May 16, 2020

More On The Chinese and Their...(Checks Rolodex of Mayhem)...Nuclear Arsenal

So, the other day,  it was reported that Hu Xijin, the head editor of China's Global Times news outfit published an op-ed calling for a vast expansion of China's nuclear arsenal. He has since clarified this position with two follow up opinion pieces...and by clarified I mean doubled down. 

There are a couple of things to keep in mind here. The Global Times is in a weird place in the state approved news ecosystem. They are a subsiudiary of the official CCP mouthpiece the People's Daily and the staff are all party members in good standing, yet they seem to veer from the party line frequently as The Economist notes regarding their coverage of the situation with the Uighurs in Xianxing:. 

Even as Chinese spokesmen denied the (Uighur)] camps’ existence, the Global Times, in its English-language edition, acknowledged "counter-terrorism education” among Xinjiang residents and work to "rectify” the thinking of imprisoned extremists. Whether the way Xinjiang is run violates human rights "must be judged by whether its results safeguard the interests of the majority in the region”, said the Global Times in August. Its editor, Hu Xijin, tweeted that Xinjiang had been saved from becoming "another Chechnya, Syria or Libya”.

Thus it seems they publish the actual party line as opposed to the official party line and given their ownership and the party memberships of everyone on staff, it can be safely assumed that the Editor in Chief does not take a dump without it being approved in triplicate by the Politburo. (Which probably explains his blue check-mark).

China does this with riots. It's a police state, so if, say, Japanese businesses were to get burned down by an angry mob and the government says that it can't control its people's anger at the Japanese, well then the Chinese government is sending a message. 

And that's probably what's going on here. 

In recent week's there's been concern expressed about China's nuclear ambitions and the possibility they are conducting low level nuclear tests. China's nuclear stockpile is unknown but western intel agencies put it at 290 warheads of various sizes. That's less than France and anomalously low for a nation that, from its point of view, has to deter nuclear rivals and "frenimies" U.S., Russia, and India....and nominal allies, Pakistan and North Korea also border China, adding to their sense of serenity.  

How that rather small number is arrived at is unclear, but the western intel services seem to have a history of dismissing and underestimating China until recently as a matter of policy, and given the secrecy surrounding the program, and the accuracy our intelligence services have demonstrated over the last 30 years,  some caution is, therefore, advisable.  

Speaking of which, about a year ago the D.I.A. reported that it expected China to double its arsenal in the next few years

Both the U.S. and Russia have invited China into the ongoing arms control talks between the two countries, but China has demurred, Indeed China has little to gain by tipping its hand and opening itself up to inspection, and less to gain if it's acting in bad faith.  In fact, China is hypothesized by some to be pursuing a strategy of "Nuclear Thoughtlessness" which, frankly, are two words that ought not to be merged into a compound. 

But about that 290 warhead number: China has 6 operational SSBNs with two more on the way. Each carries 12 ballistic missiles. that's 72, and soon to be 96 missiles. The follow on class is reported to have 24 missile tubes but we won't count them for now. 96 missiles is over a third of all China's arsenal. But wait.These missiles are known from observations of China's missile tests to be capable of carrying at least three warheads.  Which....even using my simple liberal arts math (96 x 3 ) gives us 288 warheads out of an estimated 290, leaving two warheads to be shared amongst all the bombers and ICBMs and there are at least 20 of the DF-41 -ICBM's
For example, Fish said it is not known if each Second Artillery ICBM unit operates with six or twelve launchers, and it is likely that all units include one "reload" missile for each launcher.

"So it is possible that 12 to 24 DF-41 missiles would be included in a unit," he said, noting that if the DF-41 can carry up to 10 warheads, each unit may deploy with between 120 to 240 warheads.

This wild-mass guessing does not take into account bombers or any tactical nuclear weapons at all.. Note too that the US in the mid 1960s was fielding the UGM-73 Poseidon missile, which is smaller than China's JL-2/3 and carried up to 14 MIRVed warheads. This is not to say that is putting that many warheads on their SLBMs or that they are likely to, (Poseidon was to be launched from close to the U.S.S.R. and could trade range for a bigger payload ). However, we could do that 50 years ago and so it is probably best to assume that 1-3 warheads per missile is a very conservative estimate. 

Thus, whatever China's stockpile is now, 290 warheads does not even fill all of the missiles we know it has. 

The upshot of all this is that China is very likely either in possession of a much larger nuclear force than is generally credited to it or is rapidly building up to that goal. 

When this virus situation resolves itself, I suggest everyone keep those beans and rice stocked up. 

To help you, gentle reader, visualize the implications of all this, here's some cool Chinese nuclear test footage.

 There's an extensive disquisition on the history, policy and general inscrutability of the Chinese nuclear forces here

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 06:07 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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