Secretary of the Air Force Says He’s Seen Nothing ‘More Disturbing’ in 50-Year Career Than This Move by China

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told lawmakers Tuesday that China’s expansion of its nuclear arsenal is the most “disturbing” development he has seen in his 50-year military career.

Kendall made the statement during a hearing in front of the House Appropriations Committee. The Air Force secretary said China’s development into a top-level nuclear power is crucial. 

“I don’t think I’ve seen anything more disturbing in my career than the Chinese ongoing expansion of their nuclear force,” said Kendall to lawmakers.

“For decades, they were quite comfortable with an arsenal of a few hundred nuclear weapons, which was fairly clearly a second-strike capability to act as a deterrent,” stated Kendall. “That expansion that they’re undertaking puts us into a new world that we’ve never lived in before, where you have three powers — three great powers, essentially — with large arsenals of nuclear weapons.”

Kendall, who graduated in 1971 from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, argued that the United States needed to begin a dialogue with Russia and, more critically, China and stated that open lines of communication were crucial in preventing nuclear escalation during the Cold War. 

“Russia’s latest move on the New START treaty is not helping — it’s going in the wrong direction,” said Kendall. “Nobody wants a nuclear war. We do not want to go back to [the Cold War] world of 30 years ago. I thought we would never be in this position again, and here we are. So, we need to be wise. We really need to start talking to them.”

Late last year, China announced plans to more than triple its nuclear stockpile of warheads by 2035, according to a report from the Pentagon. The report, which was titled “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” assessed that China “probably” had expanded its nuclear program in 2021 and its stockpiles of nuclear weapons have “surpassed 400” warheads.

Kendall told lawmakers that despite China’s military gains, war is far from inevitable and emphasized that staying a step ahead of the country’s military capabilities remains the key to ultimate deterrence.

Dept. of Defense: China will have thousands of warheads by 2035 

“If China continues the pace of its nuclear expansion, it will likely field a stockpile of about 1,500 warheads by its 2035 timeline,” according to a Department of Defense assessment. 

Beijing aims to complete the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” by 2049 by modernizing socially, militarily, and politically under a three-step plan. The date is set to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the creation of the People’s Republic of China.

To achieve this goal, China is looking to boost the military’s capabilities to invade Taiwan by 2027, achieve “basically complete modernization” of its armed forces by 2035, and try to achieve a “world-class” military by 2049.

The government of China is also looking to integrate the civilian population into its reconstruction under a “Military-Civil Fusion” plan that the Pentagon report warned will integrate China’s defenses with its industrial and civilian technology sectors.