China has begun construction of more than 100 new silos for intercontinental ballistic missiles in a desert near the northwestern city of Yumen, a building spree that could signal 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 underway at scores of sites across a grid covering hundreds of square miles of arid terrain in the northwestern city of Yumen, China’s Gansu province. The 119 nearly identical construction sites contain features that mirror those seen at existing launch facilities for China’s arsenal of nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles. The acquisition of more than 100 new missile silos, if completed, would represent a historic shift for China, a country that is believed to possess a relatively modest stockpile of 250 to 350 nuclear weapons, only about 1/20th of what the US currently has. The actual number of new missiles intended for those silos is unknown. If the silos under construction at other sites across China are added to the count, the total comes to about 145 silos under construction.
The construction boom suggests a major effort to bolster the credibility of China’s nuclear deterrent. It is believed that China is expanding its nuclear forces in part to maintain a deterrent that can survive a U.S. first strike in sufficient numbers to defeat U.S. missile defenses.