The current state of China's strategic nuclear arsenal

Missile defense of China. Instead of creating missile defense systems of questionable effectiveness, from the beginning of the 1980's in China, they have embarked on the improvement of strategic nuclear forces capable of inflicting unacceptable damage on the enemy in any situation. Taking into account the relatively small number of Chinese ballistic missiles and their design features, the concept of "delayed retaliation" was adopted. Unlike the USSR and the United States, which relied on a “reciprocal-strike strike,” the PLA command believed that in the event of a nuclear war, the Chinese strategic nuclear forces would strike over time. This was due to the fact that the Chinese liquid ballistic missile and ballistic missile systems could not be launched immediately after receiving the command and required some time to prepare for the launch. At the same time, part of the Chinese missiles and bombers carrying nuclear bombs were in highly protected anti-nuclear shelters. After the refusal to create a national missile defense system in 1980, China took a course to reduce the vulnerability of all components of strategic nuclear forces and provide a retaliatory strike for any scenario.

The current state of China's strategic nuclear arsenal

Mobile Launchers BRDS DF-21А

In comments, devoted to the first part of the review, readers were interested in the composition of the Chinese strategic forces and their strength. To better understand what place in the defense doctrine of the People's Republic of China early missile warning systems and missile defense systems take, let us consider the state of the Chinese strategic nuclear arsenal.

DF-21 family medium-range ballistic missiles

After the DF-3 and DF-4 BRDS were put on combat duty, the next stage in the development of the Chinese strategic nuclear forces was the creation and adoption of ground mobile systems with medium-range ballistic missiles. At the end of the 1980's, the tests of the solid-fuel two-stage DF-21 two-stage BRDS were successfully completed.

The first modification of the DF-21, adopted in the 1991 year, had a range of 1700 km, with an abandoned weight of 600 kg. A missile with a launch mass near 15 t could carry one nuclear warhead with a capacity of 500 kt, with an assumed KVO of -1 km. From 1996 of the year, DF-21А began to enter the troops, with a range of destruction of 2700 km. At the beginning of the 21 century, a new modification of the DF-21С BRDS was introduced into service. An improved control system with astro correction provides a CWS up to 300 m. The missile is equipped with a monoblock warhead with a power of 90 ct. Thanks to the placement of missiles on mobile launchers of cross-country ability to provide the ability to get out from under the "disarming strike" means of air attack and ballistic missiles.

Mobile infantry fighting vehicles DF-21С

The actual number of medium-range ballistic missiles available to the PLA is not known, according to Western experts, there may be more than a hundred of them. India, Japan and a significant part of Russia are in the affected area of ​​the DF-21 IFRS. Although the Russian media regularly declare a “strategic partnership” between our countries, this does not prevent our Chinese friends from conducting exercises with the deployment of mobile missile systems in the northern regions of China.

Google Earth satellite image: DF-21A mobile launcher at 60 km northwest of Dalian, Liaoning Province

In fairness, I must say that the Chinese mobile missile systems are regularly recorded on satellite images in various parts around the perimeter of the country. Currently, the DF-21 family of ballistic missile systems are equipped with missile brigades in Kunming, Denshakh, Tonghua, Liansivan and Jianshui. In places of permanent deployment, most of the equipment is located in tunnels cut down in the rocks. According to Western researchers, these multi-kilometer tunnels are used as anti-nuclear shelters and hide mobile systems from satellite reconnaissance equipment.

After the adoption of the DF-21 IFRS, the decommissioned DF-3 and DF-4 liquid-fuel missiles were decommissioned. The solid-fuel DF-21 of the latest modifications, with a comparable firing range, compares favorably with outdated liquid-propellant missiles with increased service and operational characteristics, and, due to their high mobility, are less vulnerable to a disarming strike.

Medium range ballistic missile DF-26

In 2015, the PLA entered service with a medium-range ballistic missile DF-26. According to Pentagon experts, it occupies an intermediate position between the DF-25 IFRS and the DF-31 ICBM and is capable of hitting targets that are located up to 4000 km from the launch point.

Mobile launcher BRDS DF-26

The DF-26 ballistic missile is a development of the DF-21 ballistic missile. According to Chinese media, the modular design of the rocket allows you to vary the options for military equipment. A solid rocket is capable of delivering fusion and conventional charges to a given area.

The radius of the defeat of the BRDS DF-26

It is stated that a missile at a distance of up to 3500 km is capable of hitting moving targets, including sea ones. The new DF-26 ballistic missile is designed to destroy facilities in the Asia-Pacific region and in Europe.

Intercontinental ballistic missiles of the DF-31 family

Another strategic mobile missile system was the DF-31. According to information published in open sources, a three-stage solid-fuel ICBM with a length of 13 m, a diameter of 2,25 m and a launch mass of 42 t is equipped with an inertial guidance system. According to various estimates, the KVO is from 500 m to 1 km. The DF-31 ICBM, which entered service at the beginning of the 21 century, carries a monoblock thermonuclear warhead with a capacity of up to 2,5 Mt. In addition to the warhead, the missile is equipped with missile defense capabilities. It is believed that after receiving a command, DF-31 can start within 30 minutes. Reliably the launch range of the DF-31 is not known, but most experts are inclined to believe that it exceeds 7500 km.
In terms of casting mass, the DF-31 is close to the Topol Russian Mobile Soil Missile Complex (PGRK). But the Chinese missile is located on a towed launcher, and is significantly inferior in cross-country ability. In this regard, the Chinese missile systems move only on paved roads. An improved option was the DF-31A with an increased launch range and several warheads. The deployment of DF-31 began in the 2007 year.

Mobile ICBMs DF-31

At the military parade in Beijing, held 1 October 2019 year, were demonstrated mobile ground-based strategic missile systems DF-31AG. The improved solid-fuel rocket is located on a new eight-axle chassis, and in many ways resembles the Russian Topol complex. It is believed that the DF-31AG ICBM, known in the past as the DF-31B, is equipped with several individually guided ICBM units up to 150 m. Firing range - up to 11000 km.

Mobile ICBM DF-31AG

Like the DF-21 mobile ballistic missile defense systems, the DF-31 family of intercontinental missiles carry combat duty in rocky shelters. In the areas where rocket brigades are deployed, highways have been laid along which wheeled conveyors are able to move at maximum speed. On satellite images near the places of constant deployment, concrete platforms were discovered, from where rockets could be launched with minimal time for preparation and topographic location.

Google Earth satellite imagery: DF-31 ICBMs at the prepared launch site southeast of Haiyang City, in the Haibei Autonomous Region of Tibet

In 2009, a reference to a new Chinese solid fuel ICBM - DF-41 - appeared in open sources. According to the Western press, DF-41 can be used in a mobile soil complex, placed on railway platforms and in stationary mine launchers. The launch mass of the rocket is about 80 m, length - 21 m, diameter - 2,25 m. Firing range - up to 12000 km.

Mobile ICBMs DF-41

The DF-41 ICBM warhead has up to 10 individually guided warheads, which makes it possible to count on the successful completion of US missile defense. 1 October 2019 year on the Tiananmen Square drove 16 mobile missile systems DF-41.

Improvement of intercontinental mine-based ballistic missiles of the DF-5 family

Along with the creation of new strategic mobile solid-propellant missile systems in China, the development of heavy liquid-fired ballistic missiles of mine-based DF-5 continued.

Although the official adoption of the DF-5 ICBMs in service took place in the 1981 year, the rate of deployment of missiles on alert was very slow. ICBM DF-5 was first demonstrated in 1984 at a military parade in honor of the celebration of the 35 anniversary of the PRC.

According to freely available information, the DF-5 two-stage rocket has a launch mass of more than 180 tons. Payload weight is 3000 kg. As fuel, asymmetric dimethylhydrazine is used, and the oxidizing agent is nitrogen tetroxide. The maximum firing range is more than 11000 km. A thermonuclear missile warhead with a capacity of up to 3 Mt (according to other sources, 4-5 Mt). KVO at maximum range is 3000-3500 m. As of 1988 year, only four mines with missiles were deployed. In fact, the DF-5 ICBMs were in trial operation.

In 1993, a modernized DF-5A missile entered service, which became the first Chinese ICBM with an RGM. DF-5A ICBM curb weight is about 185 t, payload weight is 3200 kg. It can carry 4-5 warheads with a charge power of 350 kt or one megaton-class warhead. The maximum firing range with RGCH is 11000 km, in a monoblock version - 13000 km. The upgraded inertial control system ensures accuracy of hits up to 1300 - 1500 m.

Test launch ICBM DF-5 from silos

According to Chinese data from the DF-5 / 5 ICBMs, three missile brigades were equipped by the second half of the 1990's. In each brigade, 8-12 missile silos carried combat duty. Each ICBM accounted for up to a dozen false silos, which are indistinguishable from real positions in satellite images.

Despite the relatively small number, the deployment of heavy ballistic missiles finally formed the Chinese strategic nuclear forces, and made it possible for the "Second Artillery Corps" to launch nuclear missiles at targets in the United States, USSR and Europe.


At the military parade held on 3 on September 2015 in Beijing, an intercontinental mine-launched ballistic missile DF-5B was presented. With a take-off mass of about 190 t, the estimated firing range is 13000 km. The separable warhead of the rocket includes, according to various estimates, from 3 to 8 individual guidance units with a CVT - about 800 meters. The power of each missile warhead is 200-300 ct.

According to the US National Center for Air and Space Intelligence, in 1998, about 25 ICBMs DF-5 / 5A were deployed in China. About half of them could be started in 20 minutes after receiving the command. As of 2008, the total number of DF-5A was estimated at approximately 20 missiles. DF-5 removed from combat duty of ICBMs after conversion was used in various kinds of experiments to launch the satellite into low Earth orbit.

In January 2017, the DF-5C ICBM was launched from the Taiyuan Missile Range in Shanxi Province. According to Western sources, a missile with a launch range of 13000 km is equipped with 10 individual guidance warheads and carries numerous means of overcoming missile defense. According to Western experts, the further development of heavy liquid-propellant ballistic missiles of mine-based in the PRC is associated with the US withdrawing from the ABM treaty.

Strategic submarines

The marine component of the Chinese strategic nuclear forces is currently represented by nuclear submarines of the 094 Jin project ("Jin"). Externally, this boat resembles the Soviet submarine strategic missile cruiser project 667BDRM "Dolphin". With an underwater displacement of 12000-14000 t, the boat has a length of about 140 m. The speed of the underwater speed is up to 26 knots. Maximum immersion depth 400 m.

SSBN Ave. 094 Jin

Submarines Ave. 094 carry on 12 SLBMs of the JL-2 type (Tszyuylan-2) with a range of about 8000 km. JL-2 is a three-stage solid-fuel rocket with a monoblock warhead. The length of the rocket has been increased to 13 m, the launch weight is 42 tons. The power of the warhead is up to 1 Mt Assumptions are made about the possibility of creating a warhead with individual guidance blocks.

Google Earth satellite image: Chinese nuclear submarines in the parking lot of the Qingdao naval base, the entrance to the underground shelter is located to the right of the boats

The first submarine of the 094 Ave. was put into operation in the 2004 year. All boats of this type are based at bases in Hainan and Qingdao. According to expert estimates, the 4-5 SSBN “Jin” is in operation. The naval base in Qingdao is famous for the fact that there is a shelter for submarines, carved into the rock.

Google Earth satellite imagery: Chinese nuclear submarines parked at the Hainan Naval Base

In 2014, the new Chinese strategic nuclear submarines, such as 094, entered combat patrols for the first time. It was mainly carried out in the territorial waters of the PRC under the guise of the surface forces of the fleet and naval aviation. Along the coast of JL-2 SLBM, you’ll find Alaska and the Hawaiian Islands. If Chinese SSBNs enter the Hawaii region, almost the entire territory of the United States is in the zone of destruction of their missiles.

At present, the 096 project is under construction in China. “Tang” (“Tang”). According to the characteristics of noise and speed, these boats should be comparable to the modernized American SSBN Ohio. The main armament of 096 Ave. is the JL-3 ballistic missile with a firing range of up to 11000 km, which will make it possible to strike at US territory while in the inland waters of the PRC. The new SLBM has a firing range of up to 11000 km, the warhead is equipped with 6-9 individually guided warheads. The new SSBN in terms of the number of warheads and their power is more than twice as large as the 094 pr. Boats equipped with JL-2 missiles. According to rough estimates, on each SSBN of the Tang type, in the future, from 144 to 216 warheads can be deployed.

Long-range bombers

The aviation part of the Chinese strategic nuclear triad, like 50 years ago, is represented by long-range bombers of the H-6 family (the Chinese version of the Tu-16). If you believe the Military Balance, then at present there are approximately 130 aircraft of the H-6A / H / M / K modifications in the PLA Air Force. However, not all of them are shock machines, the outdated bombers of the early series were converted into refueling aircraft.

H-6 cruise missile bomber

In 2011, the radically modernized H-6K entered service. This aircraft is equipped with Russian D-30KP-2 engines, and a new avionics and electronic warfare system has been introduced. The combat load increased to 12 000 kg, and the range increased from 1800 to 3000 km. N-6K capable of carrying 6 strategic cruise missiles (CR) CJ-10A. During the design of this CD, technical solutions of the Soviet X-55 were used.

Google Earth satellite image: H-6 bombers at an air base in the eastern outskirts of Xi'an

During the modernization of the N-6K, all the potential laid down in the design of the base Tu-16 was actually realized. However, an airplane whose pedigree began in the 1950 years of the last century cannot be considered modern. Although the N-6 is the main long-range bomber of the PLA Air Force, its combat radius of action, even with long-range cruise missiles, is absolutely insufficient for solving strategic tasks. A subsonic, bulky, low-maneuverable aircraft with a large EPR in the event of a real conflict with the United States or Russia will be extremely vulnerable to fighter jets and air defense systems. In this regard, China is creating a strategic bomber H-20. According to the Chinese newspaper China Daily, the new long-range bomber will have a combat radius of up to 8000 km, without refueling in the air. Its combat load will be up to 10 tons.

Long-range bomber H-20

In August 2018, China Central Television (CCTV) showed footage with the H-20 bomber on the runway of the Xi'an Aircraft Airfield. According to Chinese media, the company's specialists conducted a cycle of ground tests, during which structural elements, chassis and on-board equipment were tested. In appearance, this bomber is similar to the American B-2A. The Chinese “strategist” H-20, if adopted, could become the second-ever serial strategic bomber with stealth and flying wing technologies.

The strength of Chinese strategic nuclear forces and their development prospects

Chinese officials have never voiced data on the qualitative composition of Chinese strategic carriers and the number of nuclear warheads. Most experts who specialize in strategic arms agree that China has 90-100 ICBMs located in fixed fortified mines and mobile chassis. By types, Chinese long-range ballistic missiles are presented as follows:
- ICBM DF-5A / B - 20-25 units;
- ICBM DF-31 / 31А / AG - 50-60 units;
- MBR DF-41 - at least 16 units.

Also in the composition of the Strategic Rocket Forces of the PRC there are about a hundred DF-21 and DF-26 BMDs. Five Chinese SSBNs conducting combat patrols may have at least 50 combat units installed on JL-2 SLBMs. Considering that the DF-5В, DF-31AG and DF-41 missiles are equipped with warheads with individual guidance warheads, approximately 250-300 nuclear warheads should be deployed on ICBMs, SLBMs and IFRS. According to minimal estimates, the Chinese arsenal of long-range bomber aircraft may have 50 free-fall thermonuclear bombs and strategic cruise missiles. Thus, 300-350 nuclear charges are deployed on Chinese strategic nuclear carriers. Taking into account the fact that new ICBMs equipped with several individual guided missile launchers are being actively put into operation in China, and the delivery of new submarine missile carriers to the fleet is expected, in the next decade the Chinese strategic nuclear forces can come close in terms of qualitative and quantitative indicators to the capabilities of Russia and the United States.

To be continued ...
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