China’s growing military prowess and technological advancements have set alarm bells ringing in the United States’ security establishment. There have been serious concerns about China surpassing the American superiority that its military has enjoyed since the end of the cold war.
Recently, Strategic Command (STRATCOM) chief Adm. Charles Richard warned the US Congress that China is on track to surpass the US in land-based strategic nuclear forces unless the US invests extensively in modernizing its land-based long-range missile force.
“The discovery of three new ICBM missile fields in the last year demonstrates the value the PRC [People’s Republic of China] places on land-based forces,” Richard told the US House Armed Services Committee Strategic Forces Subcommittee on Tuesday.
“If we choose not to continue investing in the land-based leg of our triad, the PRC will soon have a superior, modernized nuclear force with elevated day-to-day readiness.”
Richard recalled that he had earlier warned that China’s nuclear and conventional armed forces had reached a new level of capacity, a strategic “breakout” that had altered the global power balance.
“In September 2021, I formally declared the strategic breakout of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to the Secretary of Defense… The PRC continues the breathtaking expansion of its strategic and nuclear forces with opaque intentions as to their use,” Richard said.
These concerns are an echo of previous assertions made by higher echelons about China’s growing military development aimed at ending American air and naval superiority.
In September last year, at the Air Force Association conference, US Air Force Chief of Staff General Charles Brown Jr. said that by the year 2035, China would have eclipsed the United States’ air superiority, as previously reported by the EurAsian Times.
3/ 🇨🇳China's DF-17 hypersonic missile can travel at 10 times the speed of sound (Mach 10) and carry a nuclear warhead pic.twitter.com/992RbesKsn
— Indo-Pacific News – Watching the CCP-China Threat (@IndoPac_Info) October 22, 2021
Further, according to a US report, China’s PLA Navy (PLAN) has been progressively modernizing since the mid-1990s and has now become “a potent military force” in coastal seas. According to the revised assessment, China’s navy has the most ships in the world, and its continued capability enhancement poses a danger to the US Navy’s control of the Western Pacific.
The report advises the US Congress should examine whether the Navy is adequately prepared to deal with a modernized PLAN.
However, the conversation around Chinese land-based strategic nuclear force overtaking the US superiority is significant as it comes in the wake of Russia alerting its own strategic forces as a full-scale invasion of Ukraine is in process. There have been parallels drawn to a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan that would potentially draw Japan and the US into the conflict.
Chinese Quest For Nuclear Superiority
Another illustration of such developing capabilities, according to Richard, was China’s recent test of an intercontinental ballistic missile-launched hypersonic glide vehicle with fractional orbital bombardment.
In July last year, China conducted a world-first test of a nuclear-capable hypersonic glide vehicle that flew around the globe before slamming into a target. According to unidentified US intelligence officials, the hypersonic missile test also featured the launch of a separate missile from the ultra-high-speed vehicle.
The United States also acknowledged that the hypersonic missile completed a circumnavigation of the globe, as previously stated by the EurAsian Times.
According to Deputy-Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Sasha Baker, China is building its strategic nuclear weapon arsenal significantly faster than US Defense Department analysts expected and looks to be aiming to have at least 1,000 warheads deployed by 2030.
“This accelerated nuclear expansion may enable the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to field over 700 nuclear warheads by 2027,” Baker told the US House Armed Services Committee Strategic Forces Subcommittee on Tuesday. “The PRC [People’s Republic of China] likely intends to have at least 1,000 warheads by 2030, greatly exceeding previous Department of Defense estimates.”
According to Baker, the continuous ambitious growth of China’s nuclear forces is becoming a more important component in how Defense Department policymakers perceive the US nuclear posture.
China had an active nuclear weapon stockpile in the low 200s in 2020, according to the US Department of Defense, but that figure is expected to rise over the next decade. Since then, China has advanced its nuclear development, with the US Defense Department estimating that by 2027, China might have 700 deliverable nuclear warheads and 1,000 by 2030, according to Arms Control Association.
China has also started construction on at least three solid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silo fields, which would eventually contain hundreds of new ICBM silos, Baker said, noting that this is a shift from Beijing’s previous nuclear deterrence posture. Further, an editorial in the state-run Global Times had stated that China’s nuclear deterrence buildup cannot be tied down by the US.
The tensions between the United States and China in the Indo-Pacific and China’s onward cruise to the Pacific have necessitated conversations about the global balance of power that many in America believe could be tilted in China’s favor by the year 2035.