A Nuclear Breakout by Red China Has Always Been in Play

August 20, 2021 Updated: August 20, 2021

Commentary

The China Aerospace Studies Institute at the U.S. Air Force’s Air University recently posted some overhead photos of a possible intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silo site in Hanggin Banner, Ordos City, Inner Mongolia.

The ICBM silo is the third of three such sites in which there has been a flurry of media reports in recent weeks. ADM Charles Richard, Commander of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) announced last week that Red China is pursuing an unprecedented “nuclear breakout” through the accelerated production and deployment of nuclear missiles, warheads, and nuclear command and control infrastructure.

According to American Military News, “Richard noted several other advancements in China’s nuclear capabilities. He noted China is improving its MIRV weapons, developing road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launchers, its DF-26 missiles and China’s Jin class submarines are now able to carry JL-3 nuclear-capable submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). He also noted China has moved many of its nuclear forces to a higher readiness status ‘including some on a launch on warning or launch on command status.’”

Some commentators have referred to this revelation as just the latest “Sputnik moment” associated with Red China. Named after the Soviets’ launch of the first orbiting satellite in 1957, a Sputnik moment has come to mean a triggering mechanism for when a group of people collectively realize that an urgent course of action is required to “catch up” with another country in some way (Sputnik triggered the “space race” between the United States and former Soviet Union). ADM Richard’s announcement that also discussed the new missile silos under construction may have been the shock needed to refurbish and modernize America’s aging nuclear deterrent, as well as to reassess China’s strategic intentions. [Note: Other China-related “Sputnik moments” include: green energy, technological prowess, and nuclear fusion.]

While the photos of that new missile site in Mongolia are interesting (albeit fuzzy), the assessment at the bottom of the posting is shocking:

“Between the roughly 30 or more possible ICBM launchers at Hanggin Banner, conservative estimates on the number of launchers at the Hami and Guazhou ICBM silo sites, and the PLARF’s current force of operational ICBM brigades, the PLARF’s projected inventory of ground-based ICBM launchers is close to or more than the United States’ current number of deployed Minuteman III ICBMs. With the addition of at least two Type 096 nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines as identified in the 2020 China Military Power Report and a conservative estimate of one brigade of 20 H-20 stealth bombers, China’s future inventory of strategic nuclear delivery systems seems on track to approaching parity with those of the United States and Russia.”

From virtually no ICBM capability in the early 1980s to near-parity with the United States in a mere four decades? Even as recently as 2015, the U.S. Department of Defense reported that China’s arsenal consisted of just 50 to 60 liquid-fueled ICBMs. But what is worse than the above analysis is that, while the New START Treaty limits the United States to “1,550 nuclear warheads on deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments,” the Communist Chinese (ChiComs) are unconstrained by any nuclear weapons limitations and continue to resist bilateral nuclear arms talks with the United States.

For years, the United States has been lulled into a belief that China’s nuclear intentions conformed to “minimum deterrence” with a stated policy of “no first use” when all the while the ChiComs were feverishly planning and executing a major buildup of strategic nuclear forces to include a complete nuclear triad consisting of land-based, submarine-launched, and air-launched ICBMs. In fact, that 2015 DoD report cited above stated that China’s nuclear strategy might be shifting from minimum deterrence to “limited deterrence,” with the additional focus being to target nuclear forces in addition to cities. Limited deterrence is a long way from parity; someone has been asleep at the switch!

The commissioning of the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) on Dec. 31, 2015 should have been a clue as to long-term ChiCom intentions. But the reality is that the ChiComs have been targeting nuclear parity with the United States for decades while publicly claiming otherwise. As in many other human endeavors, the ChiComs have pursued leadership through any available means, including subterfuge, while camouflaging their real intentions. Parity with the United States (and Russia) in nuclear weapons, technology, and missiles is but a waystation on the road to leadership, dominance, and coercion—the real ChiCom objectives.

The transformation of China’s strategic rocket force from an antiquated mixture of older Soviet technology plus indigenous modifications into a modern capability that is nearing parity with the United States is breathtaking, both in its scope and also the rapidity in which it was accomplished.

Indigenous research, development, test, and evaluation in ChiCom laboratories to create capabilities from scratch—for example, multiple independently-targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) or solid-fueled rocket design—would have taken many decades to accomplish without the infusion and reengineering of technologies from the West obtained through bribery, corruption, theft, and espionage.

Charles Lieber Thousand Talents Program
Charles Lieber leaves federal court after he and two Chinese nationals were charged with lying about their alleged links to the Chinese regime, in Boston, Mass., on Jan. 30, 2020. (Katherine Taylor/Reuters)

Perhaps the most fruitful of these endeavors for the ChiComs was simple corruption of the U.S. political class and businesses such as the the mid-1990s scandal dubbed “Chinagate.” From a 2015 report:

“Chinagate aka Commercegate is the most serious scandal in U.S. history. It involves the transfer of America’s most sensitive technology, including but not limited to nuclear missile and satellite technology, possibly in exchange for millions of dollars in contributions to the 1996 Clinton-Gore re-election effort and the Democratic National Committee.”

Here is a short list of what the ChiComs ultimately received from the Clinton administration in the 1990s:

• A “strategic partnership” which set the tone for various technology transfers to China.
• The loss of American manufacturing jobs that were transferred to China as a result of Executive Order 12850 (which removed Most-Favored Nation status reviews from Congress to the White House), including foundational capabilities such as precision tool-making and ball bearing production.
• Advanced missile technology transfers, which destroyed the U.S. strategic advantage, as noted above and here.
• A satellite launch waiver which allowed the Chinese to launch a Loral Space and Communications satellite, ultimately giving away missile and satellite technology to the ChiComs leading to near-parity with the United States in a single generation.

To the above plunder must be added the fruit of continuous espionage and technology theft via the Thousand Talents program. This is a program aimed at attracting foreign scientists, engineers, and instructors to Chinese high technology universities, who are then exploited by the Ministry of Education and Ministry of State Security for espionage purposes.

But the Thousand Talents program is just the tip of the iceberg of Chinese industrial espionage. An open-source book titled, “Chinese Industrial Espionage: Technology Acquisition and Military Modernization” details the elements of the spying and tech transfer campaign that targets military-use technology, including nuclear weapons capabilities:

1. International research and development (R&D) in China by multi-national companies.
2. National technology transfer centers.
3. Advocacy groups based in the United States.
4. Employment of foreign subject matter experts in China (i.e., Thousand Talents).
5. Monitoring and use of “returning” Chinese students and scholars.
6. Contributions of “overseas Chinese” professionals.
7. Open source collection (Open Source Intelligence—OSINT).

And the unqualified success of these coordinated efforts is borne out by ADM Richard’s declaration of a ChiCom nuclear breakout.

Conclusion

For decades, the ChiComs have conducted a disciplined campaign to rapidly acquire, reengineer, and integrate nuclear weapons technologies into an array of sophisticated weapons, missiles, surveillance systems, and command and control capabilities. Theft, bribery, and straight purchase to obtain U.S. technologies have directly led to this latest ChiCom-related “Sputnik” moment.

How will the United States and its allies respond to an increasingly belligerent and confident communist regime in Beijing that is on the verge of nuclear parity if not nuclear supremacy? Dangerous times indeed, but it should be no surprise at all.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Stu Cvrk
Stu Cvrk
Stu Cvrk retired as a captain after serving 30 years in the U.S. Navy in a variety of active and reserve capacities, with considerable operational experience in the Middle East and the Western Pacific. Through education and experience as an oceanographer and systems analyst, Cvrk is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, where he received a classical liberal education that serves as the key foundation for his political commentary.