By Christine Kucia
Reinforcing recent intelligence reports on China’s strategic weapons development, the Pentagon released a report July 19 indicating that China is upgrading its nuclear forces and will increase the number of ICBMs that could be targeted at the United States.
Mandated by Congress in the 2000 National Defense Authorization Act, the Annual Report on the Military Power of the People’s Republic of China notes that China’s strategic weapons modernization “is improving its force, both qualitatively and quantitatively, in all classes of missiles.”
According to the report, China’s nuclear arsenal development could significantly bolster the number of Chinese ICBMs deployed by the end of the decade. Currently possessing around 20 ICBMs that could target the United States, China might have as many as 60 such ICBMs by 2010, the paper says. The Pentagon report is consistent with projections from other parts of the intelligence community.
In addition, China might enhance its nuclear deterrent by equipping some of its CSS-4 Mod 1 missiles, liquid-fueled ICBMs capable of hitting the mainland United States, with multiple warheads. The Pentagon report speculates that this change in the Chinese nuclear force might take place in response to U.S. plans to develop a missile defense system. (The CSS-4 is also known as the DF-5A.
An earlier report from the CIA also pointed to an increased number of nuclear warheads capable of reaching the United States. The December 2001 National Intelligence Estimate suggested that the Chinese ballistic missile force could target 75-100 warheads at the United States by 2015—a goal that could be achieved with fewer than 75 ICBMs if China develops multiple-warhead missiles.
Modernization of China’s nuclear arsenal also will yield both modified and new weapons, the report said. The CSS-4 Mod 1 will be replaced starting in 2005 with the longer-range CSS-4 Mod 2. In addition, deployment of the solid-fueled DF-31 (also known as the CSS-X-9), a mobile missile that could reach Alaska, could begin by mid-decade. Modified versions of the DF-31, as an extended-range ICBM and as a submarine-launched missile, could be added to China’s arsenal by 2010.