While the U.S. leads in intercontinental missiles and warheads, China’s gains are fueling debate in Congress
The U.S. military has notified Congress that China now has more land-based intercontinental-range missile launchers than the U.S., fueling the debate about how Washington should respond to Beijing’s nuclear buildup.
“The number of land-based fixed and mobile ICBM launchers in China exceeds the number of ICBM launchers in the United States,” the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees nuclear forces, wrote the Senate’s and House’s Armed Services Committees on Jan. 26.
The notification comes as the U.S. is facing the challenge of deterring Russia’s substantial nuclear forces as well as China’s growing nuclear arsenal. U.S. lawmakers are involved in an increasingly heated debate about how best to counter Beijing, including the Pentagon’s response to the Chinese surveillance balloon that recently traversed the U.S. and hovered over Montana, where a portion of the American military’s ICBM arsenal is deployed.
The U.S., which is modernizing all three legs of its land, sea and air based nuclear arsenal, has a much larger nuclear force than China.
Many of China’s land-based launchers still consist of empty silos, according to U.S. officials and experts outside government. The Strategic Command also notified Congress that the U.S. has more intercontinental-range missiles based on land, and more nuclear warheads mounted on those missiles, than China.
The command’s notifications also don’t include submarine-launched missiles and long-range bombers, where the U.S. has a decided advantage, U.S. officials say.
Republican lawmakers, however, have cited the ICBM launchers as a portent of the scale of China’s longer-range ambitions are urging the U.S. to expand its own nuclear forces to counter the Russian and Chinese forces.
“China is rapidly approaching parity with the United States,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, the Alabama Republican who chairs the House Armed Services Committee. “We cannot allow that to happen. The time for us to adjust our force posture and increase capabilities to meet this threat is now.”