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Paul Crespo

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March 6, 2020


Voice of America / Public domain

China plans to at least double the size of its nuclear forces and stockpile by 2030, as it implements “the most rapid expansion and diversification of its nuclear arsenal in China’s history,” according to Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, the director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

As reported by Free Pressers, “These initiatives increase China’s ability to project power further from their mainland and support their aspirations to impose China’s will throughout the Indo-Pacific region,” Adm. Charles A. Richard, commander of U.S. Strategic Command told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 13.

“China and Russia are developing advanced capabilities to directly challenge our strengths across all domains,” Richard said, singling out Beijing for its large-scale nuclear force modernization.

Time reported that Gen. Ashley also accused both China and Russia last year of testing low-yield nuclear weapons in violation of the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. The growth of these tactical nukes by China and Russia prompted President Trump to develop the first U.S. low yield warhead in decades.

Meanwhile, Free Pressers notes, Adm. Richard questioned Beijing’s declared “no first use” nuclear policy — the claim that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will not use nuclear weapons first in a conflict. Chinese secrecy regarding its nuclear buildup and the expansion of the overall nuclear arsenal “bring [China‘s] motives and intent into question,” Richard said.

China, Adm. Richard added, is building a range of nuclear forces — ground-based missiles, missile submarines, and bombers — designed to deny foreign regional forces access to conduct operations in the Indo-Pacific region.

As China rushes to completely modernize its nuclear forces, it is nearly ready to field a so-called nuclear “triad” capable launching an attack from land, air, and sea — a capability Russia and the U.S. have had for decades. The PLA’s Air Force (PLAAF) newly reassigned nuclear mission and deployment of a new strategic stealth bomber would provide China with its first credible triad.

According to the National Interest, the new H-20 strategic stealth bomber is expected to have a maximum un-refueled combat radius exceeding 5,000 miles and payload between China’s older H-6 bomber’s ten tons and the U.S. B-2 stealth bomber’s twenty-three tons.

The H-20 will be able to strike targets beyond the “second island ring” (which includes U.S. bases in Japan, Guam, the Philippines, etc.) from mainland China. The third island chain extends to Hawaii and coastal Australia.

The Trump administration points to this aggressive Chinese nuclear expansion as justification for its focus on modernizing U.S. nuclear forces, and as proof of China’s emergence as a great power, and why China must be included in future arms control conversations, not just limit agreements to the U.S. and Russia.

Paul Crespo is a defense and national security expert. He served as a Marine Corps officer and as a military attaché with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) at US embassies worldwide. He holds degrees from Georgetown, London, and Cambridge Universities. Paul is also CEO of SPECTRE Global Risk, a security advisory firm, and a Contributor to American Defense News.