On Thursday, the U.S. Air Force Air University’s China Aerospace Studies Institute published a report describing the likely discovery of a Chinese missile silo filed near Ordos City in the Chinese-controlled Inner Mongolia region.
Adml. Charles Richard, the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), which oversees the U.S. nuclear arsenal, also warned on Thursday that China’s rapidly growing nuclear arsenal poses the risk of a “strategic breakout.”
Speaking before the Space and Missile Defense Symposium Richard said, “We are witnessing a strategic breakout by China. The explosive growth in modernization in nuclear and conventional forces which can only be, what I describe, as breathtaking.”
“There’s been a lot of speculation out there as to why they are doing all of this,” Richard added. “I just want to say right now, it really does not matter why China is and continues to grow and modernize. What matters is they are building the capability to execute any plausible nuclear employment strategy, the last brick in the wall of a military capable of coercion. Keep in mind, China is treaty unconstrained and they can do whatever they want.”
During his remarks, Richard noted several other advancements in China’s nuclear capabilities. He noted China is improving its MIRV weapons, developing road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launchers, its DF-26 missiles and China’s Jin class submarines are now able to carry JL-3 nuclear-capable submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). He also noted China has moved many of its nuclear forces to a higher readiness status “including some on a launch on warning or launch on command status.”
In June, researchers discovered the likely construction of about 119 new intercontinental ballistic missile silos near the western Chinese city of Yumen. Weeks later, in July, researchers found a second 110-missile silo field likely under construction about 60 miles southwest of the Chinese city of Hami, in the Xinjiang Province of western China.
According to the report by Air University, researchers have found a third Chinese missile silo field near Ordos City, which they believe China began construction on in mid-May. The Washington Times reported Thursday that Pentagon officials familiar with intelligence reports on the recently discovered field believe it will have silos for 100 new nuclear-capable DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The DF-41 is China’s newest nuclear missile. The DF-41 is believed to be able to launch with up to 10 separate warheads carried on multiple, independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs).
Describing the first two nuclear silo fields discovered in China, Richard told the symposium, “Commercial satellite imagery has discovered what is assessed as two nuclear missile fields in western China. Each has nearly 120 ICBM silos.”
“If you enjoy looking at commercial satellite imagery or stuff in China, can I suggest you keep looking?” Richard joked. “Normally I have to pay people to do it, if you like doing it for free that just helps.”
Richard’s comments come as the latest warning about China’s growing nuclear arsenal. In a September 2020 report, the Pentagon predicted China could double the size of its nuclear arsenal in the next decade.
Richard noted that overall arsenal sizes aren’t the only thing to worry about when assessing a nation’s military capabilities
“I caution about a comparison of stockpiles. I see that done in the open press all the time,” Richard said. “A nation’s stockpile is a crude measure of its overall capability. you have to consider the delivery systems, accuracy, range, readiness, training, concepts of operation and many other things to fully understand what a nation is capable of doing. And yes, we have a larger stockpile than China does for the moment, but almost two-thirds of what we have is operationally unavailable to me because of treaty constraints. And remember, I have to deter Russia, North Korea and others all at the same time with what we have.”