- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 11, 2010

China nuclear arms

China’s strategic nuclear forces remain shrouded in secrecy, but a new report this week identified the key location of Beijing’s tightly guarded underground nuclear-weapons storage base.

The report by the Project 2049 Institute, a private China affairs research group, also suggests the Chinese military is working on a long-range conventional warhead missile capability. The conclusion is based on indicators that China is not building nuclear warheads as fast as it is deploying large numbers of long-range missiles.

The increase in long-range missiles without a corresponding growth in nuclear warheads is a sign that China may be following the U.S. Strategic Command in building a non-nuclear long-range strike capability, said Mark A. Stokes, a former Air Force officer and China specialist who authored the report.

“The implication is that there could be a significant expansion in the Second Artillery’s conventional strike mission, beyond just short-range ballistic missiles,” Mr. Stokes said.

Some military specialists may misread the relatively low numbers of nuclear warheads as indicating China’s new DF-21 and DF-31 missiles will have limited use.

“The 10,000-plus-kilometer range DF-31A — yes, this is probably a dedicated nuke,” he said. “But new 1,700- to 1,800- kilometer-range DF-21 and possibly 8,000-kilometer DF-31 brigades … watch them for an expanded-range conventional strike capability.”

Both the DF-21 and DF-31 can carry either nuclear or conventional warheads, he said.

The report stated that the main nuclear storage facility at Taibai is located deep inside tunnels running through the Qinling mountain range about 87 miles west of the far-western city of Xian. A military unit known as the “22 Base” stores and manages most of the Second Artillery’s nuclear-warhead stockpile.

The report, “China’s Nuclear Warhead Storage and Handling System,” is based on details gleaned recently from Chinese press reports and experts.

Disclosure of the Chinese nuclear system comes as the Pentagon is continuing efforts — unsuccessful so far — to hold in-depth talks with military leaders from the Second Artillery Corps, as the strategic arms service is called.

Defense officials have said China fears that engaging in nuclear talks will result in giving up secrets that would assist U.S. missile targeting and cyberwarfare efforts against the nuclear forces.

Chinese military officials on two occasions threatened to use nuclear weapons against the United States in the last 14 years. Gen. Xiong Guankai in 1996 told a former Pentagon official that China would attack Los Angeles during any conflict with Taiwan. Then in 2005, Maj. Gen. Zhu Chenghu stated that China would use nuclear weapons to retaliate against any U.S. conventional long-range cruise missile strikes on Chinese cities.

The report said China’s nuclear forces are the least understood among all the world’s nuclear arsenals. “The dearth of information is in part purposeful — its nuclear warhead stockpile naturally is among China’s most closely guarded secrets,” it stated.

China’s nuclear warheads are under the authority of Chinese Communist Party’s Central Military Commission, the party organ that controls the military and is led by Chinese President Hu Jintao. The commission owns the centralized control system run by the Second Artillery.

The report stated that China’s nuclear weapons in Qinhai and Xinjiang were the target of attempts by rival groups of communists to seize them during the Cultural Revolution turmoil of the 1970s.

The Taibai storage facility is said to be equipped with video monitoring, infrared security sensors, computerized warhead accounting and temperature and humidity controls. It also has been hardened to withstand the effects of electromagnetic pulse.

China’s military stores its nuclear warheads apart from both missiles and missile fuel, and transports them by truck and rail and rarely by aircraft.

Nuclear missile units located in several parts of the country use a dedicated command and control system that sends orders from the Central Military Commission for attacks. Communications were recently upgraded with fiber-optic and wireless communication networks.

The report concluded that China’s warheads at Taibai “may be one of the most secure warhead stockpile facilities in the world.”

“However, with warheads most vulnerable to theft or accident during transportation, the system’s reliance on mobility creates opportunities for incidents and terrorist action,” the report said.

Iran NIE

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence will soon complete a new, top-secret National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear program. U.S. officials said the assessment is expected to revise the much-criticized 2007 NIE that concluded with “high confidence” that Iran ended work on nuclear weapons in 2003.

The new estimate will include details on Iran’s centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program that will conclude Iran is covertly working on a nuclear weapons capability, albeit one masked by deception and disinformation. The Tehran government regularly denies its program is for weapons and insists the nuclear work is for civilian electrical power generation.

A key addition to the new estimate will be details about Iran’s nuclear plant at Qom, that was discovered in 2007 but only made public in September. Tehran has said the Qom site is nonmilitary and only protected by surface-to-air missiles and military forces on the ground to counter an air raid.

Other intelligence evidence gathered since 2007 also will lead to a nuanced conclusion that the Iranian weapons program is active and designed to eventually produce warheads for missiles.

One of the main doubters of the 2007 conclusion that Iran halted nuclear arms works has been Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said repeatedly in recent months that Iran is on a path to building nuclear weapons.

Unlike 2007, this time the new estimate will be kept secret and no unclassified summary will be made public as occurred in 2007.

DNI spokesman Mike Birmingham declined to comment.

The 2007 NIE was carried out under Thomas Fingar, the deputy director of national intelligence for analysis who has since left the government for Stanford University. Mr. Fingar has declined to comment on that estimate.

Pantano invades

One of the most famous Marines from the Iraq war is coming to Washington next month looking for new friends and money.

The trip by North Carolinian Ilario Pantano will take him to the home April 13 of prominent Republican strategist Mary Matalin, reports special correspondent Rowan Scarborough.

Mrs. Matalin’s Threshold Editions published Mr. Pantano’s 2006 memoir, “Warlord,” which told of how the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks converted him from a Wall Street operative to a Marine Corps warrior.

He led a platoon in the volatile Anbar province in Iraq and found himself accused of murder for shooting two insurgents. A military judge cleared Mr. Pantano, who then resigned his commission and started a new career as student, writer and conservative activist.

Add congressional candidate to his portfolio. He is running in the May 4 Republican primary for the right to challenge Rep. Mike McIntyre, a popular seven-term North Carolina Democrat, in a district that usually votes for the Republican presidential candidate. The 7th District includes Fayetteville and Wilmington, and sits near the Army’s Fort Bragg and the Marines’ Camp Lejeune bases.

Mr. Pantano hopes Mrs. Matalin can introduce him to a network of Republicans and fresh campaign cash.

The candidate is attempting to tie Mr. McIntyre to liberal House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a time when Congress’ public approval rating is at historic lows.

Mr. Pantano is going door to door handing out campaign DVDs and is relying on social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter to reach voters.

“Why can the Taliban make a DVD in a cave but conservatives have not figured out how to do digital media?” he said.

Remembering Al Haig

Former Secretary of State Alexander Haig, who died on Feb. 20 at age 85, was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on March 2. The retired four-star general whose career spanned the Korean War and Watergate, was a blunt-spoken Washington veteran who also had a sense of humor.

During a 1999 awards dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel, the retired general, after a few glasses of wine, commented on the small purple flowers used to garnish each dinner plate. Leaning over to this correspondent as plates were served, he pointed to the flowers and quipped, “If you eat that, you’ll become a homosexual.”

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