China: New START-type report

The map shows strategic nuclear forces bases and other facilities that would be included in China’s New START-type data exchange report. Open a larger map or download Google Earth kmz file for China. For details, see discussion and a model data exchange document in A New START Model for Transparency in Nuclear Disarmament: Individual Country Reports

China’s nuclear arsenal is estimated to consist of approximately 180 weapons that could be assigned to various operational delivery systems. Currently, only China’s land-based ballistic missiles and nuclear-equipped aircraft are considered operational. The sea-based leg of China’s nuclear deterrent has not yet reached operational status. Additional warheads may be in reserve, comprising a total stockpile of about 240 warheads. China’s nuclear-capable land-based ballistic missile arsenal consists of approximately 130 missiles of six types: the DF-5A, DF-31, and DF-31A intercontinental-range missiles, and the DF-3A, DF-4, and DF-21 ballistic missiles of shorter range. China’s sea-based nuclear force consists of the JL-1 and JL-2 SLBMs. All of China’s ballistic missiles are believed to carry a single warhead although China is believed to be working on MIRV technology. China’s nuclear arsenal also includes a small number of weapons that could be delivered by air. The estimated breakdown of New START aggregate numbers for China as of 1 September 2012 is given in the following table.

Deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers 60 0 60
Warheads on deployed ICBMs, on deployed SLBMs, and nuclear warheads counted for deployed heavy bombers 0 0 0
Deployed and non-deployed launchers of ICBMs, deployed and non-deployed launchers of SLBMs, and deployed and non-deployed heavy bombers 70 39 109

For the purposes of reporting under the New START standard, only about 60 of China’s nuclear-capable land-based ballistic missiles would qualify as ICBMs. These include 20 DF-5A missiles and about 40 missiles of the DF-31 and DF-31A types, all of which have a range of over 5,500km.

It is important to note that China has its own system for categorizing missiles ranges, in which only missiles with a range of more than 8,000km are considered intercontinental. Also, in Chinese terminology, only missiles with a range of more than 1,000km are considered strategic. This illustrates the importance of the established common standard provided by New START.

This report assumes that the total number of ICBMs, as defined in New START, is about 60. Although the operational status of China’s ICBMs is not officially confirmed, it is reasonable to assume that all ICBMs are contained in their respective launchers. Therefore, all of China’s about 60 ICBMs are considered as deployed from the point of view of the New START definition.

Even though China’s ICBMs would be considered deployed, it is widely believed that during peacetime these missiles do not have warheads installed. China appears to store nuclear warheads in storage facilities separate from their delivery vehicles except in very rare cases in which individual warheads are uploaded for technical assessments. If this is the case, China would report zero deployed ICBM warheads in a New START-type data exchange.

A New START-type report would require an account of the total number of deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers. It would include the 60 launchers that contain deployed ICBMs. As for non-deployed ICBM launchers, China does not seem to have a significant number of silos or road-mobile launchers that could be used to launch an ICBM—according to the estimates of the US Department of Defense, each deployed ICBM is associated with one launcher. This suggests that the only non-deployed launchers are those that are used for training purposes or for missile tests. The exact number of these launchers is unknown, but it could be estimated that China has approximately 10 of them, corresponding to the number of missile bases. So, by New START methodology, the total number of China’s deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers is about 70.

Although New START does not limit non-deployed delivery systems and does not require reporting of the number of non-deployed missiles in the aggregate report, information about non-deployed missiles would be included in the detailed data exchange report. This would help address the claims that China may have a significant number of missiles that are located in clandestine facilities and could be deployed on short notice.6 New START reports maintain an account of all non-deployed delivery systems by including information about their locations and assigning them unique identification numbers that allow their movements to be tracked.

China’s SLBMs, the JL-1 and JL-2, could be deployed on the Xia-class and Jin-class submarines, respectively. However, none of the SLBMs would be considered deployed according to New START-type reporting. The single Xia-class submarine, which could carry 12 JL-1 SLBMs, has never achieved operational status, so it is believed that its launchers do not contain missiles. Therefore, neither the JL-1 SLBMs nor the launchers on the submarine would be considered deployed. However, the 12 launch tubes on the submarine would be counted towards the total number of SLBM launchers.

The exact status of the Jin-class submarines is unknown. It is estimated that two submarines are in operational service. A third submarine appears to be under construction. Each submarine could carry 12 JL-2 SLBMs, but by all indications the missile is not yet ready for deployment. Therefore, by New START methodology, China has 24 non-deployed launchers of JL-2 SLBMs and no deployed launchers or missiles.

The number of non-deployed SLBM launchers would also include three launchers on China’s Golf-class submarine that were used for test launches of JL-1 and JL-2 missiles.

None of China’s nuclear-capable aircraft would fall under the New START definition of a heavy bomber. China’s arsenal reportedly includes gravity bombs that can be delivered by the H-6 fighter– bomber. The gravity bombs could also be deployed on a more modern combat aircraft that is under development. However, neither of these aircraft would be considered a heavy bomber, since they have a range of less than 8,000km and are not equipped to carry long-range nuclear air-launched cruise missiles. China is developing an air-launched cruise missile with a range of more than 1,500km, but development has not been completed and it is not clear if that missile could be equipped with a nuclear warhead. Accordingly, in a New START-type report China would not have to declare any heavy bombers or warheads associated with them.