(Washington, D.C.) If merely a few nuclear weapons could unleash massive, unimagined devastation upon cities and even entire countries, why would any country need more than a small amount of weapons in their arsenal?
Mass still matters, according to the Pentagon’s top nuclear weapons official, who expressed alarm about the pace of Chinese nuclear weapons expansion across ground, air and sea domains.
In what could have been a reference to the threat of a massive and simultaneous incoming salvo of enemy ICBMs, air-dropped nuclear weapons and even sub-launched ballistic missiles, Adm. Charles “Chas” Richard, Commander, U.S. Strategic Command, said “it does not matter if your weapons are superior if you do not have enough of them.”
China's Nuclear Arsenal Doubles
Given these types of threat scenarios, the threat is greatly amplified by the growing realization that China will likely double its nuclear arsenal within just the next decade.
“Only four months ago, commercial satellite imagery discovered what is accepted to nuclear missile fields in western China. Each has nearly 120 ICBM silos. Now these compliment and are added into what they already have,” Richard told an audience at the 2021 Space and Missile Defense Symposium, Huntsville, Ala.
Pentagon’s 2020 China Military Report states that the number of warheads arming Beijing’s intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of threatening America will likely grow to 200 in the next five years.
DF-26, H-20 and JL-3
As an element of this expansion, China is increasing its inventory of long-range land-fired DF-26 Anti-Ship missiles able to fire both conventional and nuclear missiles, the report said. Cited as a highly dangerous “carrier killer,” the DF-26 is reported to operate with an ability to destroy aircraft carriers as far as 2,000 nautical miles off shore.
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Part of the threat is compounded by the existence of Chinese road-mobile launchers capable of maneuvering to obscured launch locations and, in some instances, firing nuclear weapons armed with multiple re-entry vehicles.
“China's rapidly improving its strategic nuclear capability capacity, growing and enhancing its missile force multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles,” Richard said.
The nuclear threat from China is by no means restricted to land-based ICBMs or road-mobile launchers but naturally also extends to include the new H-20 stealth bomber and a fast-growing nuclear weapons threat from undersea.
“JIN class now capable of employing three JL-3 submarine-launched ballistic missiles and China is now moving a large chunk of its forces to a higher readiness status,” Richard added.
JL-3 nuclear weapons, reportedly capable of traveling distances as far as 4,000 miles, are in a position to hit large portions of the continental U.S. Added to this equation is the fact that China is now building in redundancy and range to its nuclear command and control systems by developing three distinct capabilities.
Interestingly, Richard made the point that much of the information regarding China’s nuclear weapons capability can be discovered and seen on publicly available google earth satellites photos.
“Commercial satellite imagery revealed a tunnel under construction in the region that China historically used as a nuclear weapons testing ground, something which serves as a reminder that China has a large weapons testing program,” Richard said.
Some of the details cited by Richard are indeed concerning; in 2019 the PRC test launched more ballistic missiles than the rest of the world combined.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.