The PLA Rocket Force: Evolving Beyond the Second Artillery Corps (SAC) and Nuclear Dimension

By Anthony H. Cordesman with the assistance of Joseph Kendall

Since 1985, Chinese missile forces, which are under the command of the Second Artillery Force (SAF) or Second Artillery Corps (SAC), have changed strikingly in character. The forces have shifted from a nuclear deterrent force based primarily on intermediate and medium-range missiles to a force of intercontinental- and medium-range nuclear forces combined with a powerful conventional missile arm capable of conducting precision attacks at a medium range.

Further changes took place on the eve of 2016 as the SAF was recommissioned as the PLA Rocket Force (PLARF) on December 31, 2015. Additionally, the PLARF was elevated from an independent branch to the fourth military service alongside the PLA, PLAN, and PLAAF. Though the decision to reconstitute the PLARF as a military service indicates the importance China puts on maintaining modern missile forces, at this point it seems unlikely that the PLARF’s roles and responsibilities will differ substantially from the SAF.

A new report by the CSIS Burke Chair in Strategy provides a detailed analysis of China’s missile forces, and is available on the CSIS website at

Other recent Burke Chair studies that address these issues include:

China Space Strategy and Developments:

Evolving Strategies in the U.S.-China Military Balance:

Chinese Military Organization and Reform:

China’s Nuclear Forces and Weapons of Mass Destruction:

Photo credit: Andy Wong - Pool /Getty Images
Anthony H. Cordesman

Anthony H. Cordesman

Former Emeritus Chair in Strategy