China is building a second base for nuclear missiles, according to the Federation of American Scientists.
The United States-based researchers made the discovery after analysing commercial satellite images, and said that the field – located near the city of Hami in Xinjiang province – may eventually include about 110 silos.
The number marks a significant increase, they said, given that China has for decades operated only 20 silos for its liquid fuel Df-5 Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM).
“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,” they wrote. “The Chinese missile silo program constitutes the most extensive silo construction since the US and Soviet missile silo construction during the Cold War.”
However, they stressed that it was unclear how China would operate the new silos, whether it would load all of them with missiles or use a portion as empty decoys. They also noted it was not known how many warheads each missile would carry.
Korda and Kristensen said, the new silos could allow China to double or triple its nuclear warhead stockpile, which most experts say numbers between 250 and 350 warheads under Beijing’s “minimum deterrent” policy.
Meanwhile, Chinese state-owned outlet Global Times said that some people in China have suggested those silos claimed by the US might be foundations of wind power plants. It added that US media and relevant institutes hype China’s “silos” to increase pressure on Beijing to change its behaviour and to provide “more reason for the US to upgrade its nuclear arsenal”.
“However, Washington needs to be clear that in an era when China’s economic and technological capabilities are abundant, the US’ implementation of a policy with strong pressure and the resulting increased risk of a China-US strategic collision will inevitably bring a sense of urgency for China to intensify the building of its nuclear deterrent.”
Meanwhile US Central Command said that this was an obvious discovery that China was building more silos.
Still, It should be emphasized that it is unknown how China will operate the new silos and how many warheads each missile will carry.
Regardless, the silo construction represents a significant increase of the Chinese arsenal, which the Federation of American Scientists currently estimates includes approximately 350 nuclear warheads.
The Pentagon stated last year that China had “an operational nuclear warhead stockpile in low-200s,” and STRATCOM commander Adm. Charles Richard said early this year that “China’s nuclear weapons stockpile is expected to double (if not triple or quadruple) over the next decade.” The new silos could allow China to accomplish this goal, if it is indeed the goal.