F-22A Raptor, FB-22, F-22E, F-22N and Variants Index Page [Click for more ...] People's Liberation Army Air Power Index Page  [Click for more ...]
Military Ethics, Culture, Education and Training Index Page [Click for more ...]
Russian / Soviet Weapon Systems Index Page [Click for more ...]

Last Updated: Mon Jan 27 11:18:09 UTC 2014

PLA Second Artillery Corps

Technical Report APA-TR-2009-1204

Sean O'Connor, BA, MS (AMU)
December 2009
Updated April, 2012
Text © 2009 Sean O'Connor
Layout, Line Artwork © 2009 Carlo Kopp

Second Artillery Corps DF-21C TEL during rehearsals for the 60th Anniversary PLA parade.

Background - China's Missile Force

China possesses one of the largest land-based missile forces in the world. While intercontinental ballistic missile parity with the US or the USSR was never one of the goals of the PLA during the Cold War, a rapidly modernizing 2nd Artillery Corps is becoming a far more viable international deterrent force in the current world. Capable of inundating the region surrounding China with hundreds, if not thousands, of conventional and nuclear armed missiles, the PLA's 2nd Artillery Corps deserves credit and recognition as one of the most devastating military branches found in any military worldwide.

The Chinese land-based ballistic and cruise missile force comprises 38 operational missile units spread throughout the nation. The force is heavily oriented towards mobile short and theater range systems, with only eight facilities supporting ICBMs. The locations of the PLA's operational missile units can be seen in the image below:

Second Artillery Corps - General Deployment

The 2nd Artillery Corps of the People's Liberation Army controls China's land-based missile forces. The 2nd Artillery Corps is responsible for both ballistic and cruise missiles, with varying ranges and differing payloads. With the introduction of new conventionally armed ballistic missiles and the new CJ-10 GLCM, the 2nd Artillery Corps should not merely be considered a nuclear missile force.

The 2nd Artillery Corps headquarters is located north of Beijing, directly south of the 2nd Artillery Corp's research and development complex, as seen in the image below. An alternate HQ is likely found in the hardened underground launch control facility located beneath  Yuquanshan Mountain to the west.

Second Artillery Corps missile units are organized into what the PLA refers to as “bases”. There are six bases, each located in a different geographical area. Described in the terms used by the Russian military, these bases are analogous to Russia's “Missile Armies”. Each base has numerous subordinate missile brigades, with each brigade maintaining one or more garrisons, various underground facilities (UGFs), rail transfer points, and field launch positions.

Missile garrisons are not difficult to identify once their location can be narrowed to a certain geographical area. These facilities will typically contain administrative and support infrastructure for assigned personnel, and various garages for housing missile TELs and support equipment. Garrisons supporting field deployable systems such as the DF-21 or DF-31 will typically possess high-bay garages or other similar structures used for the assembly and checkout of system components.

Rail transfer points are not typically easy to identify with any certainty, unless missile equipment is visible at the railyard. However, the likely rail transfer points are those railyards in closest proximity via roadway or connecting railspur to the missile garrisons. Ergo, these facilities have been marked as the likely rail transfer points.

Identifying field launch sites for the 2nd Artillery Corps' missile force can be a difficult proposition, and there are likely hundreds of such locations as yet unlocated. Careful analysis can be used to identify likely locations, however. The majority of these positions will contain a hardened concrete pad where the associated missile will be erected for launch. Certain missile systems will typically have very similar or even identical launch positions. Usually, it appears that most units within a given base will adopt a similar launch site design for a given missile type, although this is not uniform.

Typical launch site dimensions for common used systems are as follows:
  • DF-11: 15 meters in length
  • DF-15: 26 meters in length
  • DF-21: 45 meters in length
As a comparison, consider the following image. DF-21 launch positions from the 51st and 56th Bases are depicted. Note the similarity to the Datong and Delingha sites. The Huanglong and Liuqingkao examples depict identical dimensions but different, more concealed configurations. Such concealment efforts can make launch sites difficult to identify without considerable examination and are often employed by units in areas which are more likely to be potentially engaged.

Knowing the dimensions or configuration of a given launch site for a specific missile type allows analysts to determine which sites in a mixed garrison are employed by which missile systems. Shangrao's 815th Brigade, for example, employs both the DF-11 and DF-15. Given that both missiles utilize dimensionally different launch positions due to the different size of the launch vehicles, an examination of the launch sites near Shangrao will provide an indication of which sites will be used by which missile system. Once this is determined, a more accurate assessment of the strength of the unit may also be made. These are standard practices when analyzing missile units through overhead imagery.

Nearly every missile brigade is located in close proximity to one or more hardened UGFs. It is thought that these facilities may provide staging areas for missile systems which have left garrison. Alternatively, they could provide storage for missiles and/or warheads, as these are not likely to be kept on TELs in-garrison indefinitely. These facilities may also serve a purpose unrelated to the 2nd Artillery Corps, but are included nonetheless as their true purpose cannot be accurately determined. It is known that UGFs support aspects of the 2nd Artillery Corps, and the included facilities represent the most likely locations operating in support of nearby missile units.

For a representative brigade layout, consider again the 815th Brigade at Shangrao. The following image depicts the locations of the garrison, three identified UGFs, and twelve identified launch sites for the assigned DF-11 and DF-15 missiles. Note the relatively linear progression from garrison to UGF to launch site. A TEL could leave the garrison during hostilities and travel to a UGF for either arming or to await a launch order. Once ordered, the TEL could then proceed to a launch point, all with a minimum of exposure.

The icons used above are used throughout this article and are present in the associated downloadable file. The only alteration is that ICBM units are marked on the images of each Base's associated sites with blue flags instead of red flags. This allows the reader to differentiate between theater and intercontinental assets with ease.


The 51st Base consists of six missile units in northeastern China. These units are as follows:
  • 806th Brigade, DF-21, Huanglong/Hancheng
  • 810th Brigade, DF-3A and DF-21, Dengshahe
  • 816th Brigade, DF-15, Tonghua
  • 822nd Brigade, DF-21, Laiwu
  • U/I Brigade, U/I missile, Fengrun
  • U/I Brigade, U/I missile, Jingyu
The locations of these units can be seen in the following image:

Some sources claim that the 816th Brigade is equipped with the DF-21.


The 52nd Base consists of twelve missile units in southeastern China. These units are as follows:
  • 807th and 811th Brigades, DF-3A and DF-15, Lianxiwang/Jingdezhen
  • 815th Brigade, DF-15C, Leping
  • 815th Brigade, DF-11 and DF-15, Shangrao
  • 815th Brigade, DF-15, Xindian
  • 817th Brigade, DF-11A, Yong An
  • 818th Brigade, DF-15, Meizhou
  • 819th Brigade, DF-15, Gangzhou
  • 820th Brigade, DF-15, Jinhua
  • U/I Brigade, DF-11 and DF-15, Jiangshan
  • U/I Brigade, DF-15, Nanping
  • U/I Brigade, DF-11A, Xianyou
  • U/I Brigade, U/I missile, Ningbo
The locations of these units can be seen in the following image:

The 807th Brigade, reportedly located at Chizhou, is likely co-located with the 811th Brigade at Lianxiwang/Jingdezhen. DF-3A missiles associated with these units may have been replaced by DF-21s, according to some sources.


The 53rd Base consists of four missile units in southern China. These units are as follows:
  • 802nd Brigade, DF-21, Jianshui
  • 802nd Brigade, DF-21, Kunming
  • 808th Brigade, DF-21, Chuxiong
  • 821st Brigade, CJ-10, Luorong
The locations of these units can be seen in the following image:


The 54th Base consists of six missile units in eastern China. These units are as follows:
  • 801st Brigade, DF-5A, Lushi
  • 804th Brigade, DF-5A, Luoning/Luoyang
  • 813th Brigade, DF-31, Nanyang
  • U/I Brigade, DF-4, Sundian
  • U/I Brigade, DF-31, Xixia
  • U/I Brigade, U/I missile, Sanmenxia
The locations of these units can be seen in the following image:

Launch sites located near Xixia, once thought to serve the 813th Brigade at Nanyang, may support a separate DF-31 or DF-31A unit. Garrison facilities have not been identified, but the different launch site style may be indicative of a separate unit.


The 55th Base consists of two missile units in southern China. These units are as follows:
  • 803rd and 814th Brigades, DF-5A, Jingxian
  • 805th Brigade, DF-4, Tongdao
The locations of these units can be seen in the following image:

The 803rd and 814th Brigades are both found in close proximity and may share some of the garrison and support facilities located nearby. Dongkou, often claimed to be home to the 55th Base's 824th Brigade, is in actuality a training facility and is not included as part of the 55th Base.


The 56th Base consists of eight missile units in northern China. These units are as follows:
  • 809th Brigade, DF-21, Datong
  • 812th Brigade, DF-31A, Beidao/Tawanli
  • 823rd Brigade, DF-21, Korla
  • U/I Brigade, DF-11 and DF-15, Da Qaidam
  • U/I Brigade, DF-4, DF-11, DF-15, DF-21, and DF-31, Delingha
  • U/I Brigade, DF-21, Liuqingkou
  • U/I Brigade, DF-11 and DF-15, Mahai
  • U/I Brigade, DF-21 and DF-31, Xining
The locations of these units can be seen in the following image:

The Delingha brigade is often referred to as a training unit. This may be the case, but it is included here as it is far more expansive than typical ballistic missile training fields. It is likely home to operational units, even if the facilities are also employed for training purposes. The 812th Brigade is often erroneously referred to as being based at Tianshui when in actuality the main garrison facilities are located east of Tianshui at Beidao.

Training Facilities

Seven facilities provide classroom and field training for 2nd Artillery Corps personnel. Six facilities are garrisons or launch areas providing hands-on training and missile launch capabilities. The seventh facility is the 2nd Artillery Corps Engineering School in Xian. The locations and identifications of the 2nd Artillery Corps' training facilities can be seen in the image below:

Many of the training facilities do not provide significant garrison areas, implying that they are manned by deployed units who arrive with their own equipment. This does not imply that crew training is not conducted at home garrison, but rather that a capability to field deploy and conduct training launches is available within the 2nd Artillery Corps. This is similar to the presence of dedicated training facilities for PLAAF SAM units. Such a layout also allows locations to be identified as training rather than operational garrisons.

A representative training facility can be found at Linyi. This facility houses numerous training launch pads and minimal support facilities. It can be seen in the image below:

Two of the training facilities provide crew training on the DF-5A missile system. These two facilities, at Dongkou and Luoyang, are fitted with missile silos to provide a realistic training environment. Not only are crews theoretically able to undergo certification or training on launch procedures, but the presence of realistic silos allows maintenance personnel to effectively train on operational tasks such as silo reloading and in-silo missile servicing. This is a significant training capability to possess; with DF-5A ICBM silos in relatively short supply, training can be conducted without affecting the operational status of the primary Chinese strategic deterrent force.

Test Facilities

Seven test facilities support the development and testing of ballistic missiles in China. Six of these locations are equipped with facilities to launch various types of ballistic missiles. The seventh facility is an impact range equipped with mock targets used to assess missile accuracy. The locations and identifications of the 2nd Artillery Corps' test facilities can be seen in the image below:

The two primary ballistic missile test facilities are at Wuzhai and Shuangchengzi. These facilities contain multiple launch positions and support facilities, allowing for large-scale development programs to be conducted at each site. Wuzhai is considerably larger and is likely the primary ICBM test facility. It is the only test facility to be outfitted with a DF-5 series silo for trials launches, and has been cited in the open press as the launch site for DF-31 and DF-31A trials. Shuangchengzi, therefore, is likely primarily tasked with supporting SRBM/MRBM/IRBM development programs, although there is no reason why any type of missile could not be fired from either location.

Four other facilities, located at Bayan Hot, Huludao, Jinzhou, and Songlin, are also available for test launches. The Songlin site is noteworthy as it supports the development of China's ASAT missile. This location fired the SC-19 ASAT weapon used to destroy an orbiting satellite in January of 2007.

Apart from the six launch facilities supporting missile testing, an impact zone located 100km northwest of Dunhuang provides targets for weapons fired in test and training launches. Close examination of this facility proves to be very revealing. The facility consists of five primary targets, seen in the image below. These targets consist of three mock airstrips and two concrete pads.

The concrete pads provide a great deal of insight into Chinese warhead development. Both the small western pad, measuring 115 meters by 115 meters, and the large eastern pad, measuring 250 meters by 250 meters, show considerable evidence of submunitions impacts, implying that submunitions warheads have been actively tested. The eastern pad was untouched as of May 2005, but began to show evidence of submunitions impacts in September 2006 imagery. By March of 2007 the eastern pad showed evidence of large HE warhead strikes.

The eastern pad is significant as it is divided into four 150 meter by 150 meter sections, allowing for missile accuracy to be measured accurately. All of the HE warhead impacts are contained within the northeastern section. The characteristics of the impacts themselves suggests that they were all made by the same type of warhead. While it is possible that this represents evidence of an MRV-equipped missile test, possibly that of the DF-21C, it cannot be conclusively determined if the impacts were made during the same test using the available imagery. As the weapons all impacted in the same segment of the pad, it does allow for an assessment of the accuracy of the launch platform to be made.

Details of the eastern impact pad can be seen in the image below:

All of the impacts can be contained within a circle having a 100 meter radius. This indicates that the CEP of the weapon is approximately 50 meters. Given the fact that the target site is 580 kilometers from Shuangchengzi, it is possible that a DF-15C test series resulted in the HE impacts on the pad. The DF-15C is reported to have a 600 kilometer range and terminal homing. The inclusion of a dual GPS and active radar terminal homing system on the DF-15C allows for an accuracy reportedly between 30 and 50 meters CEP, matching what is visible at the impact site. The integration of terminal homing with conventional warheads of high accuracy provides more credibility to the Chinese ASBM threat as well as indicating that accuracte, conventionally armed ballistic missiles may be more likely to be employed in a conflict than previous nuclear-only weapons. In a conventional conflict this could result in a significant increase in the number of ballistic missiles fired at targets, potentially allowing any ATBM or ABM systems in the area to be oversaturated.

Development and Production

The development and production of ballistic and cruise missiles in China involves numerous different facilities throughout the nation. These facilities can be seen in the image below:

Missile final assembly is conducted at one of the missile plants or assembly facilities. Solid propellant motors are produced by the facilities near Xian, with the Lantian Solid Rocket Motor Academy being responsible for their design and development. The Chinese Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology is responsible for liquid propellant motors, and the marked “Ballistic Missile Development Facility” may be CALT's main test facility, although this has yet to be verified. TELs are produced by three factories, and may be produced at the Beijing Nanyuan facility as well.

Nuclear Weapons Industry

Little is known about the actual design and production of Chinese nuclear weapons. Five facilities have been identified that have a known nuclear-related purpose. They are as follows:
  • CIAE Nuclear Research Complex, Tuoli
  • 404 Plutonium Production Plant, Jiuquan
  • 504 Uranium Gasseous Diffusion Plant, Lanzhou
  • 821 Plutonium Production Plant, Guangyuan
  • Lop Nur Nuclear Test Site
These facilities are annotated on the image below:

While these facilities may have civillian nuclear power and research purposes, their nature indicates that they may also serve the Chinese nuclear weapons industry. Lop Nur is well known as the test site for Chinese nuclear weapons, and the three plants annotated above could be used to produce weapons-grade fissile material.

Operational Employment

During wartime, control over the 2nd Artillery Corps' missile brigades differs depending on their payload. Units fielding nuclear armed weapons, most notably the ICBM brigades, report directly to the Chinese national command center west of Beijing. Conventionally armed brigades are treated differently. A regional command cell, called a “war front” command, would assume control of relevant conventionally-armed ballistic missile units as part of a conventional missile corps. This missile corps would be subordinate to the war front command, acting as part of a total force package consisting of air, land, sea, and missile elements. Beijing's leadership and 2nd Artillery Corps commanders would be able to communicate directly with the war front command, and would retain the ability to directly control assigned missile brigades should the need arise or the situation warrant it. At the brigade level, individual firing battalions would be assigned operating areas consisting of presurveyed and/or prepared launch positions.

As previously mentioned, it is likely that the garrisoned TELs are not kept uploaded with missiles and armed with warheads. Inside a missile brigade's force structure, there are six departments: headquarters, political, logistics, technical and equipment, missile storage, and launch battalions. These are present in both conventional and nuclear missile brigades. The missile storage department consists of a central depot, and a missile/warhead transfer section. This implies that there is a storage facility for the missiles and warheads, or perhaps separate facilities for each. No garrison facility possesses the secure, hardened facilities needed to adequately store and protect these assets, so it must be assumed that they are located off-site. The logical assumption is that the vast network of UGFs located near the missile garrisons and launch sites are used to protect, store, and transfer these items. Storing warheads and missiles in UGFs allows TELs to be loaded and armed under protected cover, and away from the prying eyes of intelligence satellites attempting to gauge force readiness. This also allows the garrisons themselves to be situated in or near large population centers, as most of them are, without fear of any accident or incident leading to a catastrophe.

Apart from the ICBM force, which at present only provides a token deterrent lacking in any sort of credible counterforce or counterstrike capability, the 2nd Artillery Corps is equipped primarily for a regional mission. The most significant unit is the 52nd Base, controlling the weapons directed across the strait at the Taiwan Authority on the island of Taiwan. The twelve units of the 52nd Base control a large number of DF-3A, DF-11, DF-11A, DF-15, and DF-15C ballistic missiles. Apart from the DF-3A which can range far out into the Pacific Ocean, the remaining missile forces have sufficient range to blanket the island of Taiwan without venturing far from their garrisons.

The following image depicts 2nd Artillery Corps ballistic missile coverage of the island of Taiwan. DF-11 range rings are orange, DF-11A range rings are yellow, and DF-15/DF-15C range rings are red.

With a limited ATBM capability provided by Tien Kung II, Tien Kung III, and PATRIOT PAC-2 SAM batteries, the island of Taiwan could easily be overwhelmed by incoming weapons, even considering the October 2008 approval by the United States Congress of a PAC-3 sale to the Taiwan Authority. The deployment of accurate, conventionally-armed ballistic and cruise missiles makes the missile threat to the island of Taiwan far more likely to become part of a military option. In short, a determined missile strike on the island of Taiwan could be carried out in a manner guaranteeing its success, should the Chinese government wish to expend the number of weapons necessary to oversaturate the ATBM capable systems. Given the number of missiles deployed by the 52nd Base, it would appear that at least part of that equation has already been satisfied.

The most important feature of the 2nd Artillery Corps is mobility. A great deal of effort was made during the 1970s and 1980s to improve mobility and reduce the readiness time of deployed systems. Developmental systems which reached maturity in the 1990s and 2000s were all designed to be highly mobile; a great deal of the successes in this regard have stemmed from the maturation of the solid rocket motor industry.

Mobility enhances the survivability of deployed assets, making it harder to accurately target them due to a potential lack of consistently accurate positioning data. The only issue with mobile systems is the need for accurate pretargeting position data to prepare the onboard guidance systems. Using presurveyed and prepared launch sites alleviates a portion of this problem, but provides enemy forces with locations to monitor for deployed missile systems. Adequate intelligence and indications and warning information must also be possessed in order to ensure that missiles are field deployed prior to the outbreak of armed conflict, lest the launchers be destroyed in-garrison before they have a chance to be loaded and deployed.

Future Force Development

The current ICBM force in China represents a token strategic deterrent incapable of waging a nuclear counterforce or counterstrike campaign. While silo-based DF-5A missiles are survivable to a degree, silo positions can be located and targeted for preemptive strike should the need arise. China has taken measures to conceal these positions, but they can still be located through thorough imagery analysis.

To increase survivability and reduce launch preparation time, the solid propellant DF-31 and DF-31A road-mobile ICBMs have been developed and are being fielded. Liquid-fueled DF-5A missiles may not employ storable liquid fuel propellant, possibly requiring a lengthy fueling process before firing.

The DF-31 appears to have been superceded by the longer-ranged DF-31A capable of reaching the entire United States, with only the 813th Brigade at Nanyang and possibly the unidentified brigade at Xixia definitely operating the system. The main drawback of the DF-31, apart from the shorter range when compared to the DF-31A, is the lack of an off-road capability. It is believed that a new off-road capable TEL is being developed for the DF-31A, allowing the weapons to be deployed further afield from garrisons in areas where launch positions would be much harder to identify.

The deployment of increased numbers of DF-31 and DF-31A systems will finally allow China to obtain a survivable, credible counterforce and counterstrike capability. The presence of UGFs supporting these systems allows them to remain hidden prior to launch, perhaps deploying after an initial nuclear attack to perform a counterstrike mission. MIRVing these weapons would increase the effectiveness of each launcher, and when combined with the PLAN's evolving SSBN fleet would allow a smaller number of launch platforms to serve as a counterforce option and credible deterrent to any nuclear strike, should a “launch on warning” posture be adopted with sufficient support assets.

One mission being developed for the 2nd Artillery Corps is that of anti-carrier strike using precision-guided conventionally armed ballistic missiles.


While the 2nd Artillery Corps does not currently represent a significant nuclear deterrent force against either the United States or Russia, it represents a very substantial risk to  lesser regional nations, due to the large number of SRBM, MRBM, and IRBM assets currently deployed. As ICBMs with higher mobility are deployed and more accurate conventional theater weapons enter service, the 2nd Artillery Corps will evolve into a true strategic deterrent and even more devastating regional military force. 

The ground launched CJ-10 Long Sword is a strategic cruise missile modelled on the United States BGM-109G GLCM and Soviet RK-55 Relief, the latter both scrapped under treaty obligations. Chinese sources credit this missile with a range of up to  1,100 nautical miles. It carries a range of different 770 lb or 1,100 lb warheads. The PLA Second Artillery Force has currently up to 30 deployed TELs (Chinese internet).

References and Notes

  1. A Google Earth file containing the placemarks used in the generation of this article can be downloaded here. This file contains every identified facility associated with the units and locations described above.
  2. Satellite imagery provided courtesy of Google Earth
  3. The Chinese Second Artillery Corps: Transition To Credible Deterrence; Bates Gill, James Mulvenon, and Mark Stokes
  4. DoD Annual Report To Congress: Military Power of the People's Republic of China (2008 and 2009 reports)
  5. The DH-10 Reaches IOC
  6. Chinese Strategic Missiles
  7. 2nd Artillery Units & Inventory
  8. Chinese Missile Facilities
  9. Chinese Nuclear Facilities
  10. SC-19 Designation Revealed
  11. Chinese Nuclear Forces and U.S. Nuclear War Planning
  12. China's Ballistic Missile Programs
  13. More information on ASBM developments can be found here.

Imagery Sources: Xinhua; PLA-AF; MilitaryPhotos.net; other Internet sources.

Technical Report APA-TR-2009-1204

People's Liberation Army Air Power Index Page [Click for more ...]
Military Ethics, Culture, Education and Training Index Page [Click for more ...]
Russian / Soviet Weapon Systems Index Page [Click for more ...]

Artwork, graphic design, layout and text © 2004 - 2014 Carlo Kopp; Text © 2004 - 2014 Peter Goon; All rights reserved. Recommended browsers. Contact webmaster. Site navigation hints. Current hot topics.

Site Update Status: $Revision: 1.753 $ Site History: Notices and Updates / NLA Pandora Archive