Scientists discover a massive field of nuclear silos in China, signaling a significant nuclear expansion in the country
China may have built up to 110 nuclear silos, reported The New York Times.
Researchers believe the new silos could potentially carry more than 875 warheads.
China is the world’s third-largest nuclear power, but its arsenal is still dwarfed by the US and Russia.
China is constructing a network of nuclear silos that could house up to 110 silos on a desert in the country’s remote eastern Xinjiang province, according to scientists from the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), a non-profit global think tank.
As first reported by The New York Times on Monday, scientists said construction likely began around March of this year. Using satellite images from geospatial data company Planet, they have discovered at least 14 silos and grounds cleared to build another 19. Judging from the network grid, it could house as many as 110 silos.
These underground silos are typically used to house Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) – long-range missiles designed for nuclear weapons delivery.
The latest revelation follows a separate discovery of 119 silos under construction near Yumen in China’s northwest Gansu province last month, the Washington Post reported, using satellite images from the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Monterey.
“The silo construction at Yumen and Hami constitutes the most significant expansion of the Chinese nuclear arsenal ever,” FAS researchers Matt Korda and Hans M. Kristensen wrote in their study.
Chinese nuclear experts, however, dismissed the Washington Post’s report on the discovery of a nuclear base under construction, with Song Zhongping, a former People’s Liberation Army instructor, saying nuclear silos are outdated, according to the South China Morning Post.
Without dismissing China’s possible plans for nuclear expansion, Song said: “China has already used mobile launchers and discarded these fixed silos, which are time-consuming, labor-intensive, costly and vulnerable to be attacked and destroyed.”
If these are all loaded with missiles, “Chinese ICBMs could potentially carry more than 875 warheads (assuming three warheads per missile) when the Yumen and Hami missile silo fields are completed,” up from the existing approximate 185 warheads it has, researchers wrote in the FAS study.
Responding to Insider in an email, Kristensen, also director of the Nuclear Information Project at the FAS, agreed that silos are vulnerable because they are stationary and can be easily attacked. But he added that attacks could also be detected, and a “solution” is to “build a missile that can react fast enough to get out of the silo before it is destroyed.”
When asked if silos are considered outdated technology, Kristensen said: “Today, some of the most modern missiles are actually deployed in silos, so it is by no means considered old.”
It is unlikely that even with its latest expansion, China will compete with nuclear superpowers like Russia and the US. According to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, China has 350 nuclear weapons, lagging far behind Russia’s 6,225 and the 5,550 built by the United States.
And even “when the current modernization is complete,” FAS researcher Hans Kristensen told Insider, it’s unlikely China will be able to catch up.
Kristensen also cautioned that there remain many unanswered questions, such as the number and type of missiles deployed from the silos. And more fundamentally, “why the Chinese are building these silos” now.
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