China has begun construction of what independent experts say are 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, Calif., show work underway at scores of sites across a grid covering hundreds of square miles of arid terrain in 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. The construction boom suggests a major effort to bolster the credibility of China’s nuclear deterrent, said researcher Jeffrey Lewis, an expert on China’s nuclear arsenal and part of a team that analyzed the suspicious sites, first spotted by colleague Decker Eveleth as he scoured photos taken by commercial satellites over northwestern China. Lewis described the scale of the building spree as “incredible.”
“If the silos under construction at other sites across China are added to the count, the total comes to about 145 silos under construction,” Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, part of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said in a summary of his findings. “We believe 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.”
The discovery follows recent warnings by Pentagon officials about rapid advances in China’s nuclear capability. Adm. Charles Richard, who commands U.S. nuclear forces, said at a congressional hearing in April that a “breathtaking expansion” was underway in China, including an expanding arsenal of ICBMs and new mobile missile launchers that can be easily hidden from satellites. In addition, the Chinese navy has introduced new nuclear-weapons-capable submarines to its growing fleet.
John Supple, Defense Department spokesman, declined to comment on the satellite images or to discuss U.S. intelligence assessments of China’s nuclear program. But he noted “Defense Department leaders have testified and publicly spoken about China’s growing nuclear capabilities, which we expect to double or more over the next decade.”
Missile silos are easily spotted by trained imagery analysts, and they are vulnerable to destruction by precision-guided missiles in the early hours of a nuclear war. For those reasons, Lewis sees the silo construction project as part of an expanded deterrent strategy by a country whose nuclear arsenal is dwarfed by those of the United States and Russia, which collectively possess more than 11,000 nuclear warheads.
In February, Secretary of State Antony Blinken vowed in a statement that the Biden administration would “pursue arms control to reduce the dangers from China’s modern and growing nuclear arsenal.” He did not explain how that goal would be accomplished but said the administration would seek “effective arms control that enhances stability, transparency and predictability while reducing the risks of costly, dangerous arms races.”
Since the end of the Cold War, many have pushed to deescalate the nuclear arms race. However, with China expanding its arsenal, a new nuclear arms race could be on the horizon. Many have identified some of the judgments in the Book of Revelation sounding like nuclear fallout, so we could see how a rise in nuclear capabilities as moving closer to the Rapture and Great Tribulation.
The King is Coming