Chinese nuclear forces, 2011

By Hans M. Kristensen, Robert S. Norris | November 1, 2011

Nuclear Notebook: How many nuclear warheads does China have?

In a new defense white paper published earlier this year, China reiterated its long-held nuclear policies of maintaining a minimum deterrent with a no-first-use pledge and shunning any nuclear arms race (PRC, 2011). Yet Beijing has never defined, in quantitative or qualitative terms, what it means by a minimum deterrent posture.1 This, combined with the fact that it is deploying four new nuclear-capable ballistic missiles (the DF-21, DF-31, DF-31A, and JL-2), leads its neighbors and other states to worry about the scale and intention of China’s nuclear modernization.

We estimate that China has approximately 140 land-based nuclear ballistic missiles. Each is equipped to carry a single warhead. The warheads are not mated with the missiles under normal circumstances but rather kept separately in central storage.2 China stores additional warheads for its submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) as well as bombs for delivery by aircraft;3 we estimate that China has a total inventory of approximately 240 nuclear warheads…

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The Nuclear Notebook is researched and written by Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project with the Federation of American Scientists and Robert S. Norris, a senior fellow with the FAS. The Nuclear Notebook column has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1987. The Nuclear Notebook column has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1987.


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