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New Nuclear Notebook: Chinese Nuclear Force Modernization

Jianshuipad

Launch pads for DF-21 mobile medium-range ballistic missile launchers have been added to a Second Artillery base in southern China.
Click image for large version with annotations.
Image: Digital Globe 2012 via Apple Maps.

By Hans M. Kristensen

China continues to upgrade bases for mobile nuclear medium-range ballistic missiles. The image above shows one of several new launch pads for DF-21 missile launchers constructed at a base near Jianshui in southern China.

A new satellite image* on Apple Maps shows the latest part of a two-decade long slow replacement of old liquid-fuel moveable DF-3A intermediate-range ballistic missiles with new road-mobile solid-fuel DF-21 medium-range ballistic missiles.

Similar developments can be seen near Qingyang in the Anhui province in eastern China and in the Qinghai and Xinjiang provinces in central China.

This and other developments are part of our latest Nuclear Notebook on Chinese nuclear forces, recently published by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.   Continue Reading →

Air Force Intelligence Report Provides Snapshot of Nuclear Missiles

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Click to download full report

By Hans M. Kristensen

The U.S. Air Force National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) has published its long-awaited update to the Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat report, one of the few remaining public (yet sanitized) U.S. intelligence assessment of the world nuclear (and other) forces.

Previous years’ reports have been reviewed and made available by FAS (here, here, and here), and the new update contains several important developments – and some surprises.

Most important to the immediate debate about further U.S.-Russian reductions of nuclear forces, the new report provides an almost direct rebuttal of recent allegations that Russia is violating the INF Treaty by developing an Intermediate-range ballistic missile: “Neither Russia nor the United States produce or retain any MRBM or IRBM systems because they are banned by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Treaty, which entered into force in 1988.”

Another new development is a significant number of new conventional short-range ballistic missiles being deployed or developed by China.

Finally, several of the nuclear weapons systems listed in a recent U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command briefing are not included in the NASIC report at all. This casts doubt on the credibility of the AFGSC briefing and creates confusion about what the U.S. Intelligence Community has actually concluded.  Continue Reading →

Air Force Briefing Shows Nuclear Modernizations But Ignores US and UK Programs

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Click to view large version. Full briefing is here.

By Hans M. Kristensen

China and North Korea are developing nuclear-capable cruise missiles, according to U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC).

The new Chinese and North Korean systems appear on a slide in a Command Briefing that shows nuclear modernizations in eight of the world’s nine nuclear weapons states (Israel is not shown).

The Chinese missile is the CJ-20 air-launched cruise missile for delivery by the H-6 bomber. The North Korean missile is the KN-09 coastal-defense cruise missile. These weapons would, if for real, be important additions to the nuclear arsenals in Asia.

At the same time, a closer look at the characterization used for nuclear modernizations in the various countries shows generalizations, inconsistencies and mistakes that raise questions about the quality of the intelligence used for the briefing.

Moreover, the omission from the slide of any U.S. and British modernizations is highly misleading and glosses over past, current, and planned modernizations in those countries.

For some, the briefing is a sales pitch to get Congress to fund new U.S. nuclear weapons.

Overall, however, the rampant nuclear modernizations shown on the slide underscore the urgent need for the international community to increase its pressure on the nuclear weapon states to curtail their nuclear programs. And it calls upon the Obama administration to reenergize its efforts to reduce the numbers and role of nuclear weapons. Continue Reading →

Chinese Nuclear Developments Described (and Omitted) by DOD Report

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Click on image to view full-size version.

By Hans M. Kristensen

Going, going, gone! In its latest annual report to Congress on the military and security developments of the People’s Republic of China, the Pentagon has removed the last public authoritative overview of Chinese nuclear forces.

Until 2010, the annual reports included a table with a detailed breakdown of the different types of ballistic missiles that enabled the public to monitor the development of China’s nuclear modernization. In 2011, however, things began to change when a less detailed table was included that only showed overall categories of missiles. That version appeared in 2012 as well, but the 2013 report includes no table at all of China’s missile forces.

The tidbits of information left in the report indicate an ICBM force that is modernizing but leveling out and an SSBN force that is approaching functional capability. Continue Reading →

Chinese ICBM Force Leveling Out?

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By Hans M. Kristensen

The size of China’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) force appears to be leveling out instead of increasing.

During Thursday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Current and Future Worldwide Threats, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) director Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn told the lawmakers:

China’s nuclear arsenal currently consists of approximately 50-75 ICBMs, including the silo-based CSS-4 (DF-5); the solid-fueled, road-mobile CSS-10 Mod 1 and 2 (DF-31 and DF-31A); and the more limited CSS-3 (DF-3) [sic*].

The force level of 50-75 ICBMs is the same as the U.S. Defense Department reported in 2012 and 2011, slightly up from a medium estimate of 55-65 ICBMs reported in 2010 and rising since the DF-31 and DF-31A first started deploying in 2006-2008. But instead of continuing to increase, the force level estimate has been steady for the past three years at a medium estimate of about 63 ICBMs. Continue Reading →

STRATCOM Commander Rejects High Estimates for Chinese Nuclear Arsenal

STRATCOM Commander estimates that China has “several hundred” nuclear warheads.

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By Hans M. Kristensen

The commander of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) has rejected claims that China’s nuclear arsenal is much larger than commonly believed.

“I do not believe that China has hundreds or thousands more nuclear weapons than what the intelligence community has been saying, […] that the Chinese arsenal is in the range of several hundred” nuclear warheads.

General Kehler’s statement was made in an interview with a group of journalists during the Deterrence Symposium held in Omaha in early August (the transcript is not yet public, but was made available to me).

General Kehler’s statement comes at an important time because much higher estimates recently have created a lot of news media attention and are threatening to become “facts” on the Internet. A Georgetown University briefing last year hypothesized that the Chinese arsenal might include “as many as 3,000 nuclear warheads,” and General Victor Yesin, a former commander of Russia’s Strategic Rocket Forces, recently published an article on the Russian web site vpk-news in which he estimates that the Chinese nuclear weapons arsenal includes 1,600-1,800 nuclear warheads.

In contrast, Robert S. Norris and I have published estimates of the Chinese nuclear weapons inventory for years, and we currently set the arsenal at approximately 240 warheads. That estimate – based in part on statements from the U.S. intelligence community, fissile material production estimates, and our assessment of the composition of the Chinese nuclear arsenal – obviously comes with a lot of uncertainly and assumptions, but we’re pleased to see that it appears to fit with the “several hundred” warheads mentioned by General Kehler.

Like the other nuclear weapon states, China is modernizing its nuclear arsenal, but it is the only one of the five original nuclear powers (P-5) that appears to be increasing the size of its warhead inventory. That increase is modest and appears to be slower than the U.S. intelligence community projected a decade ago. Those who see an interest in exaggerating China’s nuclear developments thrive on secrecy, so it is important that China – and others who know – provide some basic information about trends and developments to avoid exaggerated estimates. The reality is bad enough as it is.

This publication was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

Event: Conference on Using Satellite Imagery to Monitor Nuclear Forces and Proliferators

This satellite imagery analysis from my conference briefing illustrates upgrade of Chinese mobile nuclear missile launch garrison at Qingyang (30°41’52.64″N, 117°53’36.25″E). Such analysis is becoming more important as the U.S. government is curtailing what it releases about Chinese (and Russian) nuclear forces. Click on image for large image version.

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By Hans M. Kristensen

Earlier today we convened an exciting conference on use of commercials satellite imagery and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to monitor nuclear forces and proliferators around the world. I was fortunate to have two brilliant users of this technology with me on the panel:

  • Tamara Patton, a Graduate Research Assistant at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, who described her pioneering work to use freeware to creating 3D images of uranium enrichment facilities and plutonium production reactors in Pakistan and North Korea. Her briefing is available here.
  • Matthew McKinzie, a Senior Scientists with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Nuclear Program and Lands and Wildlife Program, who has spearheaded non-governmental use of GIS technology since commercial satellite imagery first became widely available. His presentation is available here.
  • My presentation focused on using satellite imagery and Freedom of Information Act requests to monitor Chinese and Russian nuclear force developments, an effort that is becoming more important as the United States is decreasing its release of information about those countries. My briefing slides are here.

In all of the work profiled by these presentations, the analysts relied on the unique Google Earth and the generous contribution of high-resolution satellite imagery by DigitalGlobe and GeoEye.

This publication was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

Chinese Mobile ICBMs Seen in Central China

Road-mobile DF-31/31A ICBM launchers deploying to Central China are visible on new commercial satellite images. Click on image for larger version.

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By Hans M. Kristensen

Recent satellite images show that China is setting up launch units for its newest road-mobile Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) in central China. Several launchers of the new DF-31/31A appeared at two sites in the eastern part of the Qinghai province in June 2011. This is part of China’s slow modernization of its small (compared with Russia and the United States) nuclear arsenal. Continue Reading →

Chinese Nuclear Modernization: Smaller and Later

DIA threat assessment shows slower Chinese nuclear modernization.

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By Hans M. Kristensen

At about the same time nuclear arms reduction opponents last week incorrectly accused the Obama administration of considering “reckless” cuts in nuclear forces that would leave the United States “with fewer warheads than China,” Congress received its annual threat assessment from the U.S. intelligence community.

China’s nuclear arsenal is at a size that makes comparison with U.S. nuclear force level meaningless – even at the lowest level feared by the critics – but the threat assessment showed that China’s nuclear force modernization has been slower than predicted during the Bush administration. Continue Reading →

No, China Does Not Have 3,000 Nuclear Weapons

A study from Georgetown University incorrectly suggests that China has 3,000 nuclear weapons.The estimate is off by an order of magnitude.

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By Hans M. Kristensen

Only the Chinese government knows how many nuclear weapons China has. As in most other nuclear weapon states, the number is a closely held secret. Even so, it is possible to make best estimates of the approximate size that benefit the public debate.

A recent example of how not to make an estimate is the study recently published by the Asia Arms Control Project at Georgetown University. The study (China’s Underground Great Wall: Challenge for Nuclear Arms Control) suggests that China may have as many as 3,000 nuclear weapons.

Although we don’t know exactly how many nuclear weapons China has, we are pretty sure that it doesn’t have 3,000. In fact, the Georgetown University estimate appears to be off by an order of magnitude. Continue Reading →