U.S. concerned about report on PRC expanding missile silos

U.S. concerned about report on PRC expanding missile silos

Voice of America News

United States researchers using commercial satellite imagery said the People’s Republic of China (PRC) appears to be significantly expanding the number of launch silos for its arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), raising fears that nuclear weapons will become a new issue of contention between Washington and Beijing.

Using images provided by the satellite imaging company Planet, two researchers from the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California, found that the PRC is building 119 silos in the desert of the northwestern province of Gansu.

Jeffrey Lewis, one of the researchers, said that development is likely for China’s DF-41 ICBM. With an estimated range of nearly 7,000 kilometers and possible capability to carry up to 10 warheads, the missiles can reach targets in the continental U.S., researchers believe.

“We believe China is expanding its nuclear forces in part to maintain a deterrent that can survive a U.S. first strike and retaliate in sufficient numbers to defeat U.S. missile defenses,” Lewis said in a summary of findings.

In response to the findings, the U.S. State Department expressed concern about the PRC’s rapid expansion of its nuclear capabilities.

“These reports and other developments suggest that the PRC’s nuclear arsenal will grow more quickly and to a higher level than perhaps previously anticipated,” U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a July 2021 briefing.

“It raises questions about the PRC’s intent. And for us, it reinforces the importance of pursuing practical measures to reduce nuclear risks,” he said. “We encourage Beijing to engage with us on practical measures to reduce the risks of destabilizing arms races — potentially destabilizing tensions.”

In 2020, the U.S. Department of Defense estimated that China had about 100 ICBMs and will double that number in the coming years.

The researchers said the 119 new silos are spread across approximately 1,800 square kilometers near Yumen, a city in Gansu province, with each spaced approximately 3 kilometers apart. Images show that construction began in March 2020, but most building was done since February 2021, “suggesting an extremely rapid pace of construction over the past few months,” the summary said.

Timothy Heath, a senior international and defense researcher for the policy research group the Rand Corp., said that the silos raise the credibility of China’s nuclear force.

“It shows China intends to expand its inventory of nuclear weapons,” he said. “This means China is raising the potential risk and cost of escalation in any conflict along China’s periphery.”