-may-include-nuke-submarines-bombers/articleshow/50534274.cms

[1] Ibid

[1] Ibid

[1] China establishes Rocket Force and Strategic Support Force, Ministry of National Defence The People’s Republic of China at http://eng.mod.gov.cn/ArmedForces/second.htm

@ Dr Roshan Khanijo is the Senior Research Fellow and the Research Coordinator at the United Services Institution of India .

Disclaimer:

 

 

CENTRE FOR UNITED NATIONS PEACEKEEPING (CUNPK)

MacGregor Medal