Chinese nuclear forces, 2015

Nuclear Notebook: How many nuclear bombs does China have?

We estimate that China has approximately 260 nuclear warheads in its stockpile for delivery by approximately 160 land-based ballistic missiles as well as aircraft1 and an emerging ballistic submarine fleet. This estimate is 10 warheads higher than last year, primarily due to additional sea-launched ballistic missiles. Each missile in the Chinese arsenal is equipped to carry a single warhead, except a small number of silo-based missiles that have been equipped to carry multiple warheads. The warheads are not mated with missiles under normal circumstances and are instead kept separate in central storage facilities.2

China is the only one of the five original nuclear weapon states that is quantitatively increasing the size of its nuclear arsenal, although the pace is slow. The arsenal’s capabilities are also increasing as older missiles are replaced with newer and more capable ones. China is assigning a growing portion of its warheads to long-range missiles, and the US intelligence community predicts that by the mid-2020s China could “more than double” its number of warheads on missiles that are capable of threatening the United States to “well over 100” (Burgess, 2012: 19; US Air Force, National Air and Space Intelligence Center, 2013: 3). We estimate that China’s current arsenal includes as many as 60 long-range missiles that can reach the United States, although only 45 of those can strike the continental United States.3 Some Chinese missiles also have strike missions against Russia and India…

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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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