Yet the total is still a fraction of America’s and Russia’s stockpiles.
Visitors tour past Chinese military vehicles carrying the Dong Feng 41 and DF-17 ballistic missiles at an exhibition in Beijing, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022. | Andy Wong/AP Photo
11/29/2022 11:53 AM EST
China is continuing to steadily expand its nuclear arsenal and could have 1,500 warheads by 2035, according to a new Defense Department study released on Tuesday.
Beijing’s current nuclear stockpile has surpassed 400 warheads, the Pentagon warned in its annual report to Congress on China’s military might. By 2035, officials expect the People’s Liberation Army to complete the modernization of its military forces.
The latest numbers show that China is on pace with the recent Pentagon estimates, according to a senior DoD official, who requested anonymity to discuss the report ahead of its release. As of January, the independent Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimated that China had 350 nuclear warheads; last year, DoD estimated that China would reach 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030.
While the latest report does not reflect an acceleration from last year’s pace of growth, China’s nuclear buildup over the past few years is a “dramatic acceleration” from the mid-2000s, the official said.
“This is an accelerating trend,” the official said. “We see that with the buildout of the silo fields, the creation of a nuclear triad, what they’re doing with their sea bases and air components as well as the silos and their land mobile forces.”
Beijing’s arsenal is still a fraction of the size of Russia’s and the United States’, which together account for 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. As of January, Russia led the pack with 5,977 nuclear warheads; the United States was a close second with 5,428, according to SIPRI.
Washington’s and Moscow’s nuclear forces are limited by the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which the two countries agreed in 2021 to extend for five years. Russia on Monday postponed scheduled arms control talks with the United States set to take place this week in Cairo, with neither side giving a reason.
But China has refused to join the talks, arguing that Russia’s and the United States’ arsenals are much larger than its own and the two nuclear superpowers’ have primary responsibility for arms control. But Beijing’s expansion “raises some questions about their intent,” the senior DoD official said.