China’s military has begun retrofitting single-warhead DF-5 intercontinental ballistic missiles with multiple, independently targetable re-entry vehicles, according to U.S. defense officials. The upgrading of the DF-5 missiles with multiple warheads, known as MIRVs, was detected by U.S. intelligence agencies within the past several months.
The addition of three warheads on the long-range missiles marks a significant shift for China’s nuclear arsenal that is increasing in both warheads and missile systems under a major buildup.
Analysts say the warhead upgrades could affect U.S. strategic nuclear deterrence strategy by requiring a boost in U.S. warheads in the future.
Strategic Command spokesman Lt. Col. Martin O’Donnell declined to comment on the impact of the MIRVed Chinese missiles.
Adm. Cecil Haney, commander of the Strategic Command, confirmed last month that China is making “significant investments” to both nuclear and conventional forces, including the addition of MIRVed missiles.
“China is re-engineering its long-range ballistic missiles to carry multiple nuclear warheads,” Adm. Haney said Jan. 22 in a speech.
Additionally, China recently showed off a new DF-26 intermediate-range missile that Beijing said can be armed with either nuclear or conventional warheads. The Chinese also conducted six successful tests of a hypersonic glide vehicle.
The four-star admiral said Chinese secrecy and the nuclear buildup are raising questions about the Chinese policy of not being the first to use nuclear weapons in conflict, while undermining stability.
“While China periodically reminds us of its ‘no first use’ nuclear policy, these developments — coupled with the Chinese intentional lack of transparency on nuclear issues, such as force, disposition and size — can impact regional and strategic stability,” Adm. Haney said.
Former Pentagon nuclear forces expert Keith Payne said the Chinese buildup highlights the failure of the Obama administration’s policy of seeking to reduce global nuclear arsenals by cutting U.S. weapons.
“If China continues to modernize its nuclear forces, including the MIRVing of its long-range ballistic missiles, it will have demonstrated the utter failure of the theory that the U.S. ‘moral example’ of continued nuclear reductions leads to nuclear reductions globally and, ultimately, to nuclear zero,” Mr. Payne told Inside the Ring.
The view that U.S. nuclear cuts promote global nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament appears to be a key tenet of U.S. strategic policy for years.
“China’s nuclear weapons programs, along with Russia’s, demonstrate as nothing else could the failure of that approach, and that we once again need to place priority on sustaining U.S. capabilities to deter attacks on ourselves and our allies,” Mr. Payne said. “The years of America’s nuclear indolence must now come to an end.”
Mark Stokes, a former Air Force officer and China weapons expert, said the DF-5 upgrade and the new MIRV missiles “certainly means a significant growth in the number of nuclear warheads that can reach us here in the greater Washington, D.C., area.”
Mr. Stokes, of the Project 2049 Institute, said the multiple-warhead DF-5B, an advanced variant, probably entered service several yeas ago, and that replacing all single-warhead, silo-based DF-5As with the multiple warheads was expected.
“Add the new mobile MIRVed ICBM to the mix, [and] this means a pretty significant growth over the next decade or so,” Mr. Stokes said, noting the DF-5s likely are being upgraded from one warhead to three MIRVs.
Rick Fisher, a China military analyst, said the uploading of DF-5 warheads means the Chinese probably are deploying additional DF-5s beyond the estimated total number of 20 missiles several years ago.
“When you add the possibility of MIRVed DF-5s exceeding 20, to the imminent deployment of the road-mobile and rail-mobile MIRVed DF-41, and the potential for a MIRVed version of the DF-31 called the DF-31B, it becomes possible to consider that China may reach 500 or more ICBM warheads in the next few years,” said Mr. Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center.
“This, combined with China aggressive development of missile defenses, space warfare capabilities and possible non-nuclear prompt global strike missiles, will quickly undermine confidence by U.S. allies in the extended U.S. nuclear deterrent,” he added.
The Pentagon should reverse the decision made by the George H.W. Bush administration in the 1990s to unilaterally withdraw U.S. tactical nuclear arms from U.S. ships, submarines and land-based forces in Asia, he said. “This will help to deter China from invading Taiwan as well as help to deter China’s ally, North Korea, from using its nuclear weapons.”
Infrastructure vulnerable to cyberattacks
Adm. Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, revealed during a Senate hearing this week that the U.S. electrical, water and other infrastructure systems remain vulnerable to foreign cyberattacks despite efforts to secure them.
The NSA chief, who also heads the military’s U.S. Cyber Command, said during a hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that gathering information on cyberthreats to infrastructure is only a part of the problem.
“I think the biggest challenge, in some ways, is not so much the level of insight, but it’s how do we take that insight and generate action and make the changes that I think we all believe are necessary,” Adm. Rogers said. “And so the challenge, I think, is how do we take those insights and generate action.”
The comments came in response to questioning from Sen. Martin Heinrich, New Mexico Democrat, who noted there had been a 20 percent increase in cyberattacks against infrastructure last year. “The world has seen a truly alarming increase in attacks on critical infrastructure,” Mr. Heinrich said.
Adm. Rogers said he has discussed the problems with people in the electrical power and water industries. Power companies are experimenting with micropower grids and “island-able” power grids, along with distributed storage and power generation, to mitigate the effects of a large-scale cyberattack.
The four-star admiral said the companies are “trying to go that way,” while cautioning that it “is not an insignificant challenge” given the size and scope of America’s infrastructure. Protecting the electric grids with redundant and resilient digital control systems should be part of a broader infrastructure security strategy.
But, the admiral warned, “I just try to remind people there’s no silver bullet here.”
Islamic State expanding to Libya
Senior U.S. intelligence officials confirmed reports Tuesday that Islamic State is aggressively expanding into Libya from its strongholds in Syria and Iraq.
CIA Director John O. Brennan told a hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that Libya is the most important theater outside of Syria and Iraq for the Islamic State, also known as ISIL and ISIS.
“They have several thousand members there,” Mr. Brennan said. “They have absorbed some of the groups inside of Libya, including Ansar al Shariah, that was very active prior to ISIL’s rise.
“As the borders of the Syria-Iraq area were being tightened down, we know that some of those foreign fighters started to divert into Libya,” Mr. Brennan said, adding that the North African state has become a “magnet” for terrorists throughout Libya and elsewhere.
James R. Clapper, director of national intelligence, said Islamic State leaders want to control territory in Libya as they currently do in Syria and Iraq.
Libya is “essentially an ungoverned space” with substantial oil resources that is a tempting target for the jihadis, Mr. Clapper said. Islamic State terrorists in Libya currently are centered in the central Libyan coastal city of Sirte, “and they’re trying to spread out along the coast and take over more and more areas,” he said, adding that the group is “present” in major cities like Benghazi and Tripoli.
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.