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Researchers find 110 more secret Chinese nuclear missile silos under construction

Vehicles carry DF-5B intercontinental ballistic missiles during a Chinese military parade. (Voice of America/Released)
July 27, 2021

New satellite images analyzed by nuclear arms researchers revealed that China is preparing a second field for up to 110 new missile silos capable of housing nuclear-capable weapons. The discovery adds to another 119 silos discovered earlier this year, and form what researchers described this week as “the most significant expansion of the Chinese nuclear arsenal ever.”

Matt Korda and Hans Kristensen, researchers with the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), wrote in a paper published Monday that recent satellite images show China is in the early stages of constructing a new missile silo field about 60 miles southwest of the Chinese city of Hami, in the Xinjiang Province of western China.

“The grid-like outline of the entire complex indicates that it may eventually include approximately 110 silos,” the researchers wrote. Dome structures have been set up over 14 silo construction sites, while preparation appears to be underway for another 19 silos, according to their analysis.

The discovery of this new likely missile silo field comes just weeks after the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif. reported what appeared to be construction and preparations for about 119 new missile silos near the Chinese city of Yumen.

“The silo construction at Yumen and Hami constitutes the most significant expansion of the Chinese nuclear arsenal ever,” Korda and Kristensen wrote.

On Monday, Korda tweeted, “Big China news. I found China’s 2nd nuclear silo field, in Eastern Xinjiang. @nukestrat + I estimate that it could eventually house 110 silos. In total, China seems to be building ~250 new silos––the largest expansion of China’s nuclear force ever.”

The FAS researchers estimated China has already been operating about 20 DF-5B missile silos for decades. Between the 119 new silos at the Yumen site, the 110 new silos at the Hami site, about a dozen silos at Jilantai, and potentially more silos being added at the existing DF-5B sites, the FAS researchers estimated China is building 250 new silos.

“China’s construction of nearly 250 new silos has serious implications for international relations and China’s role in the world,” the FAS researchers wrote. “The Chinese government has for decades insisted it has a minimum deterrent and that it is not part of any nuclear arms race. Although it remains unclear how many silos will actually be filled with missiles, the massive silo construction and China’s other nuclear modernization programs are on a scale that appears to contradict these policies: the build-up is anything but ‘minimum’ and appears to be part of a race for more nuclear arms to better compete with China’s adversaries. The silo construction will likely further deepen military tension, fuel fear of China’s intentions, embolden arguments that arms control and constraints are naïve, and that U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals cannot be reduced further but instead must be adjusted to take into account the Chinese nuclear build-up.”

It is unclear if China plans to fill all of the new missile silos with missiles. Vipin Narang, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor who specializes in nuclear strategy, told the New York Times on Monday that having more silos than missiles can make it more difficult for the U.S. to find and target the specific silos carrying nuclear weapons.

“They make the United States target a lot of silos that may be empty,” Narang said. He also said, “They can fill these silos slowly if they need to build up their force. And they get leverage in arms control.”

In February, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the Biden administration would “pursue arms control to reduce the dangers from China’s modern and growing nuclear arsenal.”

“The United States is committed to effective arms control that enhances stability, transparency and predictability while reducing the risks of costly, dangerous arms races,” he said.