Pentagon Estimates China Could Have Over 1,000 Nuclear Warheads By 2030

The Pentagon is estimating that China is rapidly expanding its nuclear force beyond its previous predictions last year, the Associated Press reported.

The expansion could be an effort by Beijing to match or surpass the United States' global military power. The Pentagon estimated that China could increase it nuclear missile count to 700 within six years, with the possibility of 1,000 by 2030. As a result, China could be attempting to establish a nuclear triad, which consists of land, sea and air-based missiles.

"The PLA's evolving capabilities and concepts continue to strengthen [China's] ability to 'fight and win wars' against a 'strong enemy,'" the report by the Pentagon states, "a likely euphemism for the United States."

The report says that the U.S. is making little progress with its plans to counter China's expansion. The Biden administration is expected to continue its plan to expand its military presence in Australia, which includes giving the nation nuclear-powered submarines.

The report also does not collect any data or information beyond December 2020, meaning that General Mark Milley's concerns regarding Chinese hypersonic weapons are not included.

"We are witnessing one of the largest shifts in global and geostrategic power that the world has witnessed," Milley told the Aspen Security Forum.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Mark Milley
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley stands for the national anthem during the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) change-of-command ceremony at SOUTHCOM headquarters in Doral, Florida, on October 29, 2021. Milley has previously discussed the potential dangers of China's hypersonic missiles. Photo by Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

The report did not say how many weapons China has today, but a year ago the Pentagon said the number was in the "low 200s" and was likely to double by the end of this decade.

The United States, by comparison, has 3,750 nuclear weapons and has no plans to increase. As recently as 2003 the U.S. total was about 10,000. The Biden administration is undertaking a comprehensive review of its nuclear policy and has not said how that might be influenced by its China concerns.

The report does not suggest open conflict with China but it fits an emerging U.S. narrative of a People's Liberation Army, as China calls its military, intent on challenging the United States in all domains of warfare—air, land, sea, space and cyberspace. Against that backdrop, U.S. defense officials have said they are increasingly wary of China's intentions with regard to the status of Taiwan.

China's military modernization is proceeding on a wide front, but its nuclear advances are especially notable.

Wednesday's report only referred to the widely known fact that China had fielded the DF-17 medium-range ballistic missile, equipped with a hypersonic glide vehicle designed to evade American missile defenses.

The Pentagon report said China is pursuing a network of overseas bases that "could interfere with" U.S. military operations and could support Chinese military operations against the United States. President Xi Jinping has said China plans to become a global military power by 2049.

The Pentagon's wide-ranging assessment of China's military strategy and force development is the latest in an annual series of reports to Congress and in some respects was more detailed than previous versions.

For example, it questioned China's compliance with international biological and chemical weapons agreements, citing studies conducted at military medical institutions that discussed identifying, testing and characterizing groups of "potent toxins" that have civilian as well as military uses.

The basis of the Pentagon's prediction that China will vastly increase its nuclear arsenal is not spelled out in Wednesday's report. A senior defense official who briefed reporters in advance of the report's public release, and thus spoke on condition of anonymity, said the forecast reflects several known developments, such as China's addition of a nuclear bomber capability, as well as public statements in Chinese official media that have made reference to China needing 1,000 nuclear weapons.

The report also asserted that China has begun construction of at least three new missile fields that "cumulatively contain hundreds" of underground silos from which ICBMs could be launched.

The report provided no details on the new missile fields, but private nuclear analysts have reported that satellite imagery shows what appear to be vast new missile silo fields under construction in north-central China. In an update published Tuesday, analysts Matt Korda and Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists said they have seen continued construction progress and have discovered "unique facilities that appear intended to support missile operations once the silo fields become operational."

One of those facilities, they said, is a complex in the mountains surrounded by what appear to be four tunnels into underground facilities. The tunnels are under construction and there are large amounts of excavated soil dumped nearby. This facility's function is unknown but "could potentially involve missile and/or warhead storage and management," the analysts said.

Other structures under construction may be technical service facilities and launch control centers, they said.

Chinese Military
The Pentagon estimated that China could increase it nuclear missile count to 700 within six years, with the possibility of 1,000 by 2030. Above, spectators wave Chinese flags as military vehicles carrying DF-41 ballistic missiles roll during a parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, in Beijing on October 1, 2019. AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File