China has a policy of striking back with nuclear weapons if they are hit first. Chinese experts have started to worry that this second-strike credibility is eroding. They believe China needs more and better nuclear weapons to show that it could still strike back if attacked.
US construction of missile defense and improving conventional precision strike weapons will require China boost nuclear capability.
China has about 280 nuclear weapons and 4 nuclear missile submarines. Four nuclear submarines are needed to keep one nuclear submarine at sea at all times.
If China expands to eight nuclear submarines, then this could mean about 48 more nuclear missiles. China already has four Type 094 nuclear missile submarines and is expected to build a fifth. The Type 096 is a projected class of ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) for China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy Submarine Force. The submarine is expected to begin construction in the early 2020’s and be armed with the JL-3 SLBM.
US conventional weapons are good enough to endanger Chinese nuclear weapons, if the US struck first.
The U.S. nuclear arsenal has steadily improved; the Russian force has sharply eroded; and Chinese nuclear modernization has progressed at a glacial pace. As a result, the United States now stands on the verge of attaining nuclear primacy, meaning that it could conceivably disarm the long-range nuclear arsenals of Russia and China with a nuclear first strike. A simple nuclear exchange model demonstrates that the United States has a potent first-strike capability. The trajectory of nuclear developments suggests that the nuclear balance will continue to shift in favor of the United States in coming years. The rise of U.S. nuclear primacy has significant implications for relations among the world’s great powers, for U.S. foreign policy, and for international relations scholarship.