HONG KONG, June 6 (UPI) -- Satellite photos of the Leping Ballistic Missile Base in China's southeastern province of Jiangxi show this is a key site for the deployment of the People's Liberation Army Air Force's DF-15A campaign tactical missiles. The direct distance from the base to Taiwan is 435 miles.
It is apparent that the striking range of the earlier version, the DF-15 ballistic surface-to-surface missile, has been upgraded. It also appears that the DF-15A SSMs deployed at Leping are fitted with different variants of warheads, one of which seems to have the capability to strike underground targets.
The Leping base, home to the No. 815 Brigade of the PLA Second Artillery Force -- PLASAF -- is armed with at least 27 DF-15 launch vehicles. Normally, each such vehicle can perform five consecutive short-range missile launches. It can be estimated that at least 135 DF-15 SSMs are now deployed at the Leping base.
Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense believes that at least 192 DF-15A SSMs have been deployed at Leping, based on its own satellite images of this location.
Leping is a standard PLA Air Force SSM base, equipped with two flat-roofed garages, identifiable in satellite images by their blue roofs. The longer garage can accommodate at least 12 vehicles, while the shorter one can hold 10.
Almost every PLASAF SSM base is equipped with a sports field, which is one of the key landmarks of such missile bases. This sports ground is used not only for the troops' physical exercises, but also as the combat unit's training site. Because of this, the sports grounds of PLASAF SSM bases are often seen fielded with missile launch vehicles.
The PLASAF No. 823 Brigade stationed in Jinhua is also armed with DF-15A SSMs, but the sports field or training ground there is much smaller.
There is a separate command building at Leping base, which is probably the headquarters of the No. 815 Brigade. There are three administrative buildings at the base and 12 other buildings. One satellite photo revealed three long flat-roofed structures and one round-roofed building, plus several maintenance depots. Only one DF-15 launch vehicle was noticed.
There are also five large garages. This indicates that the unit has a huge engineering and support vehicle fleet. Almost 40 vehicles are fielded in the open air. Kanwa Defense Review's estimate is that because the PLASAF is a highly mobile force, armed with high-horsepower vehicles, its fuel consumption is also very high.
It is worth noting that no underground facilities have been found at the PLASAF missile bases in Leping, Meizhou, Yongan and Jinhua, nor are there any missile warehouses. It seems that the missile units are deployed here under normal circumstances, but the missile warehouses are at other locations.
The Leping Ballistic Missile Base is adjacent to the No. 205 National Highway, so that the SSMs can be conveniently transported to predetermined front-line positions in Fujian province, directly opposite Taiwan. Beautiful Western-style residential buildings have been built for the military officers, similar to townhouses in the United States. These underscore the priority attention this missile unit has received.
The PLASAF is staffed with many highly talented technical personnel, yet most of the combat bases are built in small cities or towns. The overall morale of the force has suffered because of this. Internal Chinese military journals report that the PLASAF requires a large number of high-level professionals, but their families can rarely live and work near the bases where they are stationed.
Concerned that isolation and boredom may lead its personnel to engage in such activities as speculating on the stock market, the headquarters of the Second Artillery Force has issued an administrative order to its subordinate units prohibiting officers from such activity.
(Andrei Chang is editor in chief of Kanwa Defense Review Monthly, registered in Toronto.)