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Chinese Nuclear Capability Data

Updated January 21, 2009
Center for Defense Information

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Possible Delivery System

Year Deployed

Maximum Range (km)

Launcher Total

Warhead

Warhead Yield (kt)

Notes

SLBMs

JL-1

1986

1,000+

0

-

200-300

Never fully operational

JL-2

2009-10 (est.)

7,200+

0

-

200-300 (?)

Currently in development

Missiles

DF-3A

1971

3,100

17

-

3,300

Currently being replaced by the DF-4

DF-4

1980

5,400+

17

-

3,300

 

DF-5A

1981

13,000+

20

-

4,000-5,000

China's ICBM arsenal is expected to grow to 75-100 by 2015; the still-developing DF-31/A may replace it

DF-21

1991

2,100

55

-

200-300

Supplements the DF-4 fleet during transition from DF-3A

DF-31

2008

7,200+

 ~6

 -

200-300?

 

DF-31A

 2008

11,200+

 ~6

 -

200-300?

 

Aircraft

Hong-6 (NATO B-6)

1965

3,100

~20

-

3,100

Copy of Russian Tu-16 Badger

Qian-5 (A-5)

1972

-

?

-

-

Based on Russian MiG-19

Summary of Chinese Nuclear Forces:

Though the exact size of China’s nuclear arsenal is unknown, current best estimates are that China has about 176 warheads. The weapons are based on ICBMs and strategic bombers, with a naval component in development.

China has been modernizing its nuclear arsenal since the mid-1980s, apparently in hopes of reducing the vulnerability of its deterrent as the U.S., Russia, and India modernize their nuclear forces. China’s defense spending has been increasing rapidly – it announced a 19.47 percent increase from 2006 to 2007 – but the proportion committed to Chinese nuclear forces is unclear. While China ultimately aims to develop a robust “triad” of land-, air-, and sea-based nuclear platforms, it continues to struggle somewhat in fielding workable submarine components.

In the next decade, China’s nuclear modernization will most likely focus on the development of ballistic missiles; a 2008 Pentagon report concluded that “China has the most active ballistic missile program in the world.” Two new mobile solid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missiles, the medium-range DF-31 and the long-range DF-31A, have recently been deployed along with the DH-10 nuclear capable cruise missile. The DF-31A is believed to have a range of over 11,000 km and the DF-31 reportedly has a range of over 7,000 km.

In addition to the DF-31A, China’s long-range missile arsenal also includes the DF-5A, which has been deployed since 1981. It is unclear whether China intends to keep both missiles in service or to replace the DF-5A with the newer missile. The DF-5A is also China’s largest missile and would therefore be a good candidate for carrying multiple warheads. U.S. intelligence believes that China has the technical ability to deploy such multiple independent reentry vehicles (MIRVs) for its missiles but that it has not yet chosen to do so.

China’s medium-range missile arsenal includes 17 liquid-fuel DF-4s and 17 DF-3As, which will probably be phased out and replaced with the new DF-31 for regional targeting. The road-mobile DF-21 missiles and the new DH-10 nuclear-capable cruise missiles round out China’s regional targeting capabilities. China also destroyed one of its satellites in 2007 using a DF-21-launched interceptor, so it is possible some of the DF-21s have an anti-satellite mission.

The anti-satellite test, according to Beijing, was intended only for its own “pride and excitement” and not to start an arms race. While it is uncertain what China’s exact goals were with the test, it nonetheless provoked a strong international reaction and raised concerns about the intent of China’s space program and the thousands of pieces of orbital debris created by the test.

China’s sea-based deterrent currently consists of one Xia-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN). However, the sub is no longer considered operational and has apparently never actually sailed on a deterrent patrol. In addition, China’s only known submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), the JL-1, was never fully operational. The 2008 Pentagon report on Chinese military power did not even include the JL-1 on its list of Chinese missile forces.

To address these shortcomings, China appears to be building at least two and as many as four new Jin-class ballistic missile submarines. They will carry the JL-2, a medium range SLBM, which may have initial operating capability by 2009-10. However, given China’s almost total lack of experience operating SSBNs and its lack of success with its first SLBM program, further delays seem likely and the missile’s capabilities remain unclear.

China’s nuclear bomber force currently consists of 20 nuclear-configured Hong-6 (also called B-6) medium-range bombers (based on the Russian Tu-16 Badger) and an unknown number of similarly modified Qian-5 fighters. Due to technical problems, few of these aircraft have been deployed. According to the Chinese Military Power report, Beijing is upgrading its Hong-6 fleet to a new variation that will be capable of carrying an air-launched version of its new nuclear-capable cruise missile, the DH-10 (which also has a ground-launched version). The timeline for this upgrade is unclear.

Strategic Nuclear Weapons: ~176

Non-strategic Nuclear Weapons: -

Total Nuclear Weapons: ~240 (including ~65 warheads believed to be in storage)

Sources:

“China's National Defense in 2006,” Information Office of the State Council People's Republic of China, December 29, 2006, http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/china/doctrine/wp2006.html.

“Jump in Chinese Defense Spending,” BBC News, March 4, 2007.

Federation of American Scientists, “China Nuclear Forces Guide,” http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/china/nuke/index.html. (updated November 29, 2006)

Kristensen, Hans M., and Robert S. Norris, “Chinese Nuclear Forces,” Nuclear Notebook in Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, May-June 2006, 60-63, http://thebulletin.metapress.com/content/1w035m8u644p864u/fulltext.pdf.

Kristensen, Hans M., Robert S. Norris, and Matthew G. McKinzie, “Chinese Nuclear Forces and U.S. Nuclear War Planning,” The Federation of American Scientists and the Natural Resources Defense Council, November 2006, http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/china/Book2006.pdf.

Norris, Robert S. and Hans M. Kristensen, “Chinese Nuclear Forces, 2008,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July-August 2008.

Natural Resources Defense Council, “Table of Chinese Nuclear Forces, 2002,” November 25, 2002, http://www.nrdc.org/nuclear/nudb/datab17.asp.

Nuclear Information Project, “China’s Nuclear Missile Submarine Base,” February 16, 2006, http://www.nukestrat.com/china/subcave.htm.

Nuclear Threat Initiative, “Nuclear Delivery System Modernization,” http://www.nti.org/db/china/wdsmdat.htm. (updated September 26, 2003)

Office of the Secretary of Defense, Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2008, Annual Report to Congress, 2008, http://www.defenselink.mil/pubs/pdfs/China_Military_Report_08.pdf.

Saunders, Phillip. “China’s Strategic Force Modernization,” Institute for National Security Studies, National Defense University, 2005, http://www.ndu.edu/inss/Repository/INSS_Proceedings/Chinese_Military_Seminar_jan05/China_Force_Mod_Saunders_012005.pdf.

Shen, Dingli. “The Antisatellite Test: A View from China,” The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, February 12, 2007.

Spencer, Richard. “Chinese Missile Destroys Satellite in Space,” London Daily Telegraph, January 21, 2007.

Author(s): Brian Ellison, CDI.

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