Jeffrey LewisHow many Chinese Nuclear Weapons Redux

In a previous post, I noted that the “NAIC estimates China has 140 nuclear ballistic missiles” including about 100 medium range ballistic missiles (MRBMs). A close look at classified documents leaked to the press suggests the number of MRBMs may be about half that. (FYI: The IC counts launchers, which are tracked using satellite imagery, and theoretically have a refire capability.)

Here is the argument: The most recent NAIC Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat estimates the number of launchers for the CSS-2, CSS-5 Mod 1 and CSS-5 Mod 2 MRBMs as “less the fifty” each, implying as many as 150 total MRBMs.

But, I think NAIC means there are less than fifty total MRBM launchers of all types, based on two documents leaked to the press:

  1. A 1996 NAIC report of the program to refit CSS-2 launchers for the CSS-5, suggested there are less than 50 total CSS-2 and -5 launchers and that the CSS-2 was being replaced by the CSS-5 on a one-to-one basis.
  2. Presidential Review 31 (1994), U.S. Policy On Ballistic Missile Defenses And The Future Of The ABM Treaty, summarized a CIA assesment that “China’s medium and intermediate range missile force currently is composed of some 50 launchers.”

If I read the two documents correctly, then the entire MRBM force (CSS-2 and CSS-5) comprises 50-100 missiles, depending on whether 1 or 2 missiles are assigned to each launcher.