China: rapid expansion of nuclear missile silo fields


Satellite images have revealed that China is building two new nuclear missile silo fields. The Federation of American Scientists reports that the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) appears to be constructing new missile silos near Yumen, Gansu province, and at another site some 380 kilometers to the northwest, near Hami in Xinjiang. The construction at Yumen and Hami constitutes the most significant expansion ever of China’s inter-continental ballistic missile silos. China has for decades operated about 20 silos for its DF-5 ICBMs. With 120 silos under construction at Yumen, another 110 at Hami, a dozen at Jilantai, Inner Mongolia, and possibly more silos being added in existing DF-5 deployment areas, the PLARF appears to have approximately 250 silos under construction—more than 10 times the number of ICBM silos currently operational in China.

The number of new Chinese silos under construction exceeds the number of silo-based ICBMs operated by Russia, and constitutes more than half of the size of the entire US ICBM force. The Chinese missile silo program now constitutes the most extensive silo construction since the US and Soviet silo construction during the Cold War.

The 250 new silos under construction are in addition to the force of approximately 100 road-mobile ICBM launchers that the PLARF deploys at more than a dozen bases. It is unclear how China will operate the new silos, whether it will load all of them with missiles, or if a portion will be used as empty decoys. If they are all loaded with single-warhead missiles, then the number of warheads on Chinese ICBMs could potentially increase from about 185 warheads today to as many as 415. If the new silos are loaded with the new MIRVed DF-41 ICBMs, then Chinese ICBMs could potentially carry more than 875 warheads (assuming three warheads per missile) when the Yumen and Hami missile silo fields are completed.

Although significant, even such an expansion would still not give China near-parity with the nuclear stockpiles of Russia and the United States, each of whom maintain  nuclear stockpiles of close to 4,000 warheads.

Condensed from Federation of American Scientists, July 26

Note: China is currently adding to its nuclear arsenal faster than any country on Earth.

Photo: Federation of American Scientists