Publication: Paper Tigers: China’s Nuclear Posture
05 December 2014
Since 1964, China has relied on a nuclear deterrent of land-based ballistic missiles deployed with the Second Artillery Corps, a rough equivalent to Russia’s Strategic Rocket Forces. No air-force units are believed to have a primary nuclear mission and China’s new generation of ballistic-missile submarines (SSBN) is not yet operational. China is also deploying a variety of new short-range ballistic missiles, as well as ground- and air-launched cruise missiles, but these appear conventionally armed.
From the late 1950s, China sought to develop long-range ballistic missiles to deliver a planned arsenal of multi-megatonne fusion warheads. The 1958 Guidance on the Development of Nuclear Weapons emphasised thermonuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles, twin goals described as ‘sophisticated weapons’. Nevertheless, China did not deploy a significant number of nuclear-armed ballistic missiles until the mid-1970s, and did not deploy either the DF-4 or DF-5 ICBM in any significant number until the late 1980s.
Today, according to the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s annual report to Congress on military and security developments, China deploys approximately 50–75 nuclear-armed ICBMs, as well as a force of nuclear-armed intermediate- and medium-range ballistic missiles.<