China is constructing more than 100 new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos in the desert near the city of Yumen, according to satellite images provided by experts to the Washington Post. It goes without saying that the construction indicates China is moving to expand its nuclear weapons capabilities.
On Wednesday, satellite pictures provided by Planet to researchers at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California showed 119 sites stretching across hundreds of miles in the China’s desert province of Gansu. They appear to resemble existing known ballistic missile launch facilities in the country.
The expansion of China’s nuclear capabilities follows the Pentagon’s warnings over China’s move to rival other nuclear-capable nations. Admiral Charles Richard, commander of the U.S. nuclear forces, said that a “breathtaking expansion” was taking place in China as it ramped up its production of ICBMs and missile launchers.
Many of the sites are hidden by dome-like coverings, a practice used in China to shelter military construction projects. In areas where the sites are not concealed, construction crews have been observed excavating circular-shaped pits typical of ICBM launch sites surrounding a control center. Construction of the sites began earlier this year.
According to Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, the silos are likely designed to hold a Chinese ICBM called the DF-41, which can deliver nuclear warheads exceeding targets at a range of 9,300 miles or nearly 15,000 kilometres.
The construction of the silos show a shift in China’s nuclear capabilities, which is estimated to possess between 250 to 350 nuclear weapons. However, the number of missiles China possesses could be smaller as many of the sites could be decoys.
“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 said in a summary provided to the Post. “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.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced in February that the Biden administration would “pursue arms control to reduce the dangers from China’s modern and growing nuclear arsenal.”
“The United States is committed to effective arms control that enhances stability, transparency and predictability while reducing the risks of costly, dangerous arms races,” he said.