According to a study of China's nuclear forces conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC),
"Our best estimate is that China maintains an arsenal of about 400 warheads of two basic categories, some 250 "strategic" weapons structured in a "triad" of land-based missiles, bombers, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The emphasis of China's arsenal is primarily on the land-based missile leg of the triad. Additionally, China is thought to possess about 150 "tactical" weapons, made up of some or all of the following: low yield bombs for tactical bombardment, artillery shells, atomic demolition munitions, and possibly short range missiles."
Chinese nuclear forces are estimated to be deployed at about 20 locations and are under the control of the Central Military Commission (CMC). While China is believed to have 250 strategic nuclear weapons, only about 20 of these are deployed on missiles capable of traveling intercontinental distances; 100 are thought to be deployed on missiles and bombers with ranges from 1,800 to 4,750 kilometers. To date, China has not officially acknowledged its possession of tactical nuclear weapons and China has not discussed the qualitative or quantitative state of its nuclear arsenal.
China has six types of operational land based nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, the DF-5/5A, DF-4, DF-3A, DF-21/21X, the DF-15, and the DF-11. China has 40 DF-3 missile launchers deployed at Jianshui, Kunming, Yidu, Tonghua, Dengshahe and Lianxiwang. However, these are being replaced by the DF-21 at the Tonghua, Jianshui and Lianxiwang sites. The DF-4 is a longer range missile deployed at Da Qaidam, Delingha, Sundian, Tongdao, and Xiao Qaidam. The DF-5A, China's longest range missile, is capable of striking targets throughout the continental United States. 18-26 of these DF-5A missiles are deployed in silos and caves at Luoning and Xuanhua. It is not currently known exactly where the DF-15 and DF-11 missiles are deployed. The new DF-31 has reportedly been deployed in southern China; there is no confirmation of this report. It is generally assumed that large numbers of ballistic missiles are deployed along the coastline in Fujian province in an effort to intimidate Taiwan.
China has only one type of operational submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM), the Julang-1 (JL-1). Twelve Julang-1 are deployed on China's single Xia-class ballistic missile nuclear submarine (SSBN). The warheads for the Julang-1 are believed to be stored at the Jianggezhuang Submarine Base. China is developing a longer range SLBM known as the JL-2 which is the sea-based version of the DF-31. The JL-2 has not yet been tested from any submarines.
China conducted its first nuclear test in 1964, tested its first hydrogen weapon in 1967, began series production of nuclear weapons in 1968 and initiated production of thermonuclear weapons in 1974. Robert Norris of the NRDC estimates that China has tested and deployed six nuclear warhead designs:
* a 20-40 kiloton (kT) fission gravity bomb
* a 20 kT missile warhead
* a 3+ megaton (MT) thermonuclear missile warhead
* a 4-5 MT warhead for the DF-5 ICBM
* a 3+ MT thermonuclear gravity bomb;
* a 200-300 kT warhead possibly for the for the DF-31 and DF-41 and JL-2 SLBM.
China may also possess low-yield fission warheads for tactical nuclear weapons. In addition, in July 1999, the Chinese government announced that in the early 1980s it had "mastered neutron bomb design technology," but Beijing did not indicate whether it had actually produced or deployed any neutron bombs. This statement about the neutron bomb was the first time that China had publicly discussed any of its military nuclear programs. China reportedly tested an experimental 1-5 kT enhanced radiation (neutron) warhead in September 1988; this step would seem to validate the recent Chinese statement about having developed a neutron bomb. China likely developed the neutron bomb to protect against the possibility of a large Soviet invasion of the mainland during the height of the Cold War.
Command and Control
Very little is known about China's chain of command for authority over nuclear weapons. It is believed that ultimate authority to use nuclear weapons rests with the Chairman of the Central Military Commission (currently Jiang Zemin) after top leaders have reached a consensus. A decision to use nuclear weapons may also require a consensus decision within the Central Military Commission and other senior military leaders. [Bates Gill and James Mulvenon, "The Chinese Strategic Rocket Forces: Transition To Credible Deterrence," unpublished study presented at China and Weapons of Mass Destruction, a seminar sponsored by the National Intelligence Council, November 1999.]
China is believed to store most of its nuclear warheads and bombs separate from its delivery vehicles and the warheads and bombs are only mated with the missiles or aircraft during launch preparations. In this sense, China's nuclear forces are not on alert. Also, China may have central storage locations for its missile warheads and gravity bombs which are accessible by a number of missile and bomber bases.
Only a few US government sources has discussed the size of China's nuclear arsenal. In the Pentagon's November 1997 report entitled, Proliferation: Threat and Response, the US Defense Department stated: China has over 100 nuclear warheads deployed operationally on ballistic missiles while additional warheads are in storage. In addition, a classified CIA study reportedly stated that 13 of China's 18 DF-5A ICBMs are targeted at the United States while the remaining five are targeted at countries closer to China. Yet, this targeting strategy may have changed after the US and China signed a "non-targeting agreement" in June 1998 in which each side promised not to target its missiles at the other.
As for future deployments, in testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on International Security, Proliferation, and Federal Services, National Intelligence Officer Robert Walpole stated, "By 2015, China will likely have tens of missiles targeted against the United States, having added a few tens of more survivable land- and sea-based mobile missiles with smaller nuclear warheads. . ." Another analyst, Ming Zhang, agrees. He writes that "Ten years down the road. . . the Chinese nuclear arsenal. . . may grow from today's 20 ICBMs (with warhead yields in the megaton range) to perhaps 50 or 100 ICBMs with multiple warheads with yields in the kilotons."