China is building a second massive missile silo base that will allow Beijing to “significantly” expand its nuclear arsenal, researchers say.
The new 300-square-mile base has been discovered in the desert near the city of Hami, in northern Xinjiang province, with 14 silos currently under construction.
But researchers think the site could eventually expand to 110 silos, each of which could be filled with a missile with up to three warheads.
It comes after another new site with space for 120 silos was uncovered 300 miles away near Yumen town, in addition to about a dozen silos being built at a site in Jilantai, another 450 miles to the east.
China is building a second nuclear silo base with space for 110 silos, each of which can be equipped with nuclear-tipped missiles (file image, Chinese nuclear missiles)
“The construction of the Yumen and Hami silo represents the most significant expansion of China’s nuclear arsenal ever,” researchers from the Federation of American Scientists, which uncovered Hami’s site, said in a statement. report.
The site was identified by striking tents erected over the silos under construction to hide their inner workings from spy satellites.
Roads and other supporting infrastructure around the silos under construction gave researchers an idea of how big it could eventually get.
It is thought that China currently has about 20 silos loaded with an unknown number of missiles and warheads, in addition to about 100 mobile launch pads.
Researchers believe there are currently at least 250 silos under construction at various locations in China, tripling the number of missiles Beijing can handle simultaneously.
But since each missile can hold more than one warhead, the number of nuclear weapons China can fire could increase even more significantly.
In a report published last year, the Pentagon estimates that Beijing currently has access to a number of nuclear warheads somewhere in the “low 200.”
If China equips each of the new silos with its current DF-5 ballistic missiles, that could be increased to 415 warheads.
However, the newer DF-41 would allow Beijing to handle up to 875 nuclear warheads, researchers say.
That’s still far behind the US and Russia, which have stockpiles estimated to hold about 4,000 nuclear warheads each, but it’s a significant increase nonetheless.
It also marks a substantial tactical shift in the makeup of China’s arsenal, which today consists primarily of mobile road launchers, but will be dominated by silo rockets once the new locations are completed.
For decades, China has taken a moral approach to nuclear weapons — keeping a small stockpile, passing laws prohibiting the government from using them except for self-defense, and encouraging others to cut their own weapons.
It comes after a site with space for 120 silos was discovered earlier this month, suggesting a massive expansion of China’s nuclear arsenal is underway.
The sites were identified by conspicuous tents erected over the under-construction silos to hide their inner workings from satellites
Investigators are not sure why Xi Jinping’s regime has decided to ramp up its capabilities now, but have put forward several theories.
The first is that it is part of the large-scale update and expansion of the Chinese military as it takes an increasingly aggressive stance on the world stage and puts pressure on its authority in Hong Kong, the South China Sea and Taiwan.
Beijing has updated its tanks, guns, fighter jets, ships and nuclear weapons in recent years and may increase the size of its arsenal as a stance.
The second is that it plans to use the threat of expanding its arsenal as an expensive but potentially important bargaining chip in future nuclear weapons negotiations with the US and Russia.
Washington has demanded that China be added to the nuclear non-proliferation treaties it signed with Russia during the Cold War as those agreements expire.
It’s unclear what leverage the Americans plan to use to get China to the negotiating table, but it’s possible Beijing is stacking its handful of cards in anticipation of being forced to trade some of it away during the talks. .
The third is that Beijing is trying to increase the security of its pre-existing nuclear stockpile by giving itself options about where to place the missiles.
In the event of a nuclear war, one of the first things to be targeted will be a nation’s nuclear stockpile as enemies attempt to disable its ability to retaliate.
When a country only has a limited number of silos and one missile in each, opponents know exactly where to strike to take out their nuclear capabilities.
But by building hundreds of silos, only a few of which are filled with missiles, and regularly rotating which silos are in use, opponents are forced to play a guessing game about where missiles might be.
America and Russia are known to have used similar strategies to protect their own arsenals from strikes.