Spotlight on New Second Artillery ICBM Base Leadership

Posted on Tuesday, August 2, 2011 by L.C. Russell Hsiao

By Mark Stokes and L.C. Russell Hsiao


Mark Stokes is the executive director and L.C. Russell Hsiao is a senior research fellow at The Project 2049 Institute.

A Chinese government-affiliated publication has identified Major General Liu Qide [劉啟德] (b. 1957) as the newly assigned commander of 55 Base (96301 Unit), China’s premier intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) command headquartered in the western Hunan city of Huaihua. Liu replaced Major General Lu Fu’en, who was promoted to Second Artillery chief of staff in December 2010. Lu—in turn—replaced Lieutenant General Wei Fenghe (b. 1954), [1] who was assigned as People’s Liberation Army (PLA) deputy chief of the General Staff Department (GSD). Wei’s move to a senior position within the GSD reflects the Second Artillery’s growing prominence within the Chinese defense establishment. Furthermore, these personnel shifts suggest the significant role of the 55 Base in the Second Artillery’s organizational structure and the importance that the Chinese leadership attaches to the ICBM units’ function in its overall missile defense strategy. [2]

A Profile of Liu Qide

Given his relative youth, Major General Liu Qide appears to have a bright future. Born in Shandong’s Jining County in February 1957, Liu Qide has roots in the Second Artillery’s ICBM community. He was assigned to 55 Base’s 803 Brigade in Jingzhou as a junior officer, and remained in the unit for more than a decade (see Chart I below). Liu Qide was a junior member of the DF-5 operational test and evaluation unit within the brigade, and participated in test launches in the early 1980s. [3] Liu served as 803 Brigade Commander from 1997, and was subsequently assigned as director of the 55 Base Equipment Department in 2004. In this position, he oversaw the integration of the DH-10 land attack cruise missile (LACM) and new ICBM variants into the base’s missile inventory. He transferred to the Second Artillery’s Communications Department in July 2007, where he managed the force’s nuclear command, control, and communication system. He returned to Huaihua in early or mid-2010 to serve as 55 Base chief of staff until his promotion to commander.

Background on 55 Base

The Central Military Commission (CMC) directed the initiation of launch site preparations in Hunan in August 1966, and 55 Base was formally established on 25 May 1968. An engineering unit (306 Engineering Command) that had returned to its home base of Guangxi Province after service in Vietnam was responsible for infrastructure development. Deployed to the remote southwestern Hunan town of Jingzhou, the command moved to Huaihua in 1970. The first 55 Base commander and political commissar were Mo Yiming and Deng Bo, respectively. Mo and Deng remained in their positions for over a decade. Initial DF-4 and DF-5 missiles entered service with two operational test and evaluation units in the first half of the 1980s.

As 55 Base commander, Major General Liu Qide and his staff oversee three brigades equipped with the DF-4 and DF-5 ICBM systems, and a fourth equipped with the 2,000 kilometers (km) range DH-10 LACM. [4] With an estimated range of at least 13,000 km, the silo-based, liquid-fueled DF-5 (NATO designation of CSS-4) is capable of striking targets throughout most of the continental United States. The DF-4 (NATO designation: CSS-3), with a range of at least 5,500 km, is capable of reaching targets throughout the Asia-Pacific region, including U.S. facilities on Guam.

Chart I: Organizational Structure of 55 Base



Source: Second Artillery Handbook, July 25, 2011 (unpublished draft)

  • 803 Brigade (Jingzhou): Established as an operational test and evaluation unit in October 1968, the Jingzhou brigade (96311 Unit) has been equipped with the DF-5 ICBM since 1984. However, media reporting in November 2007 highlighted the unit’s acceptance of a new missile–possibly the DF-5A–in the 2006-2007 timeframe (PLA Daily, November 20, 2007). The brigade’s six battalions are located in Jingzhou and Suining Counties. Senior Colonel Ceng Aijun serves as brigade commander.
  • 805 Brigade (Shaoyang): Also established as an operational test and evaluation unit in the 1960s, the Tongdao 805 Brigade (96313 Unit) was equipped with initial DF-4 theater-level nuclear missile systems in the early 1980s. Within the last two years, the brigade headquarters appears to have relocated from Tongdao to Shaoyang, a prefectural-level city in central Hunan Province (Shaoyangtv.com, February 11, 2010; Shaoyang.gov.cn, August 12, 2010). There are indications the brigade began conversion to a new missile variant in 2007, possibly an improved variant of the DF-4 (e.g., DF-4A). By July 2010, the unit was becoming increasingly proficient in day and nighttime operations (Science and Technology Daily, January 4, 2011; Chinamil.com.cn, February 16, 2011; People.com.cn, March 29, 2011). A 2010 Shaoyang City report identified Senior Colonel Yi Decai as brigade commander. Yi previously commanded Base 55’s nuclear warhead and missile depot. Colonel Dai Weide was transferred from the warhead depot to serve as the brigade’s political commissar in 2010 (Science and Technology Daily, July 8, 2010).
  • 814 Brigade (Huitong): A third brigade under Base 55 is centered in Huitong County, about 60 km south of Huaihua. Formerly an engineering regiment, the CMC directed formation of the 814 Brigade (96315 Unit) in April 1993. The brigade is most likely equipped with either an improved variant of the DF-4 or DF-5. Senior Colonel Jiang Hua has commanded the brigade since at least 2009.
  • 824 Brigade (Yichun): Formed in 2005, the 824 Brigade (96317 Unit) is headquartered in the heavily forested far western mountains of Jiangxi Province. The brigade is one of at least two LACM units in the Second Artillery. Previous 824 Brigade commander, Senior Colonel Li Youcheng, appears to have been assigned as chief of staff of 53 Base, headquartered in Kunming, Yunnan Province. Current brigade commander, Colonel Chen Qian, directed the 55 Base warhead regiment from 2007 until his current assignment. Zhang Junhui, who formerly served as Political Commissar of the 55 Base Repair Factory, replaced Senior Colonel Xie En’you in early 2011. The 824 Brigade’s sister LACM unit–the 821 Brigade–is under Base 53 and located near Liuzhou in Guangxi Province.

Chart II: Base 55 Units



Source: The Project 2049 Institute

In addition to its four missile brigades, 55 Base oversees five support regiments. A regiment in Dongkou trains new recruits assigned to 55 Base units. Another regiment, headquartered in Huaihua’s eastern suburbs, manages the storage of nuclear warhead components and missiles. A special mobility regiment, most likely headquartered in the vicinity of the warhead depot, transports warhead components and/or missile assemblies from underground storage facilities to launch positions. The regiment also likely supports the 824 Brigade’s LACM cross-regional mobility mission. Another regiment ensures readiness of launch vehicles and other mobility systems. A final regiment manages base communications systems.

Grades of Second Artillery Bases

Base 55’s sister ICBM command base is 54 Base, headquartered in Luoyang, Henan Province. Also established in 1968, Western sources claim 54 Base oversees a DF-5 brigade and a DF-4 brigade, as well as one probable DF-31 brigade at Nanyang in southwest Henan Province. All three are concentrated in Henan Province. The commanders of 51 Base (Shenyang), 52 Base (Huangshan), 55 Base (Huaihua), and 56 Base (Lanzhou) (Note: Base 56 Headquarters have moved from Xining, Qinghai Province to Yuzhong County, Gansu Province, which is approximately 30 km southeast of Lanzhou City.) have the equivalent grade of a group army commander, with 53 Base (Kunming), 54 Base (Luoyang), and 22 Base (Baoji) carrying the equivalent grade of deputy group army commander. Unlike Navy and Air Force regional commands, Second Artillery bases are delinked from PLA military regions and report directly to Second Artillery headquarters in Beijing.

Chart III: Second Artillery Bases



Source: The Project 2049 Institute

Comments

Liu Qide, and others such as 52 Base Commander Major General Gao Jin (b. 1959), represent the next generation of leadership within the Second Artillery. However, Liu and Gao have taken different career tracks: conventional and nuclear missile campaign operations, respectively. With the anticipated retirements of Second Artillery Commander Jing Zhiyuan and Deputy Commander Yu Jixun, Gao is likely to be promoted to one of the Second Artillery deputy chief of staff positions within the coming year as China prepares for its leadership transition.

The CMC exercises strict command and control authority over release of nuclear weapons, with the Second Artillery’s central nuclear warhead base in the Qinling Mountains (22 Base) playing a key role in the command and control system. Base 55 likely has control only over few if any warheads during peacetime. In the past, China has relied upon a minimal deterrence nuclear strategy, which requires a small number of warheads and delivery vehicles for counterstrikes against a limited number of enemy targets. Yet, given the expansion of the Second Artillery’s infrastructure, fielding of increasingly sophisticated delivery vehicles, development of missile early warning systems, investment into missile defenses, and Gao’s likely promotion as Second Artillery deputy chief of staff, China’s nuclear doctrine may be transforming in tandem with its growing capabilities. [5]

Notes:

1. Wei was commander of 53 Base from 2002-2005.
2. Other senior personnel shifts also included the retirement of the Second Artillery’s Deputy Commander Zhang Yuting, who was replaced by former GSD Third Department Director Wu Guohua.
3. Other members of the initial operational test and evaluation team appear to have included current Second Artillery Deputy Chief of Staff Wang Benzhi and 54 Base Commander Guo Bin. Other senior Second Artillery leaders with roots in Base 55 include Deputy Commander Zhang Yuting, who played a critical role in the construction of Base 55 infrastructure in the 1970s and 1980s.
4. Base 55 eventually could convert to solid fueled ICBMs, such as the 8,000 km-range DF-31 and +12,000 km-range DF-31A.
5. Among the many open questions include whether or not the Second Artillery is introducing a multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) variant of the DF-5 into its inventory, and status of a new road-mobile solid fueled MIRV’d ICBM possibly under development that was referenced in the 2010 DoD Report to Congress on PRC Military Power.

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