Tuesday, February 7, 2023

China Has More ICBM Launchers Than U.S., American Military Reports

Great. *Eye-roll.*

At the Wall Street Journal, "While the U.S. leads in intercontinental missiles and warheads, China’s gains are fueling debate in Congress":

The U.S. military has notified Congress that China now has more land-based intercontinental-range missile launchers than the U.S., fueling the debate about how Washington should respond to Beijing’s nuclear buildup.

“The number of land-based fixed and mobile ICBM launchers in China exceeds the number of ICBM launchers in the United States,” the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees nuclear forces, wrote the Senate’s and House’s Armed Services Committees on Jan. 26.

The notification comes as the U.S. is facing the challenge of deterring Russia’s substantial nuclear forces as well as China’s growing nuclear arsenal. U.S. lawmakers are involved in an increasingly heated debate about how best to counter Beijing, including the Pentagon’s response to the Chinese surveillance balloon that recently traversed the U.S. and hovered over Montana, where a portion of the American military’s ICBM arsenal is deployed.

The U.S., which is modernizing all three legs of its land, sea and air based nuclear arsenal, has a much larger nuclear force than China.

Many of China’s land-based launchers still consist of empty silos, according to U.S. officials and experts outside government. The Strategic Command also notified Congress that the U.S. has more intercontinental-range missiles based on land, and more nuclear warheads mounted on those missiles, than China.

The command’s notifications also don’t include submarine-launched missiles and long-range bombers, where the U.S. has a decided advantage, U.S. officials say.

Republican lawmakers, however, have cited the ICBM launchers as a portent of the scale of China’s longer-range ambitions and are urging the U.S. to expand its own nuclear forces to counter the Russian and Chinese forces.

“China is rapidly approaching parity with the United States,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, the Alabama Republican who chairs the House Armed Services Committee. “We cannot allow that to happen. The time for us to adjust our force posture and increase capabilities to meet this threat is now.”

Mr. Rogers said that limits on long-range forces set by a treaty between the U.S. and Russia, known as New START, are inhibiting the U.S. from building up its arsenal to deter Russia and China. That accord, which China isn’t party to, is set to expire in 2026.

Arms-control proponents say rather than trying to surpass China’s and Russia’s nuclear forces, the U.S. has more to gain by trying to preserve treaty limits with Russia and by attempting to draw Beijing into a discussion of nuclear-arms control.

They also note that the U.S. is undergoing a major modernization of its nuclear forces that will give Washington the option of adding more warheads to its missiles and bombers should China’s buildup proceed faster than anticipated in the 2030s.

“It’s in our national interest to keep the Russians under the New START limits. We need to complete our nuclear modernization according to plan, not pile on new requirements,” said Rose Gottemoeller of Stanford University, who negotiated the landmark treaty for the U.S.

Mr. Rogers raised the notification Tuesday morning at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on China and U.S. national defense, which focused mostly on Taiwan, the recent incursion by a Chinese surveillance balloon and other concerns.

The Biden administration has acknowledged that the challenges posed by nuclear-armed adversaries are complex and wants the U.S. to deal with them using a mix of arms control arrangements and upgraded nuclear forces.

“By the 2030s the United States will, for the first time in its history, face two major nuclear powers as strategic competitors and potential adversaries,” the Pentagon said in a policy document known as the Nuclear Posture Review last year.

An immediate challenge for the administration is preserving the New START treaty. The Biden administration said last week that Moscow is violating the accord by refusing to allow on-site inspections. Russian officials said Moscow is still adhering to the limits on warheads, missiles, bombers and launchers.

China, which has rejected arms-control talks with the U.S., is on track to field about 1,500 nuclear warheads by 2035, up from an estimated operational stockpile of more than 400 in 2021, according to a Pentagon report that was released last year.

China’s nuclear buildup has raised concerns that it might use the threat of nuclear escalation to dissuade Washington from rushing to aid Taiwan during a crisis. The U.S. has refrained from providing Ukraine with long-range weapons or sending U.S. forces to the country because it wants to avoid a direct clash with a nuclear-armed Russia.

The growth in China’s nuclear forces also raises the risk that any potential conventional conflict between Beijing and Washington could become a nuclear one, though the Pentagon has said that a military confrontation over Taiwan doesn’t appear imminent. China operates a fleet of mobile ICBM launchers and has about 20 liquid-fueled, silo-based missiles. It is also building three ICBM silo fields that are intended to house at least 300 modern solid-fueled missiles, the Pentagon says.

Researchers have debated whether China plans to fill all of the silos with nuclear-tipped ICBMs, whether some might be left empty or whether some might be filled with conventionally armed systems.

Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists said commercial satellite images of the Chinese silo fields provide no indication that China’s military has been training to load the new silos with ICBMs or conducting exercises at the silo fields...