China missile silos a sign of ‘unprecedented nuclear buildup,’ report says

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Nov. 3 (UPI) — Construction activity at three suspected missile silo fields in north-central China offers the latest evidence of a rapidly expanding nuclear weapons program that has raised alarms in the Pentagon, according to a new analysis of satellite imagery.

A report published online Tuesday by the Federation of American Scientists detailed “significant progress” at sites located in the deserts of Xinjiang, where approximately 300 silos are believed to be under construction.

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“For China, this is an unprecedented nuclear buildup,” the report’s authors, Matt Korda and Hans Kristensen, wrote. Their analysis was based on commercial images from Planet Labs and Maxar Technologies.

In addition to the more than 100 mobile launchers China is believed to possess, the silos could give Beijing the world’s most formidable long-range nuclear missile capability.

“China’s total ICBM force could potentially exceed that of either Russia and the United States in the foreseeable future,” the report said.

The fields were first disclosed over the summer by the FAS and the Middlebury Institute.

China has not officially confirmed or denied the construction projects, and the FAS report noted that “there are many uncertainties and unknowns about the nature and role of the facilities.”

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“The apparent missile silo fields are still many years away from becoming fully operational and it remains to be seen how China will arm and operate them,” the report said.

The silos are part of a weapons program that has been a source of mounting concern for defense officials in Washington, as Beijing is also quickly advancing its missile technology and cyber warfare capabilities.

America’s No. 2 military officer, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten, said last week that China was a “pacing threat.”

“The pace at which China is moving is stunning,” Hyten told the Defense Writers Group at George Washington University on Thursday. “The pace they’re moving and the trajectory that they’re on will surpass Russia and the United States if we don’t do something to change it. It will happen.”

His remarks came a day after Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, confirmed a report in the Financial Times that China had test-fired a nuclear-capable hypersonic weapon in August.

“What we saw was a very significant event of a test of a hypersonic weapon system, and it is very concerning,” Milley said in an interview that aired on Bloomberg Television.

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“I don’t know if it’s quite a Sputnik moment, but I think it’s very close to that,” he said. “And it has all of our attention.”

The Pentagon has also prioritized developing hypersonic weapons, which can fly more than five times the speed of sound at low altitudes that make them difficult to detect. Washington’s most recent test in October fizzled, however, when a booster rocket carrying the hypersonic glide body failed.