China’s military is engaged in a “very rapid” expansion of nuclear forces, which threatens U.S. security and is complicating efforts to deter both Russia as well as China, the commander of the Strategic Command told Congress on Wednesday.
The expanding nuclear arsenal includes large numbers of mobile, intercontinental ballistic missiles that travel around the country and are difficult to track.
Beijing also is deploying new solid-fueled missiles capable of being set up and fired quicker than their older liquid-fueled missiles.
The truck-mounted missiles are fielded by China and Russia while the United States does not have similar survivable missiles.
“This is a breathtaking expansion,” Adm. Charles Richard, the commander in charge of nuclear missiles, bombers and submarines, told the House Armed Services Committee.
“We are seeing a very rapid expansion of Chinese [nuclear] capabilities,” he said.
The mobile missiles are a “new capability, expanding rapidly,” the four-star admiral said.
Additionally, the Chinese military has deployed many new solid-fuel missiles based in silos, combined with a modernized nuclear command and control system.
“That gives them a launch-under-warning, or a launch-under-attack capability that right now only the U.S. and the Russians possess,” Adm. Richard said.
The Chinese are nearing completion of deploying a full strategic nuclear triad — land-based missiles, submarines and bombers.
China also has fielded six second-generation ballistic missile submarines that will provide Beijing with continuous at-sea deterrent forces that provide a survivable second-strike capability and missiles that can strike the United States from protected areas of the South China Sea.
“You add all of this together, and [the Chinese] can do any plausible nuclear employment strategy regionally,” he said.
“This will backstop their conventional capability and will potentially constrain our options. We’ll be the ones that are getting deterred if I don’t have the capability to similarly deter them,” Adm. Richard said.
China’s new and threatening nuclear forces are “additive” to what Russia has been doing in sharply modernizing its nuclear forces with new missiles and a nuclear submarine that can launch underwater attack drones.
Adm. Richard said he recently ordered all units at Strategic Command engaged in China threat briefings that are more than a month old to be updated with more recent intelligence.
“That’s how rapidly they’re moving,” he said.
The information on the rapid buildup is coming from American intelligence agencies, not the command.
“We’re simply the ones that interpret operationally, like other commands,” Adm. Richard said.
Adm. Richard also clashed with Democratic committee members who questioned the need for a new land-based missile to replace 1970s-era Minuteman III ICBMS.
Democrats favor scrapping plans for the new land-based replacement missile called the Ground Base Strategic Deterrent.
Scrapping the Minuteman missiles would require re-alerting strategic bombers that were taken off 24-hour alert status in 1991, Adm. Richard said.
“The Minuteman III is a 1970s-era weapon designed to go against Soviet analog defenses,” he said. “I need a weapon that will work, and make it to the target.”