Washington DC [US], April 22 (ANI): The United States has only learned in the past week that China has developed a fast breeder capacity allowing it to make far more plutonium nuclear warheads than US assessments had previously thought possible, according to a top US Commander.
"It is only in the past week that we became aware that this limitation (on production of nuclear weapons) has changed in an upward direction," US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) chief Admiral Charles Richard told a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC).
Beijing's progress in activating a fast breeder reactor had greatly increased its capability and its nuclear stockpile was undergoing an "unprecedented expansion," Richard was quoted as saying by Sputnik.
At the current pace, China is "well ahead of the pace necessary to double their nuclear stockpile by the end of the decade."China was also on track to achieve its goal of establishing a nuclear triad with the separate ground, air and sea-launched nuclear weapons by the middle of the current decade, the commander added.
Beijing's nuclear forces, under the aegis of the People's Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF), are nowhere as large as those of the USA or Russia, but the inventory is significantly growing and modernizing.
New missiles such as DF-41 and DF-31AG intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) were paraded in Beijing in October 2019, demonstrating the forward strides that the PLARF is making.
Last year, an annual report from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, titled Chinese Nuclear Forces 2020 and authored by Hans Kristensen and Matt Korda, discussed the state of play in the PLARF.
It claimed, "China is continuing the nuclear weapons modernization program that it initiated in the 1980s and increased in the 1990s and 2000s, fielding more types and greater numbers of nuclear weapons than ever before."It is impossible to say how many nuclear weapons China actually has, but Kristensen and Korda offer their best estimate in the report.
They claimed, "We estimate that China has a produced a stockpile of approximately 350 nuclear warheads, of which roughly 272 are for delivery by more than 240 operational land-based ballistic missiles, 48 sea-based ballistic missiles and 20 nuclear gravity bombs assigned to bombers."The report continued, "The remaining 78 warheads are intended to arm additional land- and sea-based missiles that are in the process of being fielded." (ANI)