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New Report: Chinese Nuclear Forces and U.S. Nuclear War Planning

An incipient nuclear arms race is emerging between China and the United States, according to a new report published today by the Federation of American Scientists and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The 250-page report, Chinese Nuclear Forces and U.S. Nuclear War Planning, outlines the status and possible future development of China’s nuclear weapons, describes the history of U.S. nuclear targeting of China, and simulates nuclear strike scenarios between the two nuclear powers.

Both countries are pointing to the other as an excuse to modernize nuclear forces. In the United States the report finds that the Pentagon, the intelligence community, congressional committees, private institutes and the news media frequently overstate Chinese capabilities or present dramatic new developments out of context to underscore a threat.

China, for its part, cloaks its nuclear forces in a veil of secrecy, which creates suspicion and fear in other countries about Chinese intentions.

The report, which is based on analysis of declassified and unclassified U.S. government documents as well as commercial satellite images of Chinese installations, urges both countries to take steps to halt and reverse the tension and military build-up.
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US-China Commission Report Toned Down; Errors Remain

The annual report published Monday by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission is different – kind of toned-down – compared with the report published in 2005. The Commission hasn’t gone soft on China, and the report continues the strong critique of China that has characterized the Commission since it was established in 2000. But much of the stronger language from the 2005 report, and many of the more questionable claims about Chinese nuclear weapons capabilities, did not make it into the new report.

The toning-down of the report follows reports earlier this year that the Pentagon’s annual report on Chinese military capabilities was also softened before publication. A call to the US-China Commission office about why the changes were made was not answered.
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China Test-Launches New Ballistic Missile

China has test launched a DF-31 long-range ballistic missile, according to a report by the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS. The missile was said to have been launched from the Wuzhai launch site on Monday night.

The DF-31 has been under development since the 1980s and Monday’s flight test appears to be the sixth flight test of the missile since 1999. The U.S. Department of Defense predicted in 2002 that the DF-31 would be deployed “before mid-decade,” but that didn’t happen. The current DOD prediction is that deployment may happen this year. Some web sites erroneously say the missile is already operational.

The DF-31 forms the core of China’s current modernization of long-range nuclear ballistic missiles. Two modifications of the DF-31 are under development. The road-mobile DF-31A has a longer range (possibly up to 12,000 km), and the 8,000+ km range Julang-2 is intended to arm China’s next generation of ballistic missile submarines (Jin-class).

There is considerable confusion and uncertainty about the capability of the DF-31. Early reports predicted a range of at least 8,000 km (4,875 miles), but the latest DOD estimate is 7,250+ km (4,500+ miles). China has not yet tested the DF-31 to the full range reported by the DOD. Tuesday’s test launch impacted in the Takla Makan Desert some 2,500 km west of Wuzhai. If the range is 7,250+, the DF-31 will not be able to target the entire continental United States, only the most northwestern parts. Its main role may be against Russia, India, as well as U.S. facilities in the Pacific including Hawaii and Guam.

Another confusion concerns the payload. Despite widespread speculation among private analysts and media that the new missiles will carry multiple warheads, the U.S. intelligence community anticipates that all three missile types will carry a single warhead each.

Later this month (September), FAS and the Natural Resources Defense Council will publish a joint report about Chinese nuclear forces and U.S. nuclear targeting of China. The report uses high-resolution satellite images and declassified documents to describe the nuclear relationship between China and the United States.

See also: Elusive Chinese Submarine Cave Spotted | Nuclear Notebook on Chinese Nuclear Forces

US Air Force Publishes New Missile Threat Assessment

The Air Force has published a new report about the threat from ballistic and cruise missiles. The new report, Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat, presents the Air Force National Air and Space Intelligence Center’s (NASIC) assessment of current and emerging weapon systems deployed or under development by Russia, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran, Syria and others.

Among the news in the report is a different and higher estimate for China’s future nuclear arsenal than was presented in the previous NASIC report from 2003. Whereas the previous assessment stated that China in 15 years will have 75-100 warheads on ICBMs capable of reaching the United States, the 2006 report states that this number will be “well over 100″ warheads. NASIC also believes that a new Chinese cruise missile under development will have nuclear capability.

Also new is that NASIC reports that the Indian Agni I ballistic missile has not yet been deployed despite claims by the Indian government that the weapon was “inducted” into the Indian Army in 2004. Contrary to claims made by some media and experts, the NASIC report states that the Indian Bramos cruise missile does not have a nuclear capability. The Babur cruise missile under development by Pakistan, however, is assessed to have a nuclear capability.

A copy of the report, which was published in March 2006 and recently obtained by the Federation of American Scientists, is available in full along with previous versions here.

Chinese Nuclear Weapons Profiled

The Chinese nuclear stockpile appears to be only half as big as previously thought, according to a new overview published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Up to 130 warheads may be deployed out of a total stockpile of some 200 warheads. Several new weapon systems are under development which the Pentagon says could increase the arsenal in the future, but past US intelligence projections have proven highly inflated and inaccurate. The new overview will be followed by a more detailed report published by the Federation of American Scientists and the Natural Resources Defense Council this spring.

See also: Chinese Nuclear Submarine Cave Discovered

Elusive Chinese Submarine Cave Spotted

A long-rumored but never before seen Chinese underground submarine base is shown for the first time in a new article written by analysts from the Federation of American Scientists and Natural Resources Defense Council. The article, published in Imaging Notes, shows newly acquired satellite images of the submarine base, three air bases, and China’s nuclear weapons lab at Mianyang.

A front page article in Washington Times was headlined “Commercial photos show Chinese nuke buildup,” but both the cave and submarines have existed for nearly three decades. Only now, thanks to commercial satellites, can the public see them.

The Imaging Notes article is a snapshot from a larger FAS/NRDC report on US-Chinese nuclear relations scheduled for publication later this spring.

More: Article in Imaging Notes | Analysis and background