According to independent experts, China has begun construction of what they say are more than 100 new silos for ICBMs in a desert near the northwestern city of Yumen. According to them, this is a wave of construction that could indicate a major expansion of Beijing’s nuclear capabilities. Commercial satellite images obtained by researchers at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California, show work in progress at dozens of sites on a grid spanning hundreds of square kilometers of arid terrain in China’s Gansu province.
The 119 nearly identical construction sites contain features that mirror those seen in the existing launch facilities for China’s nuclear-tipped ballistic missile arsenal. The acquisition of more than 100 new missile silos, if completed, would represent a historic change for China. The number of these silos under construction suggests a great effort to bolster the credibility of China’s nuclear deterrent, said researcher Jeffrey Lewis, an expert on China’s nuclear arsenal. Lewis described the scale of the buildings as “incredible.”
China expands its nuclear forces
“If you add elevators under construction at other sites in China, the total increases to about 145 elevators under construction,” said Lewis, director of the East Asia non-proliferation program at the Center for Non-Proliferation Studies, part of Middlebury. Institute International Studies, in a summary of its findings sent to the Washington Post. “We believe that China is expanding its nuclear forces in part to maintain a deterrent force that can survive a first US strike in sufficient numbers to defeat US missile defenses,” he said.
The discovery follows recent warnings from Pentagon officials about the rapid progress of China’s nuclear capability. Admiral Charles Richard, who commands the US nuclear forces, told a congressional hearing in April that an “impressive expansion” was underway in China, including a growing arsenal of ICBMs and new mobile missile launchers that can easily hide from satellites. A spokesman for the Chinese Defense Ministry declined to comment on the satellite images or discuss US intelligence assessments of China’s nuclear program.