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- China appears to be close to completing a so-called "triad" of nuclear forces that can launch nukes from land, air, and sea. A developmental air-launched ballistic missile could complete the triangle.
- A true nuclear triad is about more than just the possessing the platforms and weapons, though.
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The Chinese military is moving toward fielding a nuclear triad, the Pentagon warns in a new report.
China appears to be close to completing its triad, meaning it will have the ability to launch nukes from land, air, and sea. A developmental air-launched ballistic missile could complete the triangle, the Department of Defense reports.
A true nuclear triad is about more than just the possessing the platforms and weapons, though.
"To have a true triad involves doctrine, it involves training, a lot of things," Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Randall Schriver explained. But, he added, the Chinese military is "heading in that direction, toward having capable delivery systems in those three domains."
Here’s what a complete Chinese "nuclear triad" might look like.
On land, China has intercontinental missiles capable of striking the continental US.
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China has approximately 90 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in its nuclear arsenal, according to the Pentagon.
These include the silo-based DF-5s, the road-mobile DF-31s, and roll-out-to-launch DF-4s. China is also developing the DF-41, a powerful new road-mobile ICBM capable of carrying multiple independent warheads.
China also has a number of nuclear-capable medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles, such as the DF-21 and DF-26. While the ICBMs with their greater range could be used to target points in the US, these weapons could be used against US targets across the Pacific.
These assets are under the control of the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force.
In the air, China has bombers capable of carrying nuclear missiles.
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In its 2018 report on China’s military, the Department of Defense revealed that the People’s Liberation Army Air Force had been re-assigned a nuclear mission.
"The PLA is upgrading its aircraft with two new air-launched ballistic missiles, one of which may include a nuclear payload," the Pentagon explained in its 2019 report. "Its deployment and integration would, for the first time, provide China with a viable nuclear ‘triad’ of delivery systems dispersed across land, sea, and air forces."
The Diplomat reports that this new ALBM is a two-stage, solid-fueled ballistic missile with a range of 3,000 km designated by US intelligence as CH-AS-X-13. The weapon has been tested aboard a modified H-6K bomber identified as H6X1/H-6N.
At sea, Chinese submarines are capable of carrying nuclear missiles.
Photo by Artyom Ivanov\TASS via Getty Images
China has four operational Type 094 Jin-class submarines, with another two being outfitted at Huludao Shipyard, the Department of Defense reports. These boats are armed with JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles, what the Pentagon calls China’s "first viable sea-based nuclear deterrent."
China has already started testing new, longer-range JL-3 SLBMs that will arm the next-generation Type 096 submarines.
It is unclear if Chinese ballistic missile submarines conduct deterrence patrols, but the Pentagon operates on the assumption that they do. These assets are under the control of the People’s Liberation Army Navy.
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