China rapidly expanding nuclear weapon stockpile

Without providing the world with any word of explanation, in the past five years, the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) of China reportedly has expanded the types and quantity of its nuclear weapon stockpile more than at any point in its history.

Indeed, last month, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists published its annual in-depth Nuclear Notebook.

The chapter entitled Chinese nuclear weapons, 2024, authored by Hans M Kristensen, Matt Korda, Eliana Johns and Mackenzie Knight, warned, “In all, China’s nuclear expansion is among the largest and most rapid modernization campaigns of the nine nuclear-armed states” in the world.

The chapter’s authors stated that in the past year, “China has continued to develop its three new missile silo fields for solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles [ICBM], expanded the construction of new silos for its liquid-fuel DF-5 ICBMs, has been developing new variants of ICBMs and advanced strategic delivery systems, and has likely produced excess warheads for eventual upload onto these systems once they are deployed.

China has also further expanded its dual-capable DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile [IRBM] force, which appears to have completely replaced the medium-range DF-21 in the nuclear role.”

For those advocating reductions in nuclear weapons, such figures make grim reading.

Apart from land-based truck-launched and silo-launched missiles, the PLA Navy is now carrying JL-3 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) on its six Types 094 nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines.

In the air, H-6 bombers of the PLA Air Force have been reassigned to an operational nuclear mission, plus there is continued development of an air-launched ballistic missile that likely has a nuclear capability.

This capacity will grow even more once the stealthy H-20 bomber is fielded.

Chinese military spokesmen have neither confirmed nor denied the expansion of the ICBM force, and the authors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists chapter on China acknowledged the opacity of the PLARF: “Analyzing and estimating China’s nuclear forces is a challenging endeavor, particularly given the relative lack of state-originating data and the tight control of messaging surrounding the country’s nuclear arsenal and doctrine.”

Beijing has never officially revealed warhead numbers, and its opacity regarding its nuclear capability is legendary.