Soviet assistance

Even with China’s best talents at his disposal, Qian realised that his team would still be unable to develop a modern missile independently. In July 1956, the Fifth Bureau submitted a report to the Chinese leadership requesting for Soviet assistance on missile development and operations. The request was forwarded to the Soviet government in August, but received only a lukewarm response.

Unwilling to share its latest missile technology, Moscow only agreed to send five Soviet professionals to help set up rocketry-related curriculum in Chinese universities, sell two R-1 missiles for teaching, and accept 50 Chinese engineers to study astronautics in Soviet universities.

The two R-1 (NATO code name: SS-1 ’Scunner’) missiles were delivered to China in the spring of 1957. First test launched in 1948, the R-1 was essentially a Soviet copy of the German A-4 (V-2) missile developed during the WWII. Although these obsolete missiles provided Qian with little help since he had already studied its technology in German a decade before, they provided a valuable opportunity for other Chinese engineers to gain insight into the design of a working rocket.

One of the two R-1 missiles were completely dissembled and put back together by Chinese technicians at the Fifth Academy (Missile Design Academy), allowing them to measure and examine every single component and part of the missile.

A turning point came in the summer of 1957, when the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was attacked by opponents within his own party. The Chinese Communist Party lent a helping hand by endorsing Khrushchev’s leadership. In return he agreed to expand the scale of Soviet assistance to China’s nuclear weapon and missile programme.

In September 1957, a 40-men Chinese military delegation led by Marshal Nie Rongzhen arrived in Moscow to negotiate the details of a nuclear and missile technology transfer package. On 15 October, the two countries officially signed the Sino-Soviet Accord on New Technologies for National Defence, which covered the technology transfer in a wide range of areas:

The Soviet Union would help China establish an atomic R&D complex, provide assistance to China’s nuclear research and production, and provide teaching models and blueprints of the atomic bomb;

The Soviet Union would sell equipment for Uranium enrichment, as well as enough quantity of the Uranium hexafluoride (UF6) material for the Chinese Gaseous Diffusion Plant;

The Soviet Union would transfer two companies of the P-15 (SS-N-2 ‘Styx’) costal-to-ship missiles and their launch equipment, and help the PLA Navy to establish a costal defence missile force;

The Soviet Union would provide assistance to China’s missile development and the construction of a missile test range, and provide China with examples and blueprints of the R-2 (SS-2 ‘Sibling’) surface-to-surface missile and S-75 (SA-2 ‘Guideline’) surface-to-air missile;

The Soviet Union would provide assistance to the construction of a nuclear weapon test site and training of relevant technical staff.

On 24 December 1957, a Russian railway train carrying two R-2 missiles and their associated launch equipment arrived at the Chinese border. Along with these hardware was a battalion of 102 men from the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces (RVSN), whose mission was to escort the missiles and train their Chinese counterparts on how to operate them.

In January 1958, the Soviet Union agreed to help the Chinese Fifth Academy to establish a rocketry R&D branch (1st Sub-Academy), a rocket engine test facility, an aerodynamic research branch, and a rocket guidance R&D branch (2nd Sub-Academy). Between June and October 1958, the Soviet Union delivered an additional six R-2 examples, tools, and equipment, as well as 10,151 volumes of blueprints and technical documents. Russian advisers arrived China in August 1958 to direct the missile development.

As the political disputes between Moscow and Beijing began to emerge in 1959, the Soviet Union slowed down its transfer of missile and nuclear technologies to China. By the Summer of 1960, the relations between the two Communist countries completely broke down and Moscow ordered in August 1960 to suspend all assistance to China and recalled all Soviet experts working for the Chinese strategic weapon programme.

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Freelance reporter and writer. Chinese military and space programme observer. Editor and publisher of and

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