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China’s Nuke Arsenal May Be Bigger Than We Thought

by John Reed on November 30, 2011

So, a team of Georgetown University undergrads has just published research claiming to show that China’s nuclear arsenal may be far bigger than we think it is! The best part? The arsenal is hidden inside thousands of miles of tunnels all over the massive country.

After three years of work analyzing open-source documents (press reports, blog postings, PLA publications, Google Earth and even Chinese TV shows), the students led by their professor, former Pentagon strategist Phillip Karber, to say 3,000 miles worth of tunnels may be hiding up to 3,000 nuclear warheads in China.

Here’s an excerpt from a Washington Post article on the subject:

The Chinese have called it their “Underground Great Wall” — a vast network of tunnels designed to hide their country’s increasingly sophisticated missile and nuclear arsenal.

For the past three years, a small band of obsessively dedicated students at Georgetown University has called it something else: homework.

Led by their hard-charging professor, a former top Pentagon official, they have translated hundreds of documents, combed through satellite imagery, obtained restricted Chinese militarydocuments and waded through hundreds of gigabytes of online data.

The result of their effort? The largest body of public knowledge about thousands of miles of tunnels dug by the Second Artillery Corps, a secretive branch of the Chinese military in charge of protecting and deploying its ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads.

The study is yet to be released, but already it has sparked a congressional hearing and been circulated among top officials in the Pentagon, including the Air Force vice chief of staff.

Most of the attention has focused on the 363-page study’s provocative conclusion — that China’s nuclear arsenal could be many times larger than the well-established estimates of arms-control experts.

“It’s not quite a bombshell, but those thoughts and estimates are being checked against what people think they know based on classified information,” said a Defense Department strategist who would discuss the study only on the condition of anonymity.

Western estimates have pegged China’s nuke arsenal at 80 to 400 warheads.

Based on the number of tunnels the Second Artillery is digging and its increasing deployment of missiles, he argues, China’s nuclear warheads could number as many as 3,000.

Still, not everyone is buying into the validity of the student’s open source intel work:

Gregory Kulacki, a China nuclear analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, publicly condemned Karber’s report at a recent lecture in Washington. In an interview afterward, he called the 3,000 figure “ridiculous” and said the study’s methodology — especially its inclusion of posts from Chinese bloggers — was “incompetent and lazy.”

“The fact that they’re building tunnels could actually reinforce the exact opposite point,” he argued. “With more tunnels and a better chance of survivability, they may think they don’t need as many warheads to strike back.”

Reaction from others has been more moderate.

“Their research has value, but it also shows the danger of the Internet,” said Hans M. Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists. Kristensen faulted some of the students’ interpretation of the satellite images.

“One thing his report accomplishes, I think, is it highlights the uncertainty about what China has,” said Mark Stokes, executive director of the Project 2049 Institute, a think tank. “There’s no question China’s been investing in tunnels, and to look at those efforts and pose this question is worthwhile.”

Click here for more on China’s Underground Great Wall

 

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