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China on track to have 1,000 nukes by 2030, new Pentagon report says

Vehicles carry DF-5B intercontinental ballistic missiles during a Chinese military parade. (Voice of America/Released)
November 03, 2021

China is on track to have at least 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030, according to a Pentagon report released Wednesday. The new projection for China’s nuclear arsenal exceeds the Pentagon estimate from last year, which determined that China could double its nuclear arsenal from about 200 warheads to about 400 within the decade.

In a report titled, “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2021,” an annual to Congress, the Pentagon said, “The accelerating pace of the [People’s Republic of China’s] nuclear expansion may enable the PRC to have up to 700 deliverable nuclear warheads by 2027. The PRC likely intends to have at least 1,000 warheads by 2030, exceeding the pace and size the DoD projected in 2020.”

The 2020 Pentagon report of the same name stated, “Over the next decade, China’s nuclear warhead stockpile—currently estimated to be in the low200s—is projected to at least double in size as China expands and modernizes its nuclear forces.”

The new report states, “Last year, DoD estimated that the PRC had a nuclear warhead stockpile in the low-200s and projected it to at least double over the next decade. Since then, Beijing has accelerated its nuclear expansion, which may enable the PRC to have up to 700 deliverable nuclear warheads by 2027 and likely intends to have at least 1,000 warheads by 2030. The
PRC is constructing the infrastructure necessary to support this force expansion, including increasing its capacity to produce and separate plutonium by constructing fast breeder reactors and reprocessing facilities.”

While China appears set to increase its nuclear arsenal several times over, the U.S. has been reducing the size of its nuclear arsenal for decades. Last month, the U.S. State Department revealed the U.S. has reduced its nuclear arsenal from 31,255 warheads at the height of the Cold War in 1967, down to 3,750 by its most recent estimates. The U.S. saw dramatic decreases in its nuclear arsenal during the Cold War and has continued to gradually decrease the nuclear arsenal from about 10,000 warheads in the year 2000.

The Pentagon report also said China is focusing on new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) technology, including multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) capabilities that allow a missile to deploy multiple nuclear warheads. The report said the emphasis on new nuclear weapons technologies “will require increased nuclear warhead production.”

The report also said the number of land-based ICBMs in a position to target the U.S. is likely to increase by 200 within just the next five years.

The report also said that while much of China’s nuclear arsenal is stored in a disassembled fashion — with separated launchers, missiles, and warheads — the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Rocket Forces (PLARF) conduct “combat readiness duty” and “high alert duty,” which rotate various missile battalions to be ready to launch and on standby positions on a monthly basis. China is also implementing a launch-on-warning (LOW) posture in which PLA forces can launch a nuclear strike at the first warning of a potential enemy nuclear launch. Keeping portions of its nuclear force in a LOW posture would allow China to employ a similar readiness to strike as the U.S. and Russia.

In addition to its notes about China’s rapidly increasing nuclear force, the Pentagon report also noted that China’s navy remains the largest in the world after having overtaken the U.S. Navy in 2019. The report projected China’s Navy will grow to 420 ships by 2025 and 460 ships by 2030.

The report also said China is planning to add new military bases abroad, including ones in Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Seychelles, Tanzania, Angola, and Tajikistan.

China is also potentially developing biological weapons, in violation of the Biological and Toxins Weapons Convention (BWC) and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

“Studies conducted at PRC military medical institutions discussed identifying, testing, and characterizing diverse families of potent toxins with dual-use applications, the report states. “Based on available information, the United States cannot certify that the PRC has met
its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) due to concerns regarding the PRC’s research of pharmaceutical-based agents (PBAs) and toxins with potential dual-use applications.”

The report’s notes about China not meeting its obligations under the BWC and CWC comes after the U.S. State Department reported in April that China failed to show up for a virtual BWC compliance meeting in 2020 and failed to disclose a past biological weapons program.