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China building second nuclear missile silo site, FAS

China OCBM silo field
Hami missile silo field under construction. Photo: FAS

After reports of China’s first nuclear missile silo field emerged in June this year, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) has identified another such site in the vicinity of the city of Hami in Eastern Xinjiang.

Satellite images obtained by FAS researchers Matt Korda and Hans Kristensen show that China began construction of the second field in March this year, with dome shelters erected over 14 silos and work underway on another 19 silos.

FAS estimates that the site could eventually host 110 silos based on the grid outline of the complex.

As visible in the satellite imagery provided to FAS by Planet Labs, the intercontinental ballistic missile site appears very similar to the one identified earlier this year in a desert near the northwestern city of Yumen.

Planet Labs imagery from June 2021 of the first missile silo field near Yumen, where some 100 silo sites sprung up since construction began in early 2020.

The number of new Chinese silos under construction exceeds the number of silo-based ICBMs operated by Russia, and constitutes more than half of the size of the entire US ICBM force, according to FAS.

According to estimates, China currently possesses a stockpile of 250 to 350 nuclear weapons, and almost as many silos under construction. While the actual number of missiles intended for those silos is unknown, it is possible that some of these could be decoy silos.

FAS estimates that China’s ICBMs could potentially carry more than 875 warheads, should the Yumen and Hami missile silo fields be completely filled once completed.

China’s pace of construction of the silos is at odds with the country’s decades-old minimum deterrent policy, which appears to be changing under president Xi Jinping. The country’s new DF-41 ICBM and the JL-3 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) will both be capable of carrying multiple warheads while the current stockpile of DF-5B ICBMs is already being upgraded with the ability to carry up to five warheads (MIRV).