Chilling new satellite photos have exposed China’s plans to rapidly expand its nuclear weapons capability, showing the construction of more than 100 underground missile silos.
The mammoth site in a remote desert in the Xinjiang province in the country’s west was captured by aerial surveillance, with images released overnight by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS).
In an accompanying report, experts said analysis indicated Beijing was building 110 silos there to house and launch intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM).
Adam Ni, director of the China Policy Centre in Canberra, told CNN the startling images were “pretty convincing evidence of China‘s intent to significantly expand its nuclear arsenal – in a faster manner than a lot of analysts have so far predicted”.
It’s the second new field construction to be identified in the region – the first consisting of 120 silos being revealed two months ago.
Silos in both fields are about 3km apart in a grid formation, indicating the ability to move missiles between silos. That strategy, called a ‘shell game’, makes it hard for enemies to target and destroy facilities in battle.
Combined, the two sites represent “the most significant expansion of the Chinese nuclear arsenal ever”, Mr Ni said.
Defence officials in the United States are growing increasingly concerned about the rapid escalation of nuclear weapon investment, which comes at a time of deteriorating relations between the two nations.
China’s Foreign Ministry hasn’t commented on the images, but state-controlled media previously described the first missile silo site as being nothing more than a wind farm.
But analysts from the James Martin Centre for Non-Proliferation Studies concluded it was a vast missile site covering hundreds of square kilometres.
“It‘s really a startling pace of construction,” Jeffrey Lewis from the institute, also a Chinese nuclear weapons expert, told CNN at the time.
China’s expanding nuclear arsenal
For decades, Beijing maintained a small number of approximately 20 silos for its ICBMs, the DF-5, which is a liquid-powered weapon.
The FAS said it now appears to be aiming for 10 times as many silos as that, potentially to house its newest ICBM, the DF-41.