China’s nuclear arsenal grows in capability

15 December, 2020 | Ojasvi Chauhan

China World

China's People's Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF), in-charge of nuclear weapons, has been constantly upgrading and increasing its nuclear prowess.

The number of nuclear weapons owned by China has been increasing at a worrying pace, while not as large as that of the US or Russia (which number in the thousands for each), China still maintains a considerable arsenal of nuclear weapons. People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF), in-charge of nuclear weapons, has been constantly upgrading and increasing its nuclear prowess.

The newly developed DF-41 and DF-31AG intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which are capable of equipping nuclear warheads, were paraded in Beijing in October last year as a show of PLARF’s advancements.

The report submitted by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists called ‘Chinese Nuclear Forces’, written by Hans Kristensen and Matt Korda, described the current circumstances of PLARF. It said that China has been going along with the nuclear weapons modernisation program that it had launched in 1980. This program’s efforts had been spiked up during the 1990s and when 2000 began, resulting in China’s nuclear armaments becoming numerous and better in power.

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While no precise description can be given of China’s nuclear arsenal, Kristensen and Korda added their closest estimate of the quantity of China’s nuclear weapons. The estimate runs at approximately 350 nuclear warheads (which was 290 in the 2019 report), with around 272 of them designed to be used by over 240 different land-based ballistic missiles, 48 sea-based ballistic missiles and 20 nuclear gravity bombs to be dropped by bomber aircraft. The rest of the weapons are to be used by other missiles, both land-based and sea-based that have not yet been fully developed or deployed.

These estimates differ notably from those given by the US Department of Defense (DoD), which claims China’s nuclear arsenal to number around 200. The writers of the report did not oversee this, and stated that the estimate by the DoD is meant for the number of active Chinese nuclear warheads and might not take into consideration the number of nuclear weapons dropped by bomber aircraft. Thus, the report read that the DoD’s estimate is about equal to its own if these considerations are taken into account.

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