NEW DELHI, India— China is constructing 120 new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos near the northwestern desert city of Yumen, indicating a significant increase in its nuclear forces and raising fears of a Taiwan-related conflict between China and the US.
According to a satellite imagery analysis by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (CNS/MIIS), construction of these silos began in March 2020, with major assembly occurring rapidly after February 2021, and are likely intended for China’s DF-41 ICBM, which is capable of carrying multiple warheads.
“If the silos under construction at other sites across China are added to the count, the total comes to 144 silos under construction,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the CNS/East MIIS’s Asia Nonproliferation Program, in a summary of the analysis on his blog, Arms Control Wonk. “We believe China is expanding its nuclear forces in part to maintain a deterrent capable of withstanding a US first strike and retaliating in large enough numbers to defeat US missile defenses.”
Lewis stated that he “leans strongly towards” the interpretation that China is possibly constructing a large number of silos in order to “complicate the ability of the United States” to target China’s ICBM force.
The Epoch Times said that the silos may be required to increase the survivability of China’s ICBMs, and that the Chinese may want some of these missiles to have the protection of underground tunnels with silos.
“They may also use rail or other [forms of transportation]—moving them around to increase survivability,” he said, adding that such approaches were used by the US and even the Soviets or Russians during the cold war.
“All of these reported events are a logical extension of a plan that China has been pushing for some time,” he explained.
In addition to the new silos in Yumen, there were reports of 16 new silos east of Jilantai, according to Hans Kristensen’s two-year satellite imagery analysis, which was published in February by the Federation of American Scientists.
Kunal Singh, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies nuclear weapons, told The Epoch Times in an email that the rise in silos indicates that the Chinese leadership is becoming more concerned about the possibility of a U.S.-China conflict in the coming years.
“Any such conflict can be limited, but it can also escalate even if none of the parties want it to,” Singh said. “China and the United States do not have nuclear parity. Far from parity, China is thought to have just enough nuclear warheads to threaten retaliation if the US strikes first. ”
According to Abhishek Darbey, a research associate at the New Delhi-based Centre for China Analysis and Strategy, the US has approximately 5,500 nuclear weapons and the Chinese have approximately 350.
“There is a huge gap,” Darbey said. Also, in terms of deployment, the US has nearly 1,376 nuclear weapons at any given time, while China has 50-70 ICBMs. ”
According to Singh, this parity indicates that China does not have a large number of backup forces, and building silos ensures that the US will have to waste many of its missiles on these silos if it ever decides to strike China first.
“These silos could absorb a large number of US missiles, and China hopes that this will keep mobile missiles safer,” Singh said.
“Essentially, the move appears to be motivated by a calculation that a U.S.-China conflict has become much more likely, and as a result, Beijing can not simply rest easy with its wafer-thin second-strike survivability.”
According to the CIA, the deployment of Trident II D5 missiles by the US Navy in the Pacific triggered China’s current development of its road-mobile solid-fuel ICBM force, according to Kristensen.
“This action-reaction dynamic is almost certainly a factor in China’s current modernization,” he says.
According to Chandrashekhar, by erecting more silos, China is sending a clear message to the rest of the world.
“The silos for DF 31 and DF 41 may simply be to ensure that China’s second-strike capability is improved and stated clearly… “Make it clear to everyone that they have the numbers and mobility to survive and retaliate,” he said, adding that all of these missiles are aimed at the United States.
Other missiles, located throughout China on mobile transporters, submarines, aircraft, and ships—along with several other platforms and weapons—address regional actors such as Japan, Guam, and Taiwan, “Chandrasekhar explained.
According to Kristensen’s report, the US Air Force has 450 silos, 400 of which are loaded.
According to Singh, if the silo buildup is in preparation for a possible conflict with the US, it raises concerns for regional US allies.
“Indirectly, if the silos are an indication that a conflict over Taiwan will occur sooner than expected, it raises a number of questions for Indo-Pacific countries like India, Japan, and Australia,” Singh said. “Each will have to decide what kind of role it will play in the lead-up to and during such a conflict.”
Darbey stated that US military activities have increased along China’s eastern coast, the Taiwan Strait, and the South China Sea. Almost every day, an American aircraft or ship is spotted near the Chinese coast.
According to him, such activities are usually followed by a Chinese military response and other diplomatic responses from the Chinese foreign ministry.
“These activities from either side are increasing in frequency and severity, and it has really put pressure on the Chinese Communist Party,” Darbey said. “The silos are actually intended to create a deterrent against the United States for any potential intervention in the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan, or China.”
In April of this year, the Biden administration also sent an unofficial delegation to Taiwan, which the Chinese regime objected to, claiming that it violated the bilateral agreement signed between the two sides. Darbey pointed out that the US also militarily supports Taiwan, which has always irritated the regime.
However, Chandrashekhar believes that the likelihood of any tense situation escalating into a hot war is extremely low.
“Small conflicts, tit-for-tat responses, particularly in the South and East China seas, saber-rattling, and a lot of media hype—all of this will happen,” he predicted. “Is it a direct war? Unlikely. “