China may have more than 1,000 operational nuclear warheads by 2030: Pentagon

WASHINGTON, China is estimated to have more than 500 operational nuclear warheads as of May, and the figure may swell to over 1,000 by 2030, according to an annual Pentagon report released Thursday.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) released the 2023 Report on the Military and Security Developments involving the People's Republic of China (PRC), a document that has annually been submitted to Congress in line with the National Defense Authorization Act.

The report predicts that over the next decade, China will continue to "rapidly" modernize, diversify and expand its nuclear forces, while underlining the importance of meeting the "pacing" challenge posed by China's "increasingly capable" military.

"DoD estimates that the PRC will probably have over 1,000 operational nuclear warheads by 2030, much of which will be deployed at higher readiness levels and will continue growing its force to 2035," the report read.

The growth of China's nuclear force is in line with its goal of ensuring its military modernization is "basically complete" by 2035, which serves as an important milestone on the road to Chinese President Xi Jinping's goal of a "world class" military by 2049, according to the report.

In last year's report, the Pentagon said that China had about 400 nuclear warheads and that number could rise to 1,500 by 2035.

"Compared to the PLA's nuclear modernization efforts a decade ago, current efforts dwarf previous attempts in both scale and complexity," the report said, referring to China's People's Liberation Army (PLA).

"The PRC is expanding the number of its land-, sea-, and air-based nuclear delivery platforms while investing in and constructing the infrastructure necessary to support further expansion of its nuclear forces," it added.

As part of efforts to enhance its "strategic deterrence capabilities," China is developing new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which will require increased nuclear warhead production due in part to the introduction of multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle capabilities, according to the report.

China may also be exploring development of conventionally-armed intercontinental-range missile systems, which if deployed, would allow China to threaten conventional strikes against targets in the continental U.S., as well as Hawaii and Alaska, it said.

The report noted that China probably completed the construction of three new solid-propellant silo fields in 2022, which consists of at least 300 new ICBM silos, and has loaded some ICBMs into these silos.

It also highlighted that China has "numerically the largest navy" in the world with an overall battle force of over 370 ships and submarines, including over 140 major surface combatants.

It expressed concerns over the Chinese military's "coercive and risky" air and maritime activity particularly in the East and South China Seas, saying it is aimed at pressuring the United States and other nations to reduce and cease "lawful" operations near areas Beijing claims maritime sovereignty.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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