Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

China's Nuclear Stockpile

device 1st test yield yield [range] type delivery peak 2018 2020
TOTAL ... 620 ...
1964 25kt 22-35 kt bomb CHIC 1 / 2 0 0
1966 20kt 12-20 kt [or 3 MT] IRBM DF-2 CSS-1 25 0
?? kt bomb gravity bomb Hong-6 (H-6) 30 --
?? kt bomb gravity bomb Qian-5 (Q-5) 30 --
?? kt .. atomic demolition munitions 50?
1967 3,000 kt 3 MT bomb gravity bomb Hong-6 (H-6)
1-3.3 MT ICBM DF-4 CSS-3 12
1-3 MT IRBM DF-3A CSS-2 Mod 40
2-3 MT IRBM DF-3 CSS-2 0
3 MT [or 12-20 kt] IRBM DF-2 CSS-1 0
CHICOM-3 1976 20kt 12-20 kt [or 3 MT] IRBM DF-2 CSS-1 25 0
?? kt bomb gravity bomb Hong-6 (H-6) 30 30
?? kt bomb gravity bomb Qian-5 (Q-5) 30 --
CHICOM-4 1976 4,000 kt 4 MT ICBM DF-5A CSS-4 Mod 2 20
1980 1,000 kt ?? kt bomb gravity bomb Hong-6 (H-6) 30 --
1 @ 1 MT ICBM DF-31 CSS-10 -
1 @ 250-1000 kT SLBM JL-2 24
1 @ 0.35 - 1.0 MT ICBM DF-41 tbd - ?
O-27 / 119 ?
1987 250 kt ?? kt bomb gravity bomb Qian-5 (Q-5) 30 30
200-300 KT SLBM JL-1 12 0 0
250 kt MRBM DF-21 CSS-5 80 0 0
200-300 KT MRBM DF-21C CSS-5 Mod 3 48
50-350 KT SRBM DF-15 CSS-6 96
350 KT SRBM DF-11A CSS-7 Mod 2 108
250 kt ICBM DF-31 CSS-10 15
3 MIRV @ 250 kt SLBM JL-3 tbd 0 tbd
CHICOM-7 1993 100 kt 3 x 100 kt ICBM DF-31A CSS-10 Mod 2 24
3 or 4 MIRV @ 90 kt SLBM JL-2 180
3-6 @ 50-100 KT ICBM DF-41 tbd 0 ?
90 kt LACM DH-10 ? 54 ?
AFP none .. artillery shells ?? ?? ??
W88 none 400 kt ICBM? none - 0 0 0

The composition and size of China's nuclear stockpile is a mystery wrapped in an enigma, with Chinese characteristics. One bounding factor is the history of China's nuclear weapons tests. This later data set is rather fuzzy, and surely some tests could be either low-yield tactical weapons, or low yield fission primaries for a two stage device, or both at the same time, or fizzles. Some tests might have had yields substantially in excess of or less than the design yield of the subsequently deployed weapon. And so forth.

One source of insight are the various delivery systems believed to carry nuclear weapons. There are fairly standard assessments of the number and types of warheads carried on China's strategic missiles. There are a number of the individual estimates of the numbers of deployed delivery systems and the weapons attributed to them, including the yields of these weapons. These independent estimates of specifications are presumably based on a variety of facators [throw weight, etc] not directly constrained by a ouija board contemplation of the Chinese testing history.

Another bounding data set are the estimates of the inventory of fissile materials - highly enriched uranium and bomb grade plutonium - that is available to make bombs. And yet a fourth data set are the various bomb shapes that have been exhibited in China in recent years.

The can be no fixed definition of exactly what constitutes a "nuclear weapon", particularly one with Chinese characteristics. In the history of the American nuclear stockpile, on finds examples of fundamentally similar nuclear weapons with dissimilar designations, and a blanket designation [the ubiquitous B61] covering a multitude of configurations and yields. Taking the reasonably well characterized French and British stockpiles, it may be assumed that China has fielded at least half a dozen discrete nuclear weapon designs, but probably not as many as a dozen.

DIA 1984

system 1984 1989
CSS-1 25 9
CSS-2 110 120
CSS-3 8 31
CSS-4 2 9
SLBM 0 24
MR/IRBM F/O 0 17
Bombs 165 200
ADM 50 50
ASM 0 130
TOTAL 360 590
The US Defense Intelligence Agency provided three estimates of the Chinese stockpile in 1984, variously estimating the total at "between 150 and 160 warheads", "between 225 and 300 nuclear warheads" and 360 warheads [your tax dollars at work]. The DIA "Handbook of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army" of 1984 stated that this arsenal included “fission warheads ranging from 20 to 40 kilotons and thermonuclear warheads ranging from 3 to 5 megatons." DIA also suggested that China had managed to build a nuclear Triad where the “warheads can be delivered by both land- and sea-based missiles, as well as by conventional bomber aircraft."

The US Defense Intelligence Agency stated in 1984 that "Between 150 and 160 warheads are estimated to be in the PRC nuclear stockpile. The limit of the number of warheads is not restricted by nuclear materials production, but on what the Chinese perceive their needs to be. The estimate of the number of warheads in the Chinese nuclear inventory is based on the delivery systems projections. No direct evidence exists on the actual size of China's present nuclear stockpile; however, indirect evidence derived from Chinese nuclear tests and estimates of the characteristics of deployed delivery systems give some basis for estimating types, yields, and approximate numbers." But another 1984 DIA estimate provided a projection for 1989 of the composition of the stockpile, which totalled nearly 600 weapons.

According to Jane's Special Report of 1989, China's nuclear weapon inventory was believed to consiste of 1,455 strategic and tactical devices, with yields ranging from 2 kt to 5 MT. The was reported to include 354 strategic systems carrying about 930 warheads, and at least 150 land and sea based tactical missiles, along with some 375 deployable munitions. Some reports claim that T-5 unguided rockets, with a range of about 100 km, were fitted with nuclear warheads. The M-9 ballistic missile, with a range of 600km, was also believed to be equiped with a nuclear warhead.

Declassified US documents from the 1990s placed classified estimates of the total stockpile, including a small stockpile of aircraft-delivered gravity bombs, between 200 and 250 warheads. In July 1999, DIA estimated the size of the Chinese nuclear weapons inventory to be roughly 155 warheads.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list


Popular Pages

More Info

Find a Security Clearance Job!