The Pentagon is inflating the Chinese nuclear threat in a push for new ICBMs


As every year, the Department of Defense will attempt to force Congress to increase its budget by drawing attention to the serious threats to US security from its foreign opponents. This usually harbors a whole range of such dangers, ranging from a variety of nation-state opponents to non-state actors such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda. This year, however, the Pentagon’s funding calls are focused almost entirely on one threat: the People’s Republic of China. Sensing that a majority in Congress – Democrats as well as Republicans – want to show their determination to blunt China’s rise, senior officials shape the military budget largely around preparing for a possible conflict with the country. “The department will prioritize China as our greatest challenge on pace and develop the right operational concepts, skills and plans to strengthen deterrence and maintain our competitive advantage,” said Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on March 4th.

From the Pentagon’s point of view, this means presenting every budget item – from army tanks and naval ships to air force jets and ballistic missiles – in terms of their usefulness in the fight against the Chinese military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Every US military service is looking for more money than before (as always), and everyone is promoting the importance of your Weapons to overcome the Chinese military threat. But this year, after a series of rising budgets during the Trump administration, defense funds are expected to remain unchanged (at a whopping $ 715 billion), meaning any increase in spending on a particular weapon system – be it a large warship or aircraft, or missile – will likely come at the expense of the growth of others. The result, not surprisingly, is a competition between services to increase the vital importance of their favorite projects in overcoming the PLA.

This means we can expect to be bombarded with propaganda from the Pentagon and industry about China’s growing air and naval capabilities – which is said to require hundreds of billions of dollars in additional spending on new fighter jets, submarines, and surface ships. Although China’s military capabilities are still far behind those of the U.S. armed forces in terms of their technical capabilities – China’s two aircraft carriers, for example, can only launch about a dozen fighter jets compared to the 75+ used on America’s 11 aircraft carriers – but those PLA has nonetheless acquired many new ships and aircraft, so U.S. arms promoters can cite some real data when making their claims about growing Chinese military power. “The PRC maintains the largest naval force in the world, the size of which has tripled in the past two decades,” said Admiral Philip S. Richardson on March 21 (without revealing that most of these ships are insignificant coastal frigates in conflict are). with the US Navy). However, such claims are difficult to justify for those in favor of increasing US nuclear forces, and they are forced to make wildly exaggerated claims about China’s nuclear capabilities.

This is a particularly critical year for America’s nuclear weapons booster as plans to modernize the US strategic “triad” – land-based ICBMs (ICBMs), sea-based ballistic missiles (SLBMs) ​​and their anti-submarine platforms, and range bombers – are all aimed at Research and development phase move into series production. For a new bomber, the B-21 Raider, and for a new SLBM-bearing submarine, the Columbia Great, and now the Pentagon is about to begin work on a new ICBM, which it is calling, in its typically disguised way, Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, or GBSD. The cost of the new ICBM is currently estimated at $ 100 billion ($ 10 billion more than a few years ago) and is sure to rise in the coming years if Congress approves mass production.

While nuclear modernization enjoys strong support in Congress, questions have been raised about the need for the GBSD, particularly given competition for funding from other preferred programs such as the F-35 fighter and the Los AngelesClass attack submarine and the fact that there is an alternative to overtaking the Pentagon’s existing fleet of 400 Minuteman III ICBMs. Some in Congress have also suggested that land-based missiles would be very vulnerable in the event of an enemy pre-emptive strike, and that the nation, with its undetectable fleet of missile-carrying submarines, is more than adequate deterrent to such attacks. For example, Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Rep. Ro Khanna of California introduced the Investing in Cures Before Missiles (ICBM) Act, which diverts funds from GBSD procurement to develop a universal coronavirus vaccine while extending the life of Minuteman missiles would . “With all the global challenges we face,” said Khanna, “the last thing we should do is give defense companies billions to build missiles that we don’t have to keep as a powerful nuclear deterrent.”

In response to these challenges, the nuclear lobby has done everything it can to propagate the threat posed by China’s nuclear capacities, even if they barely match that of the United States or its main nuclear adversary, the Russian Federation. According to the latest (and most authoritative) data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, China has a total of 320 nuclear warheads – none of which are currently used on its ICBMs, SLBMs or bombers. For comparison, Russia has 6,375 warheads in stock, 1,575 of which are currently deployed on weapon systems, and the United States has 5,800 warheads, 1,750 of which are deployed. China is slated to increase the size of its nuclear stocks, in part because it is replacing some older single-warhead ICBMs with newer multi-warhead versions, but its progress in that direction has been slow and neither inside nor outside government analysts forecast an increase, which will bring the Chinese arsenal close to that of Russia and the United States.

nOne of them has deterred senior Pentagon officials from warning of a huge and growing nuclear threat from China. “Behind a complete lack of transparency,” said General Charles A. Richard, commander of the US Strategic Command, on April 20 before the Senate Armed Forces Committee – mobile production, doubling the number of launchers in some ICBM brigades, stationing silos for potentially large-scale solid fuel ICBMs, an additional air gap, and are way ahead of the pace needed to double their nuclear stocks by the end of the decade. ”

These developments seem worrying, but upon closer inspection, each turns out to be far less frightening than it originally appeared. According to the latest assessment by Hans Kristensen and Matt Korda of the Federation of American Scientists, China currently has only 20 silo-based DF-5 ICBMs that can reach the continental United States, as well as 72 street-mobile DF-31 ICBMs that are capable strikingly perhaps half of this country. China has developed a solid-fuel replacement for these two missiles for decades, the DF-41, but while some DF-41s have been flight-tested and shown in parades, none are known to have been used in active service. In summary it can be said that there has been no significant increase in the number of Chinese ICBMs and no indications of “large” ICBM production.

As Kristensen and Korda note, China has worked slowly and methodically to acquire a true triad of nuclear delivery systems, but its progress toward that goal has been remarkably slow. It now owns six 094 nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines, each carrying 12 JL-2 SSBNs (nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines) that can reach Alaska and Hawaii, but not the continental United States. Only four of these submarines are currently in service and there is little evidence that they were ever equipped with nuclear warheads during operational patrols. The Chinese are believed to be building a more advanced submarine, the Type 096, along with an extended range SSBN, the JL-3, but work on these is slow. On the aircraft side, China is believed to be developing a variant of its H-6 bomber to carry a nuclear-armed cruise missile – the “extra airway” Richard referred to – but again, it will be years System it can be ready for use. After all, Richard’s claim that China is well on its way to doubling its warhead inventory by the end of the decade is mere speculation and not supported by solid evidence.

Despite the blatant bias in his testimony, Richards insists on warning of a massive Chinese nuclear threat. “With these measures,” he claimed, “China is already able to implement any plausible nuclear employment strategy within its region and will soon be able to do so on intercontinental routes as well.” As these words inadvertently suggest, China’s capacity for long-range nuclear attacks remains modest , especially when compared to those of the United States and Russia. But accuracy is not its goal; rather, it is about exploiting the anti-Chinese tendencies that now dominate Congress to gain support for its favorite projects, particularly the embattled GBSD. While the Minuteman fleet has served us well in the past, he claimed that delayed modernization resulted in “aging components, asset wear and tear, and deteriorating infrastructure,” requiring a “major weapon system replacement.”

As the debate over the Pentagon’s budget heats up in the coming months, Congress will have ample opportunity to discuss and debate the merits of acquiring a new land-based ICBM versus refurbishing the existing Minuteman fleet – or the dependence on ground-based ones Abolish missiles entirely. Whatever stance they take, members should avoid being swayed by unsubstantiated claims about China’s growing nuclear arsenal. Of course, all Chinese nuclear weapons – like any nuclear weapon anywhere – pose a threat to the security of the US and the world, but we don’t need to start a new nuclear arms race just to overcome an overrated increase in Chinese capabilities.

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