Jeffrey LewisChinese Nuclear Warhead Facility

Cool huh?

All things considered—access control, double perimeter, revetted buildings—that looks a lot like nuclear weapons storage to me.

I’ve oft noted that the intelligence community believes the Chinese keep their warheads stored seperately from their ballistic missiles. A declassified Department of Defense cable explained:

Each base has its own warhead storage facility … In a contingency situation, a warhead is transported direcly from the base storage facility, which is located within the base’s defined operating area, to the launch position where the warhead is mated with the missile

One can clearly see such an arrangement from the Xiao Qiadam missile base, one of five places that China reportedly stores DF-4 ballistic missiles. The others are Da Qaidam, Delingha, Sundian, and Tongdao.

Although the first DF-4 ballistic missiles were deployed in silos near Sundian and Tongdao, the Chinese leadership eventually

… adopted the concept “in-cave storage/preparation and out-cave erection/filling/firing” [for other bases.] Zhang Aiping dubbed the concept chu men fang pao (shooting a firecracker outside the front door).”

John Wilson Lewis and Hua Di, “China’s Ballistic Missile Programs: Technologies, Strategies, Goals,” International Security 17:2, Fall 1992.

If you click on the image, it will take you to Google Earth file showing the missile base, the warhead storage facility and the “front door”—two complexes in the mountains where the missiles are presumably stored.

Interestingly, a facility near Delingha shares most of the signatures of the Xiao Qaidam site: a military layout, security perimters, well-maintained buildings, a location close to the mountains and—most important—a secure railhead and launch complexes nestled in the mountains.

It looks a lot like a DF-4 base to me.

I don’t, however, see anything that looks so evidently like a warhead storage facility near Delingha.

Now, this is where it gets really interesting. There is something that looks like a nuclear warhead facility about 30 miles from Delingha.

Why would the nuclear weapons be so far away? If you look closely, there are lots to razed foundations that indicate the missile base used to be here (follow the road into the mountain and you see more foundations for the launch complex and, on the other side of the mountains, what look to me like launch sites strung along the road.

Odd, eh, they might leave the weapons but move the missile base?

Late Update: A friend notices several intact launch sites, including one with a launch excercise underway. The launch site has several trucks present and a suspiciously long truck is on the road heading for the site. Guess Delingha can be classified as “active.”


  1. gmb
  2. Phil

    probably decoys

  3. Carl (History)

    Wow. Great post. Unfortunately, you’ll probably be hard blocked here in China in 5… 4… 3…

  4. megatonone (History)

    some NIIRS 9 images would be nicer 🙂

  5. Geoff Miller (History)

    Interesting post but I must admit that I have know idea what the signifigance is to
    ” revetted buildings.”

    Care to briefly explain?

  6. Jeffrey Lewis

    Strictly speaking, the US Army Corps of Engineers defines a revetment as ” a facing of erosion resistant material, such
    as stone or concrete, that is built to protect a scarp, embankment, or other shoreline feature against erosion.”

    In practice, “revetment” refers to any berm or embankment used to protect a building, aircraft or other military target. 1972 DIA, Peoples Republic of China Nuclear Weapons Employment Policy and Strategy. The identification of the Tzu-t’ung complex as a nuclear weapons fabrication center rests on the presence there of many revetted buildings and three HE test points similar to those at Koko Nor, the overall size of the installation, and the pattern of dispersal of the facilities. 1996 CIA, Persian Gulf: Situation Update. In southern Iraq, an operational SA-2 surface-to-sir missile battalion consisting of six loaded SA-2 launchers has been deployed east of Safwan airfield in a revetted/bermed site since January.

  7. Jeffrey Lewis

    There is an argument going on that suggests the Xiao Qaidam facility might merely be a mining operation.

    Just thought you should know.