Skip to content

Illustration by Security Management

Pentagon Report: Chinese Military Ramping Up Nuclear and Missile Forces

China is ramping up its nuclear and missile forces in an effort to modernize its military and push potential international interference further out of the region, according to an annual report from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).

The report, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2020, found that China is mobilizing large forces to rival the Pentagon’s, concluding that China’s military had eclipsed the U.S. military in three key areas: shipbuilding, air defenses, and land-based missiles. According to the report, China now has the world’s largest navy, with approximately 350 ships and submarines; the United States has approximately 293 ships.

China’s leaders have stressed the imperative of meeting key military transformation markers in 2020 and 2035 to align the modernizations of the People’s Liberation Army and China at large so that by 2049, China will have a “world class” military. While Chinese leaders have not defined what success would look like in that arena, “it is likely that China will aim to develop a military by mid-century that is equal to—or in some cases superior to—the U.S. military, or that of any other great power that China views as a threat to its sovereignty, security, and development interests,” the report said.

According to The Washington Post, China’s robust missile force has made it more difficult for the United States to defend Asia-Pacific allies in the event of a conflict. The Pentagon report found that China has more than 1,250 ground-launch ballistic and cruise missiles, compared to the United States’ one ground-launched ballistic missile.

The report warned that the Chinese military is developing new intercontinental ballistic missiles, and that “over the next decade, China’s nuclear warhead stockpile—currently estimated to be in the low 200s—is projected to at least double in size as China expands and modernizes its nuclear forces.” The report said that unspecified developments last year “suggest that China intends to increase the peacetime readiness of its nuclear forces by moving to a launch-on-warning (LOW) posture with an expanded silo-based force.”

Historically, China has said it would only retaliate with nuclear weapons after being attacked, and that its nuclear arsenal is maintained for “minimum deterrence.” However, the growing stockpile and enhanced capabilities suggest this is changing, according to the DOD report.

China, on the other hand, has broadly condemned the report for claiming Beijing wants to double its nuclear warhead stockpile within a decade to deter the United States from intervening in any potential conflict with Taiwan, which the Chinese government considers part of its territory, an AFP report noted. According to a statement from China’s defense ministry, the Pentagon report “defamed China’s military modernization, defense expenditure, nuclear policy, and other issues.”