New Delhi: China has begun construction of over 100 new silos for intercontinental ballistic missiles in a desert near its Yumen city, The Washington Post reported.
Analysing the commercial satellite images obtained by researchers at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif, the report said the new missile silos being built “could signal a major expansion of Beijing’s nuclear capabilities”.
The matter assumes significance for India, with India and China locked in a military standoff at the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh since last year.
Since a disengagement of troops from both sides at the contentious Pangong Tso area in March this year, there has been no further breakthrough in military and diplomatic talks between the two countries.
The exclusive report in The Washington Post highlighted the work underway at multiple sites in China’s Gansu province, running across hundreds of square miles.
It said the 119 nearly identical construction sites contain features that mirror those seen at the existing launch facilities for China’s arsenal of nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles.
According to the satellite images analysed in the report, the construction sites spotted on satellite photos are arrayed in two swaths, covering parts of a desert basin stretching to the west and southwest of Yumen.
‘Historic shift’ for China
The report said each site is separated from the other by about two miles, and many of them are concealed by a large, dome-like covering, following a practice observed at known construction sites for missile silos in other parts of China.
“At sites where the dome is not in place, construction crews can be seen excavating a characteristic circular-shaped pit in the desert floor. Another construction site appears to be a partially built control center,” the report said.
The acquisition of more than 100 new missile silos, it said, would represent a “historic shift” for China, which possesses a stockpile of 250 to 350 nuclear weapons.
Quoting researcher and China expert Jeffrey Lewis, who was part of a team that analysed the sites, the report said the development is suggesting a major effort to bolster the credibility of China’s nuclear deterrent.
“If the silos under construction at other sites across China are added to the count, the total comes to about 145 silos under construction,” Lewis was quoted as saying.
“We believe China is expanding its nuclear forces in part to maintain a deterrent that can survive a U.S. first strike in sufficient numbers to defeat U.S. missile defenses.”
He also said the silos are probably intended for Chinese ICBM DF-41, which can carry multiple warheads and reach targets as far away as 9,300 miles, and could put the US mainland within its reach, adding that the major excavation work on the sites began early this year, but preparations were probably underway for months.
According to the report, the project could provide China another means of concealing its most powerful weapons.
The report also spoke about recent warnings by Pentagon officials about rapid advances in China’s nuclear capability.
It quoted a US Defense spokesman as stating that leaders of the department have testified and publicly spoken about China’s growing nuclear capabilities, which they expect to double or more over the next decade.