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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Air University (AU) - China Aerospace Studies Institute

PLA Likely Begins Construction of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Silo Site near Hanggin Banner

Air University (AU) - China Aerospace Studies Institute

By Rod Lee, China Aerospace Studies Institute / Published August 12, 2021

By mid-May 2021, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) likely began construction of a potential intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silo site in Hanggin Banner, Ordos City, Inner Mongolia (approximately at 40.113, 108.104). Images taken by the European Space Agency's Sentinel-2 mission between 16 May and 9 August 2021 reveal a construction footprint similar to those found at known PLA ICBM silo construction sites at Jilantai, Guazhou (typically referred to as the Yumen site), and Hami.


Unlike the Guazhou ICBM silo site, there is no publicly known PLA Rocket Force (PLARF) unit in the vicinity of Hanggin Banner. However, the similarities in construction footprint in terms of spacing, excavation patterns, and use of dome shelters, as well as the general trend of rapid growth in PLA Rocket Force (PLARF) fixed systems suggest that the construction site at Hanggin Banner is likely an ICBM silo site.


A Sentinel-2 image taken on 9 August 2021 shows at least 29 possible silo construction sites. These 29 sites are divided across two areas- a northern and southern cluster. The northern cluster consists of at least 15 probable silo construction sites while the southern cluster consists of at least 14 probable sites. Of the 29 identified sites, 13 have dome shelters.

Although these dome shelters are slightly different than those found at other known PLA ICBM silo construction sites, the general configuration of each construction site at Hanggin Banner matches known sites at other locations. The remaining sites are cleared of excess material with some sites having limited excavation activity similar to those found at other known silo construction sites. Assuming the PLA Rocket Force (PLARF) will continue to deploy launchers in intervals of 6 or 12, this site will field a minimum of 30-36 silos. (A typical PLARF launch brigade consists of six launch battalions with typically one or two launchers per battalion for ICBMs.)


The Hanggin Banner site would afford the PLA a few advantages when compared to the Guazhou and Hami ICBM sites. The Hanggin Banner site may provide improved resiliency when it comes to ground-based fiber-optics communications given its proximity to multiple military fiber-optics nodes. It is also closer to the PLARF's central warhead handling and storage facility located in Taibai County, Baoji, Shaanxi, which likely makes it easier for the PLARF to maintain warhead readiness at the Hanggin Banner site.

Between the roughly 30 or more possible ICBM launchers at Hanggin Banner, conservative estimates on the number of launchers at the Hami and Guazhou ICBM silo sites, and the PLARF's current force of operational ICBM brigades, the PLARF's projected inventory of ground-based ICBM launchers is close to or more than the United States' current number of deployed Minuteman III ICBMs. With the addition of at least two Type 096 nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines as identified in the 2020 China Military Power Report and a conservative estimate of one brigade of 20 H-20 stealth bombers, China's future inventory of strategic nuclear delivery systems seems on track to approaching parity with those of the United States and Russia.

Opinions, conclusions, and recommendations expressed or implied within are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the Air University, the Department of the Air Force, the Department of Defense, or any other U.S. government agency. Cleared for public release: distribution unlimited

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