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Thread: China Has Far Greater Nuclear Capacity Than Thought: Top US Commander

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    Default China Has Far Greater Nuclear Capacity Than Thought: Top US Commander

    China Has Far Greater Nuclear Capacity Than Thought: Top US Commander

    April 22, 2021

    The United States has only learned in the past week that China has developed a fast breeder capacity allowing it to make far more plutonium nuclear warheads than US assessments had previously thought possible, according to a top US Commander.

    "It is only in the past week that we became aware that this limitation (on production of nuclear weapons) has changed in an upward direction," US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) chief Admiral Charles Richard told a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC).

    Beijing's progress in activating a fast breeder reactor had greatly increased its capability and its nuclear stockpile was undergoing an "unprecedented expansion," Richard was quoted as saying by Sputnik.

    At the current pace, China is "well ahead of the pace necessary to double their nuclear stockpile by the end of the decade."

    China was also on track to achieve its goal of establishing a nuclear triad with the separate ground, air and sea-launched nuclear weapons by the middle of the current decade, the commander added.

    Beijing's nuclear forces, under the aegis of the People's Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF), are nowhere as large as those of the USA or Russia, but the inventory is significantly growing and modernizing.

    New missiles such as DF-41 and DF-31AG intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) were paraded in Beijing in October 2019, demonstrating the forward strides that the PLARF is making.

    Last year, an annual report from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, titled Chinese Nuclear Forces 2020 and authored by Hans Kristensen and Matt Korda, discussed the state of play in the PLARF.

    It claimed, "China is continuing the nuclear weapons modernization program that it initiated in the 1980s and increased in the 1990s and 2000s, fielding more types and greater numbers of nuclear weapons than ever before."

    It is impossible to say how many nuclear weapons China actually has, but Kristensen and Korda offer their best estimate in the report.

    They claimed, "We estimate that China has a produced a stockpile of approximately 350 nuclear warheads, of which roughly 272 are for delivery by more than 240 operational land-based ballistic missiles, 48 sea-based ballistic missiles and 20 nuclear gravity bombs assigned to bombers."

    The report continued, "The remaining 78 warheads are intended to arm additional land- and sea-based missiles that are in the process of being fielded."

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    Default Re: China Has Far Greater Nuclear Capacity Than Thought: Top US Commander

    China’s Growing Nuclear Threat

    May 3, 2021

    The Issue

    China, the pacing threat for the United States, is rapidly growing and diversifying its nuclear arsenal, expanding in recent years from a land-based monad to near completion of a viable strategic nuclear triad.

    According to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI):

    China is building a larger and increasingly capable nuclear missile force that is more survivable, more diverse, and on higher alert than in the past, including nuclear missile systems designed to manage regional escalation and ensure an intercontinental second-strike capability.

    The Chinese lack of transparency, and lack of interest in nuclear arms control discussions and negotiations, should cause deep concern about the evolution of Beijing’s nuclear arsenal, including its nuclear policy.

    Developments in China’s nuclear force structure and doctrine deserve U.S. attention—and action.

    An Active Atomic Arsenal

    According to the Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, Admiral Charles Richard, China is doubling—if not tripling or quadrupling—its current stockpile of about 200 to 300 nuclear weapons within the next decade. But more important than warhead count is China’s ability to produce more fissile material (such as with fast-breeder nuclear reactors) that will “change the upper bounds of what China could choose to do,” as stated by Admiral Richard. In contrast, the U.S. has not had the ability to produce nuclear weapons since the Cold War.

    China’s People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) deploys a wide range of land-based nuclear systems. The force includes over 100 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), a number that is rapidly growing. China’s ICBM arsenal consists of the silo-based DF-4 and DF-5 and the road-mobile and rail-mobile DF-31 and the newer DF-41, which can reportedly carry 10 warheads and strike the U.S. homeland from anywhere in China.

    The PLARF also deploys multiple types of short-range, medium-range, and intermediate-range missiles that can carry conventional or nuclear warheads and strike targets with precision. For instance, the intermediate-range DF-26 can strike targets as far away as Guam, and the medium-range DF-17 missile might carry a dual-capable hypersonic missile to promptly strike targets within its reach, including U.S. regional bases. All regional missiles are road-mobile or rail-mobile, which presents a targeting challenge for American planners.

    At sea, China deploys four Type 094 Jin-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). These SSBNs are believed to be equipped with up to 12 JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). Beijing is also developing the much more capable Type 096 SSBN and the JL-3 SLBM, which can target the U.S. homeland from Chinese littoral waters.

    China is completing its strategic nuclear triad with the updated, air-refuellable H-6N bomber that can carry a nuclear-capable air-launched ballistic missile. Its H-6K bomber can carry a nuclear-capable cruise missile. There have also been reports that China is developing a new, long-range strategic bomber, the H-20, which would be China’s first new strategic bomber design in decades—and could bring Guam and Hawaii into range.

    An Evolving Nuclear Doctrine?

    China’s rapidly growing arsenal suggests that China is shifting away from a minimum deterrence posture, according to the Defense Department’s China Military Report. This means that China can execute “any plausible nuclear employment strategy regionally,” and increasingly intercontinentally, according to Admiral Richard. China’s advanced forces also no longer constrain China to its already questionable No First Use policy. Additionally, evidence indicates that China moved a portion of its forces from a peacetime status to a launch-on-warning (LOW) posture, which it supports through improved spaced-based early warning capabilities, as reported by Admiral Richard.

    These shifts in posture are particularly concerning given China’s refusal to discuss these changes, especially its intentions. An unwillingness to engage on these issues—especially considering the early development of China’s strategic triad—raises the chances of misperception and mistakes. For instance, a LOW posture that keeps forces on high alert and compresses decision-making time without a clear communication of intentions could increase the chances of miscalculation. China’s nuclear buildup under a veil of secrecy presents a clear threat to strategic stability.


    Beijing is clearly revealing its grand ambitions through its unprecedented nuclear modernization programs, inserting more uncertainty and risk into an already challenging international security environment. These forces will enable China to improve its ability to coerce the U.S. and restrain response options. As a result, the United States must carefully consider the growing Chinese threat as it pursues its own nuclear modernization to ensure that U.S. nuclear deterrence remains strong.

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    Default Re: China Has Far Greater Nuclear Capacity Than Thought: Top US Commander

    Why Isn’t the Government Telling Us About Chinese Nuclear Weapons?

    August 10, 2021

    The U.S. government used to keep the public apprised of threats to national security.

    Recall, for example, when President John F. Kennedy went on national TV to inform the public about Soviet missiles in Cuba. Such news was never welcome, but the public appreciated knowing the hard truths.

    Today, it is increasingly common for the public to get this kind of news from private organizations, with Washington later acknowledging it only grudgingly, if at all. This trend raises concerns about whether we can continue to count on the government to provide candid security assessments.

    The Washington Post recently highlighted how it was researchers at the Federation of American Scientists and the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, not the federal government, who, using commercial imagery, reported finding two sites where over 100 new missile silos each were under construction in China. At roughly the same time, analysts at AllSource Analysis, a private firm, again using commercial images, reported the new construction of a tunnel at a known Chinese test site. This has fueled speculation Beijing may be planning to resume some form of nuclear testing.

    U.S. Strategic Command, responsible for the U.S. nuclear deterrent, seemed actually relieved the cat was out of the bag, stating on its Twitter account that "this is the second time in two months the public has discovered what we have been saying all along about the growing threat the world faces and the veil of secrecy that surrounds it."

    These independent assessments are made possible by the now ubiquitous availability of commercial imagery. When Iran pelted U.S. forces at Al Asad Airbase in Iraq with ballistic missiles, news organizations had to use private, not U.S. government, imagery to show the extent of the damage. Similarly, commercial cellphone data can now be easily mined to find movements of troops overseas.

    But in the case of the Chinese nuclear developments, the question must be asked: Why didn’t the U.S. government see fit to let the public know of these alarming developments? With their advanced intelligence satellites and dedicated analysts, the government surely knew about the new missile sites for months before these private organizations figured it out. If commercial imagery detected the construction, it can't be that the government didn't want to compromise U.S. spy satellite capabilities.

    A more cynical and likely interpretation would suggest that to confirm the Chinese are engaged in a wholesale effort to strengthen their nuclear arsenal would run counter-narrative for the Biden administration. Its declared policy is to "reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy" and "head off costly arms races."

    Reducing the role of nuclear weapons and avoiding arms races might be a viable strategy if your potential adversaries share those goals. But the facts suggest otherwise. Vladimir Putin recently boasted his nuclear modernization initiative was approximately 86% complete. Moreover, Moscow has started six new, destabilizing strategic weapons programs. As for China, the Trump administration’s 2020 China Military Power report predicted Beijing intended to double its nuclear arsenal within the decade. Last month’s discovery of the new missile fields now leads some analysts to postulate China may in fact quadruple its nuclear holdings. It looks like Putin and Xi didn’t get the memo about reducing the role of nuclear weapons.

    Over time, the public proved it can handle hard truths. And many of today’s hard truths suggest that the Biden administration needs to invest more in national defense. The public shouldn’t have to accept learning about alarming new threats from third parties and private companies.

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    Default Re: China Has Far Greater Nuclear Capacity Than Thought: Top US Commander

    Beijing’s Bomb Buildup

    August 4, 2021

    The bad news from Beijing just keeps on coming.

    In late June, the press reported that some researchers using commercial satellite imagery uncovered more than 100 new Chinese intercontinental ballistic missile silos being constructed in its northwestern desert.

    And then in July, the news reported another shocking discovery by researchers again using commercial satellite imagery. This time, they found another 100 or so Chinese ICBM silos in a different new silo field a few hundred miles away.

    In total, that’s more than 200-plus new Chinese ICBM silos.

    It’s clear that when U.S. government officials have talked ambiguously about the People’s Republic of China doubling, tripling—or even quadrupling—its nuclear force in the next decade, that’s probably what they were referring to.

    None of this is good news, but the bad news doesn’t end there.

    China, once fielding only a modest nuclear force of land-based missiles, is evolving from being a nuclear “monad” into a nuclear “triad,” consisting of strategic land, sea, and air nuclear forces like those of the United States and Russia.

    While Beijing is certainly no paragon of transparency, especially on security issues, it’s not completely unexpected.

    China has been engaged in an unprecedented military buildup of its conventional forces for some time, and it has recently begun to pay significant attention to building out its strategic nuclear forces, too.

    Indeed, in 2015, China established the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force, which is responsible for China’s land-based conventional and nuclear missiles, as a separate service within the Chinese military—and on par with the army, navy, and air force.

    It’s a big deal.

    Moreover, as further evidence of the importance of the Rocket Force to China, according to the Pentagon, “In 2019, the [People’s Republic of China] launched more ballistic missiles for testing and training than the rest of the world combined.”

    Plus, depending on how Beijing deploys those new silos—filling them all with missiles or filling some and leaving others as decoys to confuse an attacker, China could significantly increase the size of its land-based nuclear force.

    The worry is that these new ICBMs may be armed with multiple, independently targetable, reentry vehicles, or MIRVs. That would mean that there could be five or more warheads, rather than one, on each ICBM.

    This massive expansion should call into question the long-standing assessments that China will continue to have an estimated low-200 nuclear weapons in its stockpile.

    Instead, these recent revelations suggest that Beijing could be in the throes of trying to reach nuclear near-parity—or even parity—with Washington in the coming years. (The U.S. has about 1,550 operational nuclear weapons.)

    In addition, the People’s Liberation Army-Navy has also deployed several nuclear ballistic missile submarines, creating for the first time a mobile, stealthy at-sea strategic strike force for China’s leadership.

    Those ballistic missile submarines will carry 12 submarine-launched ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads capable of reaching parts of the continental United States, depending on its firing location.

    China is also modernizing its strategic bomber forces and arming them with nuclear-capable, air-launched ballistic missiles. Some analysts speculate that a nuclear-capable cruise missile for those bombers may also become available.

    Lastly, a press report July 30 also exposed some construction work at a site used by China in the past for nuclear testing, possibly signaling another uptick in Beijing’s strategic activity levels.

    It’s clear Beijing is emphasizing, diversifying, and expanding its nuclear forces.

    A full-on nuclear triad of land, air, and sea legs will provide China’s nuclear deterrent with greater credibility, survivability, and flexibility than it had previously as a land-based silo and road-mobile force.

    Those new capabilities will give Beijing greater freedom of action internationally to influence and coerce not only Washington, but also its Asian allies and partners. It will also limit the response options to China’s ongoing bad behavior and belligerence.

    Beijing’s strategic force build-out will also insert more uncertainty—and risk—into an already challenging international security environment, now fraught with great- and major-power competition and rivalry.

    As a result, the United States must carefully consider these developments, as well as craft responses to the growing Chinese nuclear threat, ensuring that U.S. national interests are protected and American nuclear deterrence remains indomitable.

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