China’s Missile Silos: A new report by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) shows that China is building more than 100 new missile silos in the desert near its Yumen city.
- Satellite images have revealed that China is building at least three missile silo fields in Yumen in Gansu province, near Hami in Xinjiang province, and at Hanggin Banner, Ordos City, in Inner Mongolia.
- It seems that China is constructing around 120 missile silos at Yumen, around 110 silos in Hami, and 29 in the Hanggin Banner field.
- Earlier this year, 16 missile silos were detected in the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force’s (PLARF) Jilantai training area, also in Inner Mongolia.
- China, for several decades before these discoveries in 2021, operated only 20 missile silos for its DF-5 liquid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
- On completion of the ongoing work, China could have 250-270 new missile silos, more than 10 times the number it had maintained for several decades.
- This comes in the backdrop of a June 30 report from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies which showed the first new Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) silo field at Yumen in Gansu province could have 120 under-construction silos.
How were the fields discovered?
- The Yumen field was discovered by commercial satellite images obtained by researchers at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, California.
- The Hami field was identified by nuclear experts at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) using Planet Labs satellite images.
- The Hanggin Banner field was discovered by researchers at the China Aerospace Studies Institute, Washington DC.
Why is China building missile silos?
There could be three possible explanations. They are as follows:
- Firstly, some Chinese political scientists believe this could be China’s attempt to move towards a launch-on-warning (LOW) nuclear posture.
Note: LOW refers to a launch at an adversary on detection of an incoming missile before the adversary’s missile hits its target.
- Secondly, it enables China to achieve its goal of increasing its nuclear warhead stockpile.
- Thirdly, China could maybe use these silos as decoys.
Significance for India:
- The matter assumes great significance for India because India and China are locked in a military standoff at the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh since 2020.
- Even after the disengagement of troops from both sides at the contentious Pangong Tso area in March 2021, there has been no further breakthrough in military and diplomatic talks between the two countries.
- Although both China and India have pledged nuclear ‘no first use’ doctrines, India’s modest ballistic missile defence capabilities and China’s nuclear ambiguity are matters of concern for India.
What is a Missile Silo?
- A missile launch facility, also known as an underground missile silo, launch facility (LF), or nuclear silo, is a vertical cylindrical structure constructed underground, for the storage and launching of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
- The structures typically have the missile some distance below ground, protected by a large “blast door” on top. They are usually connected, physically and/or electronically, to a missile launch control center.