Earlier this month, a minor Chinese environmental office broke some of the biggest news in nuclear missile technology since the end of the Cold War.
The Shaanxi Province Environmental Monitoring Center posted a work summary of its projects, which included site monitoring for research into the Dong Feng-41 missile. The Department of Defense told Congress earlier this year that China was developing the DF-41, a road-mobile, next-generation intercontinental ballistic missile capable of launching multiple nuclear warheads.
The missile had been conceptualized for years, well before China’s military modernization of the past decade began. However, no Chinese governmental agency was willing to confirm its development until the provincial environmental office’s website did so. The post was quickly taken down, but only after it had been reported by the China Communist Party-affiliated Global Times.
The DF-41 news comes amid reports that China also conducted tests this month of its current land-based missile standard, the DF-31A.
U.S. officials also expect China to have operational nuclear missile-equipped submarines this year. The HK-6 bomber, a nuclear-capable aircraft with a range of about 2,000 miles, became part of the Chinese arsenal last year.
Collectively, it represents a nuclear triad, the decades-old standard that the United States still counts on for surviving a global nuclear war.
The Chinese triad remains heavily imbalanced in favor of land-based missiles, since its aircraft can’t fly very far and its submarines may not be all that reliable, according to analysts.
However, the bigger question remains: Why is China, a country with a “no first-use” policy, upgrading its nuclear arsenal at a time when the United States and Russia are reducing their stockpiles?