BEIJING, January 8 (ChinaMil) -- Soon after the news about the first China-made aircraft carrier was confirmed, the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) waged another wave of reform as we ushered in 2016 by establishing the PLA Army’s leading organ, the PLA Rocket Force and the PLA Strategic Support Force all at once.
What drew special attention is that the Second Artillery Force (SAF), which used to be an independent arm, was upgraded to be the Rocket Force, an independent service, reminding people of the Strategic Missile Force in Soviet Union/Russia that keeps the western world on the edge.
Why did the PLA upgrade the 49-year-long and independent SAF to be the fourth service after the Army, Navy and Air Force?
"China is always faced with the blockade and containment of superpowers. The country on the other side of the ocean has a powerful navy and air force and boasts the world's top air and sea supremacy and strongest conventional long-range precision strike and delivery capability, which China's Navy and Air Force won't be able to comprehensively compete with in the short term," said Song Zhongping, former instructor at the PLA Second Artillery Engineering University.
"Qian Xuesen proposed to defuse the rival's sea and air advantages with missiles that have strong penetration capability, and the SAF has faithfully fulfilled this concept in the past half century and achieved notable deterrent effects," added Song Zhongping.
In 1987, the U.S. and the former Soviet Union signed the agreement to cut their ground-to-ground missiles with the shooting range from 500 to 5500km, according to which America's Pershing II and land-based Tomahawk and Soviet Union's SS-4, SS-12, SS-20 and SS-23 missiles were all destroyed.
Today, the U.S. has no tactical ballistic missile or land-based cruise missile, and Russia's two types of short-range tactical missiles both belong to the army.
As China hasn't signed any agreement of this kind, it has established the world's most complete ballistic missile strike system, including both nuclear and conventional missiles and covering all shooting ranges, with the high-precision medium-range ballistic missile standing out in the world.
The most typical example is the DF-26 exhibited during China's V-Day parade on September 3 last year, which can carry both nuclear and conventional warheads and is able to reach Guam thanks to its 4000km shooting range and destroy aircraft carrier cruising on the sea.
With the rise of China's national strength and international standing, China needs a missile troop that better meets the requirement of the "Dream of a Strong Military" and is able to serve as a strategic deterrent force to escort the realization of the "Chinese Dream".
"A service usually consists of several arms and special troops, has leading organs, academies, research institutes and logistic support system, but an arm cannot have such a comprehensive formation", according to Song.
Song therefore inferred that the PLA Rocket Force will have a larger formation than the previous SAF, saying that "the PLA Rocket Force may include two arms in the future, one in charge of nuclear force and the other of conventional weapons, along with other support troops". It's obvious that the PLA Rocket Force's combat capability will be largely enhanced compared with the SAF.
The nuclear force will cover land, sea and air
Of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, namely the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain, Britain and France have no land-based strategic nuclear missile because of their small territory, so they have to completely rely on their nuclear submarine, and Britain doesn't even have air-based nuclear weapon.
While, the U.S. has 400 LGM-30 Minuteman land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, but they belong to the Air Force. Only Russia has a specific service of land-based nuclear forces, which is the Strategic Missile Force. Compared with the Russian counterpart, China's Rocket Force isn't called "strategic", leaving much room for imagination.
"The end of the SAF is the beginning of the Rocket Force, which not only has strategic nuclear missiles, but also a number of advanced conventional tactical missiles including medium and long-range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles." introduced Song Zhongping.
He said that the two kinds of missiles have clear-cut duties, the former responsible for national strategic nuclear deterrence and won't be used until the last moment, while the latter can be used as a high-precision "trump card" weapon for high-tech local warfare to carry out the first round of strike.
"In the long term, the PLA Rocket Force may transfer short-range ballistic missiles to the Army to extend its range of strike," said Song Zhongping.
In the past, the SAF only had land-based nuclear missiles, but Song Zhongping made the bold suggestion that after the SAF is upgraded to be the Rocket Force, it may also incorporate sea-based and air-based nuclear forces to form a new strategic nuclear force.
"I think it's just a matter of time", Song said, after incorporating the Navy's strategic nuclear submarine and the Air Force's strategic bomber, the PLA Rocket Force will become a generalization and will be the first independent service with land, sea and air nuclear forces in the world that is much more integrated than the nuclear forces in the U.S., Russia, Britain and France.
This article is extracted from the Chinese edition of the Qianjiang Evening News (钱江晚报), and translated into English by China Military Online. The opinions expressed here are those of the writers and don't represent views of the China Military Online website.