China Building Over 400 New Ultra-hardened Nuclear Silos

Satellite images taken by Planet and analyzed by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (CNS/MIIS) show that China is significantly expanding the number of silos for its arsenal of intercontinental range-ballistic missiles. 120 silos under construction near Yumen were identified by Decker Eveleth, a former nonproliferation fellow at CNS/MIIS and incoming student. Yuman silos started construction in early 2020.

A second Hami missile silo field was found. It is in a much earlier stage of development than the Yumen site. Construction began at the start of March 2021 in the southeastern corner of the complex and continues at a rapid pace. Since then, dome shelters have been erected over at least 14 silos and soil cleared in preparation for the construction of another 19 silos. The grid-like outline of the entire complex indicates that it may eventually include approximately 110 silos. The Hami site was first spotted by Matt Korda, Research Associate for the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, using commercial satellite imagery. Higher resolution images of the site were subsequently provided by Planet.

Admiral Richard talked about that third new ICBM field. Bill Gertz wrote in The Washington Times that a third ICBM field had been discovered. The three new missile bases will house 350 to 400 new long-range nuclear missiles, U.S. officials said. If 10 warheads are deployed on the DF-41s, China‘s warhead level will increase to more than 4,000 warheads on its DF-41s alone.

The United States has about 3,600 nuclear warheads in its active stockpile, while Russia has about 4,300. New START caps the United States and Russia each at no more than 700 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and nuclear-capable bombers and no more that 1,550 deployed strategic warheads. Those limits will remain in force until February 2026. Reserve (or non-deployed) strategic nuclear warheads, and non-strategic nuclear warheads—whether deployed or non-deployed—are not limited.

The US Intelligence services last reported in 2020 that China had about 200 nuclear warheads. Russia believes China already had 1500 nuclear warheads. It appears that the US Intelligence service missed China’s nuclear buildup and needed public open source discovery from users of commercial satellites. This is another major intelligence failure. The other big intelligence failures were Pearl Harbor, Bay of Pigs, Tet Offensive, Yom Kippur War, Iranian Revolution, Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, not predicting the fall of the Soviet Union, India getting a nuke, 9-11, Iraq weapons of mass destruction and now the Afghanistan collapse and China’s nuclear buildup.

In February 2021, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff General John Hyten stated China was building nuclear weapons “faster than anybody on the planet,” including new ICBMs, cruise missiles, and nuclear-tipped hypersonic missiles.

The Chinese silos are located 3000 meters apart. Each of the three ICBM fields is about 700 square miles.

Old Soviet silos used 15000-20000 PSI compression concrete. There is now 30000 PSI commercial concrete. The stronger concrete means more accuracy is needed to destroy a silos with a nuclear weapon and ultra-high precision is needed for a conventional bunker buster to take it out. An ICBM field will have GPS jamming and short range interceptors. The old cold war doctrine was that ground based ICBM silos were too vulnerable. However, ultra-hardened silos change that calculation.

China is moving beyond this minimum retaliatory posture. There is not much the US can do about this. However, those analysts who are concerned that now the US will be outnumbered in nukes by China and Russia are missing the point. Russia has outnumbered US nukes for over 50 years.

It seems clear that China has or will have about 4000 nuclear weapons. China also has significant numbers of nuclear missile submarines. China has a much larger economy and has built up its conventional forces to near US levels.

Short of actual major war there is nothing the US can do about this buildup. The US can upgrade its land nuclear capability.

The US will have a major hypersonic and air superiority advantage. This is the mach 20 SpaceX Starship which can carry 100 tons of payload in a resuable rocket for 8000 miles.

India will not take this lying down. India has had about 50-80% of the number of estimated China nuclear weapons. Pakistan has equal nuclear weapons to India. China and India have had a border skirmish recently. India will definitely scale up their nuclear weapons. Pakistan will follow India. India has an economy (nearly $3 trillion) larger than Russia ($1.7 trillion). Pakistan has GDP of about $300 billion.

The new arms race is here.

SOURCES -armscontrolwonk, foreign policy