China is expanding its nuclear forces with a new multiwarhead mobile missile and keeps its strategic stockpiles in deep underground bunkers, the Pentagon disclosed in its annual report to Congress on the Chinese military.
China is thought to have up to 75 long-range nuclear missiles, including hard-to-find, road-mobile DF-31 and DF-31A intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), according to the report, which was released Wednesday. China also has 120 intermediate- and medium-range missiles.
“China is both qualitatively and quantitatively improving its strategic missile forces,” the report states. “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.”
The report states for the first time that China appears to be developing a third road-mobile ICBM, possibly capable of carrying a multiple, independently targetable re-entry vehicle.
Additionally, the report provides new details on China’s efforts to develop missile defenses and says China conducted a warhead-intercept test as part of the system.
China also has built its first Jin-class ballistic-missile submarine that “appears ready,” but its missile, the JL-2, a variant of the DF-31, is still being flight-tested.
A disclosure in the annual assessment reveals China’s deep-underground facilities in the north that is connected with more than 3,000 miles of tunnels. The facilities are used for storing and hiding missiles and nuclear warheads, and for command bunkers hardened against nuclear attacks.
The facilities were built on the Chinese belief that the weapons and headquarters are less vulnerable to attack. The Chinese military has been using the underground facilities since the early 1950s.
U.S. officials said most details of Chinese nuclear arms previously were kept secret.
“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 report says.
The facilities include an “obscure tunnel network” stretching more than 3,000 miles.
The report said China’s underground nuclear sites are based on Beijing’s assumption that “it might have to absorb an initial nuclear blow prior to engaging in ‘nuclear counterattack,’” the report says.
According to the newsletter the Diplomat, a recent presentation at the Naval War College disclosed that the underground facilities were made public by China’s state-run CCTV in March 2008. The television network showed some of the tunneling at a location in mountainous northern Hubei province. The facilities reportedly are located hundreds of yards below ground.
“Although secrecy and ambiguity remain China’s predominant approach in the nuclear realm, occasional disclosure of information on some missile-related [underground facilities] is consistent with an effort to send strategic signals on the credibility of its limited nuclear arsenal,” the report says.
The published reports have shown images of tunnels, modern network-based security and control centers, and advanced camouflage measures, the report says.
The underground military facilities also are used to protect and hide command posts and communications sites, to store weapons and equipment and to protect people.
Richard Fisher, a China military-affairs analyst, said the report is significant for listing strategic nuclear forces that show an estimated increase of up to 25 new ICBMs, some with multiple warheads, in a year, and the first references to China’s program for nationwide missile defenses.
“Taken together, a well-protected, growing ICBM force that will soon have active defenses should be of great concern to the United States,” said Mr. Fisher, of the International Assessment and Strategy Center. “China will not reveal its missile-buildup plans or its [anti-ballistic 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.”
Mr. Fisher said China’s hints and unofficial signs for decades that it does not seek large nuclear forces are not credible and are in line with similar disinformation themes, such as China’s claims that it is not preparing for space warfare, not selling arms to rogue states and not seeking global hegemony.
Chinese military officials on at least two occasions since 1995 have threatened to use nuclear weapons, directly or indirectly, against the United States.
In October 1995, Gen. Xiong Guangkai said of any conflict over Taiwan that “if you hit us, we can hit back.” The general then said that “in the end, you care more about Los Angeles than you do about Taipei,” reported to the White House at the time as a threat to use nuclear weapons.
In 2005, Gen. Zhu Chenghu told reporters in Beijing that if the U.S. military used conventionally armed weapons on Chinese territory, “we will have to respond with nuclear weapons.”
China’s military in January rebuffed an appeal from Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to hold strategic nuclear talks.
A classified State Department cable from Beijing in 2008 quoted Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister He Yafei as telling visiting U.S. officials that “China does not favor displaying the same transparency regarding nuclear-weapons holdings or delivery platforms that the United States, U.K., and France have shown, since doing so would eliminate the value of China’s strategic deterrent.”
On missile defenses, the report for the first time revealed that China is developing a nationwide “umbrella” of nonexplosive, high-speed interceptors that can hit missiles and other aerospace vehicles at heights of up to 50 miles.
China frequently criticizes the similar U.S. missile-defense system as undermining stability.
China also is continuing to develop anti-satellite weapons that were first tested in 2007, causing a debris field in space that continues to threaten orbiting spacecraft, the report says.
“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.