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Table of Chinese Nuclear Forces, 2002

Weapon System




x yield

No. in



Hong-6 (B-6)
1-3 x bombs
"Badger" type
Qian-5 (A-5)
1 x bombs
MiG-19 redesign

Land-based missiles**

Dong Feng-3A/CSS-2
May 1971
1 x 3.3 Mt
Dong Feng-4/CSS-3
Nov 1980
1 x 3.3 Mt
Dong Feng-5A/CSS-4
Aug 1981
1 x 4- 5 Mt
Dong Feng-21A/CSS-5
1 x 200- 300 Kt
Dong Feng-31/CSS-X-9
1 x 200- 300 Kt

Submarine-based missiles

Julang-1 (CSS-N-3)
1 x 200- 300 Kt
solid/one SSBN
Julang-2 (CSS-N-4)
1 x 200- 300 Kt

Tactical weapons

low Kt
Dong Feng means East Wind; Julang means Giant Wave.

* Figures for bomber aircraft are for nuclear-configured versions only. Hundreds of aircraft are also deployed in non-nuclear versions. Aircraft range is equivalent to combat radius. Assumes 150 bombs for the force, with yields estimated between 10 Kt and 3 Mt.

** The Chinese define missile ranges as follows: short-range, less than 1000 km; medium-range, 1,000-3,000 km; long-range, 3,000-8,000 km; intercontinental range, over 8,000 km. The nuclear capability of the DF-16/CSS-6 (M-9 )is unconfirmed and not included.


The Chinese have been very effective in keeping secret the details about the size and composition of their nuclear stockpile. Thus there remains uncertainty about the size of the nuclear bomber force, the number of ballistic missiles deployed, and whether or not China has "tactical" nuclear weapons. The above table above represents our best estimate. China is believed to maintain an arsenal of about 400 warheads of two basic categories, including some 250 "strategic" weapons structured in a "triad" of land-based missiles, bombers, and SLBMs. We have listed about 150 "tactical" weapons: low yield bombs for tactical bombardment, artillery shells, atomic demolition munitions, and possibly short- range missiles.

China's bomber force is antiquated, based on Chinese-produced versions of 1950s-era Soviet aircraft. With the retirement of the Hong-5, a redesign of the Soviet Il-28 Beagle, the main bomber is the Hong-6. This aircraft is based on the Soviet Tu-16 Badger medium-range bomber, which entered service with Soviet forces in 1955. China began producing the H-6 in the 1960s under a licensing agreement. It was used to drop live weapons in two nuclear tests, a fission bomb in May 1965 and a multi-megaton bomb in June 1967. For more than a decade China has been developing a supersonic fighter-bomber, the JH-7 (or B-7), at the Xian Aircraft Company. There have been problems with the engines and to date only a few dozen serve with the Chinese Navy. The aircraft is not believed to have a nuclear mission.

Modernization of the Chinese bomber force occurs partly through purchase of aircraft from Russia, a relationship that could strengthen even further. China purchased 40 Su-30 multi-role aircraft from Russia in 1999 at a price of $2 billion. The first 10 were delivered on December 20, 2000. China also ordered 22 Su-27s in 1995 at a cost of $710 million. This group is based at Suixi, in Guangdong Province. Another 24 Su-27SK and two Su-27UBK Flanker fighters were purchased in the early 1990s at a cost of $1 billion. These aircraft are currently with the Third Air Division at Wuhu airfield, 250 km west of Shanghai, and participated in the Strait 961 exercise in the Taiwan Strait in March 1996. Under a separate agreement Russia sold production rights to China to assemble and produce Su-27s in China at the Shenyang plant, with Russian engineers ensuring quality control. The first two aircraft flew in December 1998. The People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has a requirement for 200 Su-27s, which will take until at least 2015 to acquire under existing schedules. The Su-27 has an air-to-ground capability, but there is no evidence at this time that the PLAAF is modifying it for a nuclear role, and it is not believed to have in-flight refueling capability.

Ballistic missiles
In addition to the operational missiles listed in the table, the DF-31 is believed to be in the final stages of development, with initial deployment beginning this year or next. The DF-31 (CSS-X-9) is a three-stage, solid fueled, mobile ballistic missile with an estimated range of 8,000 km and an accuracy, or CEP (circular error probable), of between 1,000 and 2,000 feet. The DF-31 has been flight-tested three times, most recently on November 4, 2000 on Chinese territory with several decoy warheads. The flight path was much shorter than the missile's estimated range. The second test took place in the spring of 2000. The first flight test was conducted from Wuzhai, 400 km southwest of Beijing, on August 2, 1999 in which a dummy warhead and several decoys were used, according to one report. An "ejection" test was conducted in December 1998. Garrison deployment of larger numbers of DF-31s are expected to take place between 2005 and 2010. With less than intercontinental range the missile will be targeted primarily against Asian bases and facilities. A report stated that the DF-31 underwent tests in October 1997 that simulated launching from submarine tubes. A variant of the missile is believed to be under development to arm the new Type 094 Class SSBN. There were media reports of a simulated test of the DF-41 ICBM in 1999, but this particular missile program is now thought to have been cancelled, probably replaced with a newer variant. The CIA referred to a new road-mobile, solid propellant ICBM currently in development, which it estimates may be tested "within the next several years" and be targeted primarily against the U.S. Its deployment is a decade or more away, if ever.

The nuclear capability of the 600-km range DF-15 (CSS-6) and the 300-km range DF-11 (CSS-7) is unconfirmed. The Taiwanese Defense Minister has specifically referred to the DF-15 and DF-11 (export versions are designated M-9 and M-11) as nuclear-capable. One regimental-sized DF-15 unit is deployed in southeastern China, and may soon be augmented by an additional unit. An improved DF-11 Mod 2 was displayed in a military parade on October 1, 1999 in Beijing. There is also a 150-km range road-mobile CSS-8 (M-7) with a solid-fuel first stage and a liquid-fuel second stage. Taiwanese officials report that the number of missiles in China's three southern provinces has risen from 30-50 to 160-200 since 1997. Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian said in mid-July 2001 that China was increasing its missile deployment at a rate of 50 to 70 missiles a year.

Allegations of Chinese theft of U.S. nuclear warhead designs, have fueled speculation that China may soon deploy missile systems with multiple warheads. China has had the technical capability to develop MRV payloads for 20 years. A MRV system releases two or more RVs along the missile's linear flight path on a single target, landing in a relatively confined area at approximately the same time. The more sophisticated and flexible MIRV system can maneuver multiple RVs to several different release points to provide targeting flexibility against several independent targets over a much wider area and over a longer span of time. If China needed MRV capability in the near term, according to the CIA, one option might be to use a DF-31-type RV to develop and deploy a simple MRV or MIRV on the DF-5 in a few years. MIRVing a future mobile missile, however, would take several years to achieve. Many expect that U.S. deployment of a ballistic missile defense system will increase Chinese efforts to deploy multiple-warhead systems in the logical attempt to ensure the continued effectiveness of its nuclear deterrent.

The DF-3/CSS-2 IRBM has been deployed for more than 25 years and is being gradually phased out. It can be launched from permanent launch pads or portable launch stands. The DF-3 is deployed in Dalong, Datong, Dengshahe, Ching-yu, K'un-ming, Lianxiwang, Tonghua, and Yidu. The two-stage, liquid-fuelled DF-4/CSS-3 is deployed in either an elevate-to-launch silo or a rollout-to-launch mode. The liquid-fuelled DF-5/CSS-4 is deployed in silos at Lo-ning, Shuangjiang, and Hsuan-hua. The precise number of DF-5s is difficult to determine. A Pentagon report from June 2000 stated that China has built 18 DF-5 silos, while a July 2000 news report suggested a total force of 24. The U.S. National Air Intelligence Center stated that as of 1998 the deployed DF-5 force consisted of "fewer than 25" missiles. A CIA report leaked to the Washington Times shortly before President Clinton's visit to China in June 1998 assessed that 13 DF-5 missiles were targeted at the U.S., though it was unclear how such a determination could be made. A senior administration official has said that China does not keep the nuclear warheads mounted on top of the missiles but stores them separately.

The DF-21/CSS-5 is a two-stage, solid propellant missile carried in a canister on a towed erector-launcher. An improved Mod 2 version is not yet deployed. The DF-21 is deployed in Chuxiong, Datong, Ching-yu, Liangkengwang, and Tonghua.

Nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs)
China has had great difficulty in developing SSBNs and SLBMs. The fleet is composed of a single SSBN. The one Xia Class (Project 092) SSBN, was built at Huludao Naval Base and Shipyard in the northern Bohai Gulf and was launched in April 1981. The Julang I SLBM aboard the Xia was initially test-launched from a Golf Class diesel submarine in late 1982, and a full-scale submerged launch from the Xia took place in 1988. The following year the Xia was finally deployed to the Jianggezhuang Submarine Base, where the nuclear warheads for its Julang I missile are believed to be stored. The Xia, which is currently in refit, is not thought to have ever sailed beyond China's regional waters. The Pentagon said in January 2000 that it was not operational and designates its missiles CSS-NX-3 where X means experimental. More accurately the submarine too should be considered experimental. A second Xia Class submarine was begun but never finished, further evidence of a failed program.

A new SSBN project, designated Project 094, has begun with the initial boat under construction. The precise number that are planned to be built is difficult to predict but a fleet of four to six seems logical. The new SSBNs are expected to carry 16 three-stage Julang II SLBMs, a variant of the DF-31 ICBM, and may be capable of carrying multiple warheads. The CIA expects the missile to be tested "within the next decade." Given previous difficulties in developing a sea-based force deployment of the Project 094 system is likely to be many years away. The Julang II may have a range of "over 8,000 km" and U.S. sources estimate that it will "probably" be able to target the U.S. from operating areas near China.

Non-strategic weapons
Information on Chinese non-strategic nuclear weapons is limited and contradictory, and there is no confirmation of their existence from official Chinese sources. Several low-yield nuclear tests in the late 1970s, and a large military exercise in June 1982 simulating the use of non-strategic nuclear weapons, suggest that they may have been developed. According to the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), non-strategic weapons may consist of atomic demolition munitions (ADMs--, i.e., nuclear landmines), aircraft bombs, and short-range ballistic missiles. The latter includes the DF-15 (CSS-6) and DF-11 (CSS-7) SRBMs, both of which were deployed in 1995, are solid-fueled and dual-capable. The DF-15 may carry a 10-kt neutron warhead or a 20-kt warhead, yet the Pentagon says that China sees an increasing value in conventionally armed ballistic missiles. The exact number of the two types of SRBMs is not known; estimates range from 100 to 300 DF-15s and 40-100 DF-11s.

China is developing land-attack cruise missiles with ranges between 1,500 and 2,500 km for aircraft, ships, and submarines. A missile program known as X-600 appears to be based partly on Russian and U.S. cruise missiles designs. An air-launched version may become operational within the next few years. Whether they will be nuclear capable is not known. China also obtained the SS-N-22 Sunburn cruise missiles that are deployed on the two Russian-built Sovremenny destroyers that she purchased. While the SS-N-22 is credited with a nuclear capability in the Russian navy, there are no reports that China plans to equip the missile with a nuclear warhead.

last revised 11.25.02

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