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PLA Rocket Force Organization

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  • China Aerospace Studies Institute

      The PLA Rocket Force (PLARF), formerly known as the PLA 2nd Artillery Force (PLASAF) until 2016, is responsible for the PLA’s land-based nuclear and conventional ballistic missiles. The Second Artillery Force was officially established in 1966 and given command of China’s small inventory of land-based, regional nuclear missiles. These first-generation missiles were largely categorized as unsophisticated and of limited range and capability. The story of the PLARF/PLASAF, however, has been one of steady and progressive growth in both size and capability, beginning with the development of increasingly longer-range systems through the 1960s and 1970s and, with the introduction of the DF-5 in the early 1980s, the first intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the United States. The 1980s were a seminal decade for the PLASAF in two other ways: first, through its development of the DF-21, the PLA’s first road-mobile ballistic missile system, and second, through its decision to field conventional as well as nuclear missiles, leading to the introduction of the DF-11 and DF-15 short range ballistic missiles in the early 1990s. The steady diversification of platforms and improvement in capabilities assigned to the PLASAF was matched by its equally steady growth in size. Four new brigades were stood up between 1980 and 2000, three of which were equipped with these latest weapons systems. This expansion accelerated in the 2000s: between 2000 and 2010, the PLASAF stood up as many as eleven new brigades equipped with its growing array of weapons, including its first ground-launched cruise missile, the CJ-10, and its first road-mobile ICBM, the DF-31. The pace of growth continued to intensify between 2010 and 2020, as the PLASAF (and, following its name change in 2016, the PLA Rocket Force) added 13 new brigades, as well as more important weapons systems such as the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile, the longer range and more capable DF-41 road-mobile ICBM, the dual nuclear-conventional DF-26 IRBM, and the DF-17 hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV). Incredibly, between 2017 and late 2019 the PLARF added at least ten new missile brigades. This unprecedented expansion from 29 to 39 brigades represented a more than 33% increase in size in only three years.i This was followed by an apparent massive expansion of the PLARF’s silo-based ICBM force in 2021. Thus, the PLARF has evolved from a small, unsophisticated force of short-ranged and vulnerable ballistic missiles to an increasingly large and modern force with a wide array of both nuclear and conventional weapons platforms.
     While recent scholarship has gone a long way toward demystifying China’s ballistic missile force, it remains in many ways a poorly understood phenomenon, with an unusually high degree of censorship even by the strict standards of the PLA. With this in mind, the purpose of this report is to improve the level of detail available to researchers by providing the most thorough encyclopedia of PLA Rocket Force units available in open sources. We have attempted to compile dossiers on as many PLARF units and institutions as possible, including information, where available, on each unit’s history, mission, location, leadership, equipment, and force structure, utilizing a wide range of mostly Chinese language sources. We hope that the information contained in this report will fill a critical gap in scholarship, serve as a valuable resource to the PLA research community, and help facilitate further research and greater understanding of the PLARF.

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