- Satellite images show China building more than 100 new missile silos, analysts told the Washington Post.
- Altogether China is building at least 145 new missile silos across the country, a researcher said.
- The Pentagon has said evidence suggests China plans to build an “expanded silo-based force.”
- Some of the silos are believed to be built to house the new DF-41 ICBM
China appears to be building more than 100 new missile silos in the desert, according to an analysis of satellite imagery first reported by the Washington Post Wednesday.
Analyzing satellite images from Planet Labs, Jeffrey Lewis and Decker Eveleth, researchers at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, identified 119 apparent intercontinental ballistic missile silos under construction near Yumen in Gansu province.
The researchers also identified the construction of a possible control center.
The report follows one published in February from Federation of American Scientists researcher Hans Kristensen, who observed that China was constructing a number of additional ballistic missile silos in part of central China.
Lewis told the Post that “if the silos under construction at other sites across China are added to the count, the total comes to about 145 silos under construction.”
The belief, he said, is that “China is expanding its nuclear forces in part to maintain a deterrent that can survive a US first strike in sufficient numbers to defeat US missile defenses.”
That said, it is unclear whether China intends to fill all of the silos with nuclear missiles.
There is “a very good chance that China is planning a shell game,” Lewis said. If that is the case, it would mimic a US strategy implemented during the Cold War and possibly boost deterrence through strategic uncertainty.
China, with only a few hundred nuclear weapons, has a significantly smaller nuclear arsenal than the US and Russia, which possess thousands of nuclear weapons, but the Pentagon has said that China appears to be expanding its nuclear capabilities.
The Department of Defense explained in its 2020 China military power report that evidence indicates “China intends to increase the peacetime readiness of its nuclear forces by moving to a launch-on-warning (LOW) posture with an expanded silo-based force.”
The report further noted that “over the next decade, China’s nuclear warhead stockpile-currently estimated to be in the low 200s-is projected to at least double in size as China expands and modernizes its nuclear forces.”
At least some of the new missile silos under construction across China are suspected to have been designed to house the new DF-41 ICBM. Though the DF-41 was debuted as a road-mobile missile, China is believed to be looking at rail and silo basing as alternatives.
Like its predecessor, the Biden administration has expressed a desire for an arms control mechanism of some type that would also cover China’s evolving nuclear arsenal, not just those of the US and Russia. It is, however, unclear how it intends to achieve this.
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