The Chinese military appears to be significantly expanding the number of ballistic missiles silos under construction in a new sprawling training area in the northern part of central China.
Recent satellite images indicate that at least 16 silos are under construction, a significant expansion in just a few years since a silo was first described in the area.
The satellite images also reveal unique tunnels potentially constructed to conceal missile launch units or loading operations.
The training area, located east of the city of Jilantai in the Inner Mongolia province, is used by the People’s Republic of China Rocket Force (PLARF) to train missile crews and fine-tune procedures for operating road-mobile missile launchers and their support vehicles.
The Jilantai PLARF Training Area
The Jilantai training area stretches for 140 kilometers (87 miles) over an area of nearly 2,090 square-kilometers (800 square miles) of desert and mountain ranges. It is a relatively new training area with most facilities added after 2013 and has since expanded to well over 140 missiles launch pads used by launch units to practice launch and loading procedures, more than two dozen campgrounds where launch units stay for a short period before moving on, five high-bay garages servicing launchers and support vehicles operating in the area, and a large supply base with adjacent support facilitiesThe training area is very active and is currently expanding in several regions, especially to the north and south as well as in the center. The expansion includes new high-bay facilities that handle launchers and missiles, a vast number of pads used by launchers and their support vehicles, missile silos, camping areas used by launch units, and underground facilities to hide and protect launchers.
Mapping the area took quite a lot of work spread out over the past two years. Unfortunately, Google Earth only has very limited and outdated image coverage of the area. Only the north-eastern sector has fairly recent images (2019). The vast majority of the imagery is still from 2013 and 2014. This is a surprise, given how much interest there is in this area.
One of the most important new developments in the Jilantai training area is the construction of a significant number of facilities that appear to be silos intended for ballistic missiles. In the future we might see missile test launches from these silos.
Nearly all of the silos appear to be smaller than the type used for the large DF-5 ICBM in the base areas. The Department of Defense says that Jilantai “is probably being used to at least develop a concept of operations for silo basing” the DF-41.
At least 16 silos appear to be under construction (see image below). They vary in dimensions and construction has so far happened in three phases: the first silo facility started construction in 2016, four “Russia-type” silos followed in 2018-2020, and construction of an additional 11 silos began in late-2020. All of the silos are located in the center of the training area within a 10×20-kilometer (12×7-mile) area. The silos are spaced 2.2-4.4 kilometers (1.4-2.7 miles) apart, enough to ensure, presumably, that no two of them can be destroyed in a single one nuclear attack.