China Augments Nuke Arsenal: Pentagon

China’s nuclear arsenal is being augmented through development of a missile that is capable of carrying a number of warheads and can be moved between different locations, the U.S. Defense Department said in a report issued this week (see GSN, Aug. 25).

The yearly Pentagon assessment of Chinese military capabilities estimates that Beijing holds as many as 75 long-range missiles tipped with nuclear warheads, along with 120 intermediate- and medium-range systems, the Washington Timesreported.

“China is both qualitatively and quantitatively improving its strategic missile forces,” according to the report. “Beijing will likely continue to invest considerable resources to maintain a limited nuclear force … to ensure the (People’s Liberation Army) can deliver a damaging retaliatory nuclear strike.”

China appears to be working on an ICBM that could be transported by road, the Pentagon said. The new missile would join existing Dongfeng 31 and Dongfeng 31A mobile systems, and might be equipped with a re-entry vehicle capable of delivering warheads to a number of targets.

Meanwhile, decades-old subterranean installations in northern China are employed to hold and safeguard missiles and nuclear warheads, and would be used for operations should the nation face an enemy nuclear strike, the report says.

“China’s strategic missile force, the Second Artillery Corps (SAC), has developed and utilized (underground facilities) since deploying its oldest liquid-fueled missile systems and continues to utilize them to protect and conceal their newest and most modern solid-fueled mobile missiles,” the Defense Department said.

The facilities were established based on the belief that China “might have to absorb an initial nuclear blow prior to engaging in ‘nuclear counterattack,’” the newspaper quoted the report as stating.

The report indicates that China has added as many as 25 additional missiles to its ICBM fleet over the last year, and that it is preparing defenses against enemy missile attacks, said China military analyst Richard Fisher.

Beijing is establishing an “umbrella” of interceptors that would be spread around the country, the Pentagon found. The interceptors would be intended to bring down missiles at altitudes as high as 50 miles.

“Taken together, a well protected, growing ICBM force that will soon have active defenses should be of great concern to the United States,” Fisher said. “China will not reveal its missile-buildup plans or its (antiballistic missile) plans, so this simply is not the time to be considering further cuts in the U.S. nuclear force, as is the Obama administration’s intention.”

The Defense Department also noted that China’s initial Jin-class ballistic missile submarine “appears ready,” though its JL-2 missile continues to undergo trials. In addition, Beijing is pressing ahead with work on antisatellite technology, the document states.

“China continues to develop and refine this system, which is one component of a multidimensional program to limit or prevent the use of space-based assets by potential adversaries during times of crisis or conflict,” the report says (Bill Gertz, Washington Times, Aug. 25).

The Chinese Defense Ministry in a televised statement on Friday said the Pentagon report “seriously twists the facts and doesn’t have a leg to stand on,” the Associated Press reported.

Beijing delivered “stern representations” to Washington, according to the response. It said that defense updates are not aimed at specific outside entities and are to be expected as the nation becomes more technologically sophisticated.

“The Chinese side expresses our strong dissatisfaction and a resolute opposition to this,” the statement added (Associated Press/Washington Post, Aug. 26).