Pentagon survey warns of rising Chinese nuclear capabilities

May 3, 2019

China is improving its nuclear arsenal and pursuing a “viable nuclear ‘triad’” as it seeks to emerge as the dominant power in the Indo-Pacific region, according to a new report issued Friday by the Pentagon.

The aircraft fleet of China’s armed forces is receiving a face-lift that includes two new air-launched ballistic missiles, according to the report, one of which may also contain a nuclear payload.

The upgrades signal a new push towards China’s military technological advancement, and its deployment would “for the first time, provide China with a viable nuclear ‘triad’ of delivery systems dispersed across land, sea, and air forces,” the Defense Department’s annual report on China’s military power warns.

Although the report refers to a “viable nuclear triad,” the department’s assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, Randall Schriver, was hesitant to declare that China has obtained a nuclear triad.

Mr. Schriver emphasized that the U.S. is “focused mostly on the destabilizing nature” of China’s capabilities, and “how we can adapt and respond to that environment.”

China’s nuclear arsenal currently consists of about 90 intercontinental ballistic missiles a fraction of those held by the U.S. and Russia and is in the process of developing more, according to the Pentagon. China is also working to expand its nuclear capabilities on land and in space.

The country’s armed forces is also working on space-based early warning systems that could spark a faster response to an enemy attack.

The Pentagon expects China to build a new guided-missile nuclear attack submarine that would improve its navy’s capabilities and “could provide a more clandestine land-attack option.”

The U.S. estimates that China spent over $200 billion on its military in 2018, higher than stated in its official budget. Although China’s nuclear arsenal may be limited, it is growing and “survivable,” the report says.

Concern also remains about the exact nature of China’s “no first use” policy on nuclear arms. President Trump, in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin Friday, said China ha expressed an interest in joining a new pact to limit the number of nuclear warheads, after the U.S. recently withdrew from a Cold War-era pact on tactical nuclear weapons that did not cover China or other countries.

The report states that the U.S. “will compete from a position of strength while encouraging China to cooperate with the United States on security issues where U.S. and Chinese interests align.”