The Bohu Laser Facility, Part 1: History and Organisation

For the past 18 months, Jeffrey and I have been conducting research into a Chinese military site near Bosten Lake, more commonly called Bohu, where the PLA Strategic Support force is developing laser capabilities. In the process, we’ve discovered a change of operations that suggests that China has made significant advancements in ASAT laser technology, a type of directed energy weapon. The facility consists of a number of buildings with retractable roofs that are opened for laser operations. These operations could include laser ranging, dazzling or even blinding of satellites. Additionally, the facility has been seen hosting unusual vehicles, which may be linked to anti-satellite operations. The site[1] forms one part of a wider research and development complex south of Bosten Lake and is part of a number of facilities associated with military research, development, and testing that are situated throughout western China.

This post, the first of two, will lay out the history of the Bohu facility, as well as previously unknown information regarding the unit that operates it. Part 2 will explore the changes in operational signatures, showing that operations at the site have changed at the same time as the Defense Intelligence Agency has reported that China has achieved a capability to employ lasers against satellite sensors, a claim later repeated by the Department of Defense at large.


In 2006, Defense News reported that “China has fired high-power lasers at U.S. spy satellites flying over its territory…”.  Then-Director of the National Reconnaissance Office, Donald Kerr, stated that the firings “did not materially damage the U.S. satellite’s ability to collect information.”[2] Another official claimed a “sudden decline in effectiveness as the satellites passed over China” and that US national technical means had “sensed the projection of beams against the spacecraft …”.[3] There was, however, a debate about what China was attempting to do.  Some observers claimed China was testing antisatellite weapons, while others speculated that China might have been laser ranging the satellites.

Seven years later, Chinese researchers revealed a test in 2005 of a 50-100kW vehicle-mounted laser, stationed in Xinjiang, had been successful.[4] The researchers were members of the Changchun Institute of Optics, Fine Mechanics, and Physics. The Changchun Institute is involved in directed-energy research, and the paper focused on proposals for space-based laser weapons. Additionally, the buildings at the Bohu site bear a resemblance to those at other Chinese laser facilities that predate Bohu’s construction; one at the Anhui Institute of Optics and Fine Mechanics, and another at the China Academy of Engineering Physics, China’s primary nuclear weapons design laboratory.


Construction of the Bohu complex began in 2003.  It is not new.  In fact, it tends to “make the rounds” every few years before being forgotten, only to be rediscovered once again. The site tends to be identified by a variety of place names including Korla, Bosten Lake, and Bohu.  Because Bohu, an abbreviation of a large lake, is the nearest geographical feature, we use that term here.

Most recently, Bohu received some press coverage in 2021 for its role in airship development and laser weapons systems.[5] Unfortunately, much of what gets written is either lacking in detail or outright erroneous. In Part 1, we summarise the open source information about the history of Bohu’s laser facilities.

Because of the limitation of imagery available from Google Earth, the construction history of the Bohu complex before 2005 has not been documented.[6] LANDSAT imagery shows that the first construction at the site, the building of the main north-to-south road that runs through the Bohu complex, began in January or February 2002. By mid-October construction had begun on the first buildings at what would become the administrative headquarters, as well as the first administrative building for the laser facility. Image availability for 2003 is relatively poor,[7] but what is available shows that construction began on the first building believed to be for housing a laser, as well as continued construction at the main administrative area. These buildings were finished in 2004. This timeline demonstrates that laser research at Bohu has been occurring for approximately a year earlier than previously believed.

More broadly, as depicted in Table A, there have been 3 main periods of construction at Bohu’s direct-energy site: a “start-up” period in 2003-04, an “expansion” period in 2009, and then the “consolidation” period post-2009, where it appears that buildings are added on an as-needed basis. The reason for the expansion in 2009 is not known and is an area for future research.

Landsat 7 image, October 18, 2002, depicting the newly constructed road and buildings. Image courtesy of the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
SPOT 5 panchromatic image, 25/08/2003, showing the area that is believed to be the complex’s administrative centre (left side of the road) and the laser facility (right side) under construction.
Bohu’s laser site in 2022. Image courtesy of Planet, annotated in Google Earth.
BuildingConstruction DatePurpose
AMay – October 2009Optical equipment
(Retracting Roof)
BAugust 2003Optical equipment
(Retracting Roof
+ Annex)
CFebruary 2004Optical equipment
(Retracting Roof)
DJune 2004Optical equipment
(Roof on wheels)
EApril – October 2004Office
FAugust 2010Office
G April – October 2004 Office
H April – October 2004 Office
IApril – October 2004 Office
JAugust – October 2009Office
KAugust – October 2009 Office
LApril – October 2004 Office
MApril – October 2004 Office
NUnknown (after 2017) Optical equipment
(Believed to be static)
OApril 2021Unknown

Table A: Construction dates for directed energy-related buildings at Bohu.

Three buildings deserve elaboration:

  • Building B is unique. Despite its outward similarity to Buildings A and C, no images show the roof having been retracted. As such, the building’s activity over time can’t be assessed.  Imagery shows that it does house optical equipment, but in an annex constructed after the building was finished. The construction date of this annex is unknown.
  • Building D was both the most active, and perhaps the most difficult to consistently code assess. As a “roof on wheels” with a structure underneath, Building D doesn’t operate on an open or shut binary like A and C do. However, 4 distinct “operating modes” have been seen, where the roof has been placed in different positions along its rolling track. As such, I have coded the building’s status based on these 4 modes.
  • One additional point with Building D, however, is that the structure beneath it is subject to change. In July 2021, for example, high-resolution imagery revealed some changes to the structure below the rolling roof. These changes were shown to have reversed in later imagery. Medium and low-resolution imagery suggests that structural modifications are rare, and as such the structure under Building D was assumed to be in its default state unless evidence to the contrary was available.
  • Building N is a new building, but the precise construction date is not known. N was built on a concrete pad that first appeared in 2010, but wasn’t used until N’s construction. The building’s shape is reminiscent of a bunker, and it appears to have two mounts for optical equipment. Like Building D, the nature of N makes activity impossible to track.


We strongly believe that a previously unidentified unit, Unit 63655 of the Strategic Support Force (SSF), is the manager of the Bohu R&D Complex. We base our assessment on an analysis of research published under this unit, which reveals a considerable diversity in activity, as well as geographical evidence to support it being located at Bohu. The only site that has the infrastructure to support such a diversity in activity is the Bohu R&D Complex.

Patents assigned to Unit 63655 appear to fall into 3 main categories:

  • Research into lasers and optics.
  • Research into very large stratospheric airships.
  • Research into high-powered microwaves.

Bohu hosts infrastructure for the first 3 categories and is the only known site with this capability. In addition, the unit has published meteorological studies primarily focused on areas around the Bosten Lake area. While none are conclusive alone, the sum of evidence suggests that 63655 is the administrative headquarters for Bohu, with research being carried out in sub-units dedicated to each research area.

The SSF was stood up as part of the PLA’s military reforms in 2015, absorbing the functions of the General Staff and General Armament Departments (GSD and GAD). The SSF is divided into two sections, the Space Systems Department (SSD), and the Network Systems Department.[8] The SSD inherited part of the R&D infrastructure previously under the GAD. This most likely includes kinetic ASAT research that had been previously identified as being conducted by a unit subordinate to the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre.[9] Jiuquan has since been transferred to the SSD, where its MUCD is 63600.[10] However, 63655 is instead subordinated to 63650 – the unit responsibility for nuclear testing in China. This may initially seem confusing – why would a formation we’re alleging is involved in anti-satellite laser research be under a nuclear weapons laboratory? From an organisational perspective, a nuclear testing facility would have expertise in managing high-level physics projects, including those involving lasers. Secondly, and similar to 63655’s own speculated sub-units, it’s impossible to know how much operational management 63650 has over 63655. It’s possible that 63655’s subordination is merely an administrative measure, and that 63655 operates with a high level of autonomy. However, information about the unit’s apart from its MUCD is effectively impossible to confirm.

Conclusion and References

In conclusion, the Bohu R&D facility has been operating since 2004, with construction beginning in 2002. This suggests that the Chinese anti-satellite laser program is more than two decades old. This is consistent with reporting that China began to make significant investments in anti-satellite capabilities in the aftermath of the US bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Bohu is run by Unit 63655 and was originally managed within the General Armament Department under Unit 63650, the unit responsible for Chinese nuclear testing. Since the 2015 PLA reforms that abolished the General Armament Department it has been moved along with 63650 to the new Strategic Support Force as part of the Space Systems Department. The next part in this series will cover the operation of the site.

[1] The facility was initially identified in 2009 by Sean O’Connor. See Sean O’Connor, ‘China’s Other ASAT’, IMINT & Analysis (blog), 3 November 2009, The site was “rediscovered” in 2019.  See: Bill Gertz, ‘Satellite Photos Show Chinese Anti-Satellite Laser Base’, Washington Free Beacon, 1 April 2019, Coordinates are: 41°45’47.90″N, 87°25’5.93″E.

[2] Vago Muradian, ‘China Tried to Blind U.S. Sats with Laser’, Defense News, 25 September 2006.

[3] ‘US Claims That China Has Used Lasers to Attack Satellites’, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 16 October 2006,

[4] Minghui Gao, Yuquan Zheng, and Zhihong Wang, ‘Development of Space-Based Laser Weapons’, Chinese Optics 20, no. 6 (2013): 810–17.

[5] Joseph Trevithick and Tyler Rogoway, ‘Gigantic Hangar Near Secretive Chinese Test Facilities Points To Exotic Airship Development’, The Drive, 14 July 2021,; Chris Zappone, ‘Space Lasers and the New Battlefield Emerging under China’s Anti-Satellite Tactics’, Sydney Morning Herald, 9 August 2021,

[6] See comments by Michael Duitsman in Zappone, ‘The New Battlefield’.

[7] Landsat 7 suffered a partial sensor failure halfway through the year, which affected all Landsat 7 data from then on.

[8] For an overview of the SSF as a whole, see John Costello and Joe McReynolds, ‘China’s Strategic Support Force: A Force for a New Era’, China Strategic Perspectives (Institute for National Defense Studies, October 2018), For the most detailed public SSF ORBAT, see Adam Ni and Bates Gill, ‘The People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force: Update 2019’, China Brief, 29 May 2019,

[9] Catherine Dill, ‘Korla Missile Test Complex Revealed’, ArmsControlWonk (blog), 26 March 2015,

[10] Ni and Gill, ‘The People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force: Update 2019’.

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