The Defense Department’s most recent congressional report said China’s nuclear weapons program has passed 400 total warheads and is on track to triple that number over the next 15 years.
In the Pentagon’s recent assessment, officials warned China “probably” expanded its nuclear program over the past year and would “likely field a stockpile of about 1,500 warheads by its 2035 timeline.”
According to a senior defense official, “This is an accelerating trend. We see that with the buildout of the silo fields, the creation of a nuclear triad, what they’re doing with their sea bases and air components, and the silos and their” mobile land forces.
The defense department pointed out China’s uniqueness as direct competition for the United States over and past other enemies like North Korea, Russia, and Iran. It also noted cyberattacks and space as other crucial threats from Beijing.
“Beijing, Moscow, Tehran, and Pyongyang have demonstrated the capability and intent to advance their interests at the expense of the United States and its allies, despite the [Covid-19] pandemic,” stated the report.
The report continued, “China increasingly is a near-peer competitor, challenging the United States in multiple arenas – especially economically, militarily and technologically — and is pushing to change global norms.”
Defense officials argued that the Chinese Communist Party is gearing up to invade Taiwan by 2027 so China can achieve its “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” by 2049.
According to officials, the invasion is planned to be followed by a complete modernization of the military by 2035 and the achievement of a “world-class military” by 2049, which could include the fusion of civil and military sectors of the economy.
China’s army has around 975,000 active-duty military personnel and 340 submarines and ships, making it the largest navy in the world. Additionally, the country’s air force is the third largest.
A previous report, the Pentagon’s 2022 Nuclear Posture Review, aimed at China and Russia as the U.S. prepares to contend with two major nuclear-armed competitors for the first time in history.
U.S. has focused on repairing the existing stockpile
While Beijing and Moscow have been expanding and improving their ballistic and nuclear missile capabilities, the U.S. has focused on making repairs to its existing stockpile instead of developing new weapons to keep pace with China.
“At a time of rising nuclear risks, a partial refurbishment strategy no longer serves our interests,” said the document. “We must develop a field a balanced, flexible stockpile capable of [keeping up with] pacing threats, responding to uncertainty, and maintaining effectiveness.”
To do so effectively, the Pentagon has asked Congress for $34 billion in the 2023 budget request to modernize and maintain its nuclear forces.