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China's Nuclear Forces: Operations, Training, Doctrine, Command, Control and Campaign Planning

Authored by Dr. Larry M. Wortzel. | May 2007

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SUMMARY

The major insights in this monograph come from exploiting sections of a doctrinal text published for People?s Liberation Army (PLA) institutions of higher military education by the Chinese National Defense University, A Guide to the Study of Campaign Theory (Zhanyi Lilun Xuexi Zhinan). 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. Other recent books by PLA or Chinese government controlled publishing houses validate the insights in the monograph and demonstrate how the PLA is going about achieving its vision for modern war fighting.

These materials provide new insights into China?s Second Artillery Corps, the ?Strategic Rocket Forces.? Chinese strategists believe that China must be prepared to fight in, and if necessary, control space; which explains the 2006 laser attack on a U.S. satellite from China and the 2007 anti-satellite missile test by the Chinese. PLA officers also believe that U.S. satellite reconnaissance from space could constitute a threat to 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 discussions in 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-first-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 ?self-defensive 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 war-making 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.

INTRODUCTION

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.1This 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.2Other 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.

ENDNOTES

1. Xin Qin reinforces this, writing that ?one must attack the C4ISR network that supports the command and control system of an enemy, particularly one that is fighting a war on external lines [in other words, an enemy fighting a power projection war].? Xin, Xinxihua Shidai de Zhanzheng (Warfare in the Information Age), Beijing: National Defense University Press, 2000, p. 90.

2. Xue Xinglin, Zhanyi Lilun Xuexi Zhinan (A Guide to the Study of Campaign Theory), Beijing: National Defense University Press, 2002.

3. Wang Houqing and Zhang Xingye, et al., Zhanyi Xue (The Science of Campaigns), Beijing: National Defense University Press, 2000. Zhanyi Xue is an ?internal distribution only? (restricted, or neibu) PLA book, although a number of copies have made it into the United States and are circulating in academic and policy circles. Zhanyi Lilun Zhinan is available in PLA bookstores and explains many of the concepts in the restricted volume.

4. Sun Yiming and Yang Liping, Xinxihua Zhanzheng Zhong de Zhanshhu Shuju Lian (Tactical Data Links in Information Warfare), Beijing: Beijing Post and Telecommunications College Press, 2005, pp. 5, 276-314.

5. This 1999 book set out the major tasks for future military development by the PLA. It has an effect on military development analogous to the Quadrennial Defense Review in the United States, setting major defense goals and time lines to accomplish them. It is important because, in large measure, the PLA has been successful in achieving these goals. Zhang Wannian, Ed. Dangdai Shijie Junshi yu Zhongguo Guofang (China?s National Defense and Contemporary World Military Affairs), Beijing: Military Science Press, 1999.