The defence capabilities possessed by the US, Russia and India are among the main factors driving China to modernise its nuclear force and bolster its strategic strike capabilities, the Pentagon has said.
In a report to Congress detailing China’s nuclear power, Pentagon on Friday said the country was deploying new command, control and communications capabilities to its nuclear forces to improve control of multiple units in the field.
China, it said, insists that the new generation of mobile missiles, with warheads consisting of multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) and penetration aids, are intended to ensure the viability of its strategic deterrent in the face of continued advances in the US and, to a lesser extent, Russian strategic ISR (Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance), precision strike, and missile defence capabilities.
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“Similarly, India’s nuclear force is additional driver behind China’s nuclear force modernisation,” the Pentagon said in its report.
Through the use of improved communication links, ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) units now have better access to battlefield information and uninterrupted communications connecting all command echelons, the report said.
According to the Pentagon, China is working on a range of technologies to attempt to counter the US and other countries’ ballistic missile defence systems, including manoeuvrable re-entry vehicles (MaRVs), MIRVs, decoys, chaff, jamming, and thermal shielding.
China has acknowledged that it tested a hypersonic glide vehicle in 2014. The country’s official media also cited numerous PLASAF (Peoples Liberation Army Second Artillery Force) training exercises featuring manoeuvre, camouflage, and launch operations under simulated combat conditions, which are intended to increase survivability, it said.
Together with the increased mobility and survivability of the new generation of missiles, these technologies and training enhancements strengthen China’s nuclear force and bolster its strategic strike capabilities.
China’s nuclear arsenal currently consists of approximately 75-100 ICBMs, including the silo-based CSS-4 Mod 2 (DF-5A) and Mod 3(DF-5B), the solid-fueled, road-mobile CSS-10 Mod 1 and Mod 2 (DF-31 and DF-31A), and the more-limited-range CSS-3 (DF-4).
This force is complemented by road-mobile, solid-fueled CSS-5 Mod 6 (DF-21) MRBM for regional deterrence missions. Pentagon said China’s nuclear weapons policy prioritises maintaining a nuclear force able to survive an attack and to respond with sufficient strength to inflict unacceptable damage on an enemy.
“Further increases in the number of mobile ICBMs and the beginning of SSBN deterrence patrols will force the PLA to implement more sophisticated C2 systems and processes that safeguard the integrity of nuclear release authority for a larger, more dispersed force,” it said.
The Pentagon said China continues to produce the JIN-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), with four commissioned and another under construction.
The JIN will eventually carry the CSS-NX-14 (JL-2) SLBM (submarine-launched ballistic missile) with an estimated range of 7,200 km. Together these will give the PLAN its first credible long-range sea-based nuclear capability. JIN SSBNs based at Hainan Island in the South China Sea would then be able to conduct nuclear deterrence patrols, it said.