Credibility of the Chinese and Pakistan’s NC2 structure

By Nauman Hassan

Nuclear Command And Control (NC2), a mechanism to regulate the nuclear weapons, delivery systems and nuclear forces; to make sure the security, safety, reliability and survivability of nuclear weapons by utilizing all available organizational and technical measures.[1] Paul Bracken defined C2 in his book as “an arrangement of facilities, personnel, procedures and means of information, acquisition, processing, and disseminations used by a commander in planning, directing, and controlling military operations”.[2] NC2 got more intensification during the Cold War era when both the nuclear weapon states (US and USSR) possess about 70,000 devices.[3]

US Department of Defense elaborated C2 as “the exercise of authority and direction by a purposely designated commander over assigned forces in the accomplishment of the mission. Command and Control functions are performed through an arrangement of personnel, equipment, communications, facilities and processes employed by a commander in planning, directing, coordinating, and controlling forces and operations in the accomplishment of the mission.[4] C2 is a set of arrangements or facilities to maintain survivability, security, safety and reliability of strategic weapons.

China started work for nuclear acquisition in midst of 1950s. China conducted its first successful atomic test in October 16, 1964. After a few years of test, China faced strained relations with Soviet Union. At that time, China officially announced a defensive “No First Use Policy”. Till the end of 1980s, China had small number of nuclear weapons relatively to other nuclear weapon states. Due to unsophisticated technology and small numbers of weapons, they were more vulnerable to first strike. The unavailability of second strike capability could further minimize the credibility of China’s deterrence. Just before the high-tech Gulf War, military’s communication system of China was based on radio and land line communication instead of fibre, which was more vulnerable to first strike. Under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, military kicked off improvements in command and control, military structure, technology (from unsophisticated technology to more sophisticated high-tech technology).

Second Artillery Corps / Strategic Missile Force: 

Second Artillery Corps was established in July 1, 1965 and started work properly in October 1, 1984. It comprises 4 % of PLA’s personnel and receives 15-20 % of PLA’s total budget.[5] The research, development, and production of nuclear weapons in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) appear to be under the control of the military. The Second Artillery Corps (SAC) is tasked with implementing the reliable and secure command and control of China’s nuclear and conventional missile forces. The PLA’s Second Artillery (missile force) deploys nuclear-armed and conventionally armed missiles for strategic deterrence and manages the storage and security of nuclear weapons.[6]

SAC is headquartered in Qinghe, near Biejing, it is controlled and ordered directly by Central Military Command (CMC).[7] It is responsible for training of strategic forces, security of nuclear weapons and to make sure the survivability and readiness for retaliation after first strike. Chinese Military Power suggests that “China has an extensive network of hardened, underground shelters and command and control (C2) facilities for both its military and civilian leadership.”[8]

Chinese Nuclear Command and Control: 

China’s NC2 is very secret and ambiguous; nobody knows the exact information about Chinese NC2. All the available information is based on leaked documents and technology revelation. Chinese nuclear forces are believed to possess almost 240 nuclear warheads. According to Michael Swaine, China maintains “a highly centralized and unified command” system for nuclear operations. There are two decision making bodies; the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) and the Central Military Commission (CMC). All members of the two bodies (7 members of PBSC and 8 members of CMC) are party members. The Commander of SAC is also member of this decision making bodies. There are four people who involved in final decision making process e.g. Chairman of the CMC, (a position equivalent to commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces), Vice Chairman of CMC, President of the National People’s Congress and a representative from PLA. . The final authority to launch or use nuclear weapons rests in the hands of the Chairman of CMC; he has also final veto power.[9]

There are four layers of command between the headquarters of SAC and the basic launching units; the headquarters of the SAC, regional Base command, the brigades and the battalions. SAC’s headquarter serves as relaying point connecting every basic launching unit and site to CMC through direct communication “Hot Lines”.[10]

The exact number of regional base commands is unknown, but some sources put the figures at six. All the regional base commands have sub-bases, each of which is allocated the duty of specific targeting. Below the regional bases, there are fifteen missiles brigade, responsible for missiles firing mission in a conflict. All the brigades are made up of number of battalions equipped with different types of missiles e.g. strategic missile carrier or several tactical missile systems. The battalions are further sub divided into companies e.g. companies of launching units, logistic supply companies, security companies and engineering companies. There are different types of cites; permanent silos for ICBMs, pre-constructed launching sites, potential launching sites and fake sites.[11]

Both Pakistan and China had an assertive control on their nuclear weapons which reduce the risk of accidental and unauthorized use of weapons. The political leadership (prime minister) who is the chairman of NCA is responsible for taking decision regarding use of nuclear weapons. There is a debate that military is dominating the political leadership in Pakistan and had a strong control on nuclear weapons so they are the one who had authority  to launch nuclear weapons. In Pakistan, Nuclear weapons are considered as political weapons and had nothing to do with military, military is only protecting weapons what their job is and political leadership is the one who will give order to military to use weapons according to the changing political environment.  China had also assertive control over its nuclear arsenal, authority to launch China’s nuclear forces occupy by the Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), a position held by President of china.

Safety, Security, Survivability:

China is working more on the survivability of its nuclear force by deploying mobile missiles and moving missiles underground, to ensure that the country’s limited number of land-based strategic missiles can survive a first strike(both nuclear and conventional). China had built tunnels of underground Great Wall to protect its smaller nuclear arsenal and assure a reliable second-strike capability. The tunnels are reportedly hundreds of meters underground, deep in mountain areas, and are difficult to detect from space so that china weapons can survive in a first strike. China is not using Permissive Action Link as they belief that two man rule to launch is more than enough to protect weapons from unwanted use. 

International community had some concern regarding safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenals they claim that nuclear arsenals of Pakistan are not secure because of terrorist attacks, instability etc. However, Pakistan as responsible nuclear weapon states is concerned about the safety and security of its arsenals and is taking security measurements, Pakistan soon after nuclear weapon test Pakistan establish National Command Authority (NCA) for managing all matters related to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. The arsenals are stored on different locations and only few reliable and rusted people had knowledge about those locations. Deep underground tunnel are constructed for keeping arsenals safe. Around 20,000 trained personnel are protecting the arsenals from all kind of security threat (terrorist attacks, accidental use, and unauthorized use).Monitoring of all personals who had any kind of link with nuclear arsenals.

Pakistan nukes are not on hair trigger alert and in peacetime the nukes are in disassembled and de-mated state for avoiding unauthorized use. Permissive Action Link system is used to assure the security of weapons which locks the nuclear weapons electronically. Now after struggle of years a US study on worldwide nuclear material security released in 2014, considered Pakistan as the ‘most improved’ country among nine nuclear weapon states and finally confess that Pakistan is better at safeguarding its nuclear materials then India ,a country how claim to be better than Pakistan. Nuclear weapons can effect civil-military relation in both ways, weapons can stabilize the relation as both cannot work in isolation they needs to work together. Pakistan had establish national command authority who is responsible for taking decisions regarding use of weapons Prime Minister is the chairman. Strategic Plan Division (SPD) functions as the NCA’s secretariat.

Communication and Intelligence

China had dedicated communication network for managing and directing nuclear operations within 22 Base and also the overall communication links between the authorities. Fibre optics and wireless communication network system is playing a vital role in NC2.

  • Integrated Battlefield Area Communications System (IBACS)
  • Broadband integrated services digital networks (B-ISDN)
  • Application-specific integrated-circuit (ASIC)
  • Digital microwave communications system (providing all-weather communication support ability)
  • Satellite ground stations .Are providing a reliable and secure communication.

Communication regiments (units) are responsible for managing landline and microwave communication, fibre optic, satellite ground stations for better and clear communication  to avoid any ambiguity in given orders and information. The military communications network is separate from the civil telecommunications network, but it is possible to link both of them, in a time of crisis.

Pakistan is also working on establishing a secure communication from higher authority to battle ground commander in peace and war time which will allow Pakistan to share clear and secure information.

This has special implications for China’s nuclear submarines. In crisis situation, China’s communications with its submarine fleet leave so much to be desired. It seems these submarines have to raise themselves to shallower waters to convey or receive any instructions. Now hypothetically, operating in east coast of Taiwan, to hunt any carrier strike groups, how can these be expected to surface and transmit requests for guidance from Beijing? Even in peacetime PLAN remains part of PLA and its commanders are subject to multiple lines of authority from headquarters, from their respective Military Regions, four General Departments and so on. Because of this weakness, PLA supreme command (tongshuaibu) is supposed to have established a streamlined joint wartime command structure. But closer review of Chinese writings shows that instead of delegation-style command, the new focus on network-centric warfare (wangluozhongxinzhan) is seeking to further tighten control over all of its nuclear assets including submarines. All this has serious implications for China’s nuclear C2 systems and operations.


  1. Peter D. Feaver, “Command and Control in Emerging Nuclear Nations,” International Security 17, no. 3 (1992): 160–87.
  2. Paul Bracken, The Command and Control of Nuclear Forces (United States: New Haven, 1984), 3.
  3. The Costs of U.S. Nuclear Weapons | NTINTI Building a Safer World, October 1, 2008, accessed May 10, 2016.
  4. Thomas P. Coakley, Command and Control for War and Peace, (Washington, DC: National Defense University, 1992), p. 17.
  5. You Ji, The Armed Forces of China. London: I.B. Tauris, 1999.
  6. Arpit Rajain, Nuclear Deterrence in Southern Asia: China, India and Pakistan (India: SAGE Publications India, 2005).
  7. Jeffrey G. Lewis, The Minimum Means of Reprisal: China’s Search for Security in the Nuclear Age (United States: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2007).
  8. “Chinese Military Power,” Annual Report on the Military Power of the People’s Republic of China, (United States: Department of Defense, July 2003), 34.
  9. You Ji, The Armed Forces of China. (London: I.B. Tauris, 1999), 102.
  10. Ibid, 103.
  11. Ibid, 104-105.

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Nauman Hassan

Nauman is an enthusiastic researcher, who has developed his interest in Strategic Studies to become scholar in the fields of Strategy, Security and Defence Studies. Currently, he is serving at National Defense University, Islamabad as a Lecturer (V/F) and Asst. to Academic Advisor. Mr. Hassan has acquired Master degree in Strategic Studies from National Defence University. His area of focus is Asia Pacific studies.

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