PLA Rocket Force: Xi Jinping’s Most Significant Asset To Tame Rivals Accused By US Intel Of ‘Unfathomable Scandal’

Amid concerns swirling around China’s rapidly expanding missile stockpile that threatens the security of its rivals, a critical intelligence by Washington suggests that Beijing’s officials have been using water instead of fuel inside their missiles.

Without citing its sources, Bloomberg claimed that China was producing “missiles filled with water instead of fuel” and that missile silos in western China had waste fields with malfunctioning covers that prevented the weapons from firing. All of this has been attributed to corruption within the Chinese Rocket Force, which, in turn, triggered a massive purging by the Chinese Military Commission.

The intelligence suggests that President Xi Jinping’s massive military purge occurred when it became apparent that pervasive corruption hindered his efforts to modernize the armed forces and raised concerns about China’s capacity to wage war.

The sources reportedly stated that the US officials now believe Xi is less likely to consider significant military action in the coming years, which it might have done otherwise. This has been attributed to the widespread corruption within China’s Rocket Force and the country’s defense industrial base.

This is significant given that China’s primary military component responsible for managing its nuclear arsenal, the Rocket Force, has been central to President Xi’s current drive to quickly modernize Beijing’s armed forces.

These developments are unfolding even as there have been widespread concerns about China’s expanding conventional and nuclear missiles that were expressed in a critical Pentagon report on China’s Military Power released last year. The report estimated that the Chinese had over 500 operational nuclear warheads as of May 2023.

China is developing new intercontinental ballistic missiles. When the report was released in October 2023, military analysts decried that if designed and fielded, such capabilities would allow the PRC to threaten conventional strikes against targets in the continental United States, Hawaii, and Alaska.

With Beijing deploying long-range missiles on Taiwan’s coast to threaten the self-governing island, it has played a critical role in China’s aggressive posturing. According to analysts, in 2021, satellite photographs revealed China was building hundreds of nuclear-capable missile silos in the Xinjiang desert, potentially enabling its arsenal to match that of the US or Russia.

However, as per US intelligence, one instance of corruption involved the entire fields of silos covered with lids which hindered the efficient launch of missiles. As for water use instead of fuel, the publication did not specify the kind of missiles that suffered this fate.

The American evaluation stated that these issues have probably damaged Xi’s modernization plans and internal trust in the Rocket Force’s capabilities. This might be a massive setback to China, whose growing arsenal of missiles has rattled the world and triggered an enormous policy rethink in the United States.

On its part, Chihas has yet to acknowledge the claims in the media. However, pro-Chinese accounts on social media Platform X (previously Twitter) have dismissed the claims as evil and malicious reporting.

While the startling reports about Chinese missiles being filled with water are new, trouble has been brewing inside the Chinese Rocket Force for a long time now. China has evaded inquiries about the reasons behind the firing of so many senior military officers for months.

Trouble-Stricken Chinese Rocket Force

The PLARF seeks to increase China’s capacity to “fight and win wars” against a formidable foe (the United States), thwart outside intervention, and project influence across the globe.

It allows the PLA to affect regional, local, and international armed conflicts. The PLARF is a formidable and modern rocket-cum-missile force.

In addition to providing strategic deterrence, the PLARF is potentially well-equipped to neutralize opposing air defenses and deny the enemy access to China’s air, land, or seaspace.

It has now been widely accepted that China can advance the fight into enemy territory, thanks to the PLARF. Taiwan and the South China Sea are the PLARF’s primary areas of interest, but it also keeps weapons against the US, India, Russia, and the Korean Peninsula.

China concentrates on ballistic missiles designed to counter ships. For instance, the primary purpose of China’s cutting-edge missiles, including the DF-21 and DF-26, is to defeat US carrier combat groups as “carrier killers.” China also plans to employ PLARF to prevent the US from entering the region by land, air, or sea and to limit its capacity to support friends in the area. 

East Pendulum on X: "AShBM DF-21D" / X
DF-21D (via Platform X)

So, trouble brewing within the Chinese Rocket Force is not good news for China at a time like this when tensions are skyrocketing in the Indo-Pacific.

Three executives in the aerospace and military industry, Wu Yansheng, Liu Shiquan, and Wang Changqing, had their political titles revoked by the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) on December 27, 2023.  

Due to corruption investigations, Chinese leaders in the PLARF and those connected to the Rocket Force have been swiftly removed from their posts since 2023. Even though Xi Jinping has made significant investments in the Rocket Force’s growth since 2010, his forceful reorganization within the renowned force is a reflection that continues to make headlines.

Following the resignation of Wei Fenghe, the former commander of the Rocket Force, from his role as China’s minister of defense in March 2023, anti-graft purges targeting the PLA were launched. Former Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu replaced Wei in 2023 as China’s defense minister.

People's Daily, China on X: "Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu met with visiting former US Sec. of State Henry Kissinger on Tue. Li expressed the hope that the US will work with
Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu was allegedly removed on graft charges (via Platform X)

Li Yuchao, the commander of Rocket Force, Xu Zhongbo, his deputy Zhang Zhenzhong, and Liu Guangbin were all fired in June 2023 due to the ongoing anti-corruption investigations. Despite the lack of an official reason, there have been rumors of corruption and espionage by these officers; one claim states that Li Yuchao’s son, who was studying overseas, transmitted government secrets to the United States, as reported by The Diplomat.

Only months after taking on his responsibility as the Defense Minister, Li Shangfu, and the head of the PLA Military Court, Cheng Dongfang were ousted from their posts. Both the leaders vanished from sight in September, causing a massive upheaval in the CCP hierarchy. 

As an aerospace engineer, Li Shangfu also has intimate ties to the Rocket Force. He was previously the deputy commander of the Strategic Support Force. In the past, he served as a department head overseeing the development and acquisition of aircraft weapons. In late December, several top military personnel and executives from the defense industry were sidelined as part of ongoing purges. 

Adding to the already troubled state of affairs in the PLA Rocket Force, the recent claims allegedly made by US Intelligence officials may cause more instability, leaving the Chinese President miffed and frustrated.