Republican leaders on the House and Senate Armed Services Committee called it a “wake-up call” that China has surpassed the United States in intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launchers.
“The head of U.S. Strategic Command has informed us that China has surpassed the U.S. in the number of ICBM launchers – this should serve as a wake-up call for the United States,” said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL), House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces Chairman Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces Deb Fischer (R-NE) in a statement.
It is not an understatement to say that the Chinese nuclear modernization program is advancing faster than most believed possible. We have no time to waste in adjusting our nuclear force posture to deter both Russia and China. This will have to mean higher numbers and new capabilities.
U.S. Strategic Command (Stratcom), which is in charge of maintaining the nation’s nuclear forces, said in a recent letter to members of Congress that China has overtaken the U.S. military on the number of intercontinental ballistic missile launchers.
Stratcom Commander Adm. Charles Richard said in the January 26, 2023, letter — which was made public Tuesday, “The number of land-based fixed and mobile ICBM launchers in China exceeds the number of ICBM launchers in the United States.”
Richard’s letter was in response to a December 5, 2022, letter from Republican leaders on the committees, who had asked him to share that information in an unclassified form pursuant to the law. The Wall Street Journal first reported the letter, and Rogers later released it publicly.
Rogers said in a statement to the Wall Street Journal, “China is rapidly approaching parity with the United States. … We cannot allow that to happen. The time for us to adjust our force posture and increase capabilities to meet this threat is now.”
According to the WSJ, many of China’s land-based launchers are empty, but most U.S. officials are assuming that China will fill them with nuclear-tipped ICBMs over the next decade or so.
An annual Pentagon report on China’s military released last year said that China is on pace to field approximately 1,500 nuclear warheads by 2035 — triple the number it reportedly has today.
After that report, Congress required Stratcom to update Congress if China had more ICBM missiles, more nuclear warheads on such missiles, and more ICBM missile launchers than the U.S.
The 1,500 warhead number is around what the U.S. and Russia are limited to under the New START Treaty, which limits warheads, missiles, bombers, and launchers. China is not a party to the treaty, which will expire in 2026.
Rogers argued to the WSJ that limits set in the treaty are inhibiting the U.S. from building up its arsenal to deter Russia and China, but proponents of arms control say the U.S. should focus on negotiations with China and Russia instead of building up its forces.
Rogers, as the new chairman of HASC under the new Republican leadership, made China the focus of the committee’s first hearing, which took place Tuesday.
He addressed China’s growing military capabilities during the hearing in his opening statement:
China is the most challenging national security threat America has faced in 30 years. If we fail to acknowledge that, and take immediate action to deter it, the next 30 years could be devastating for our nation.
Under President Xi, the Chinese Communist Party has nearly tripled its defense spending in the past decade. The PLA has gone from an obsolete force barely capable of defending its borders, to a modern fighting force capable of winning regional conflicts.
The CCP now controls the largest army and navy in the world, with a goal of having them fully integrated and modernized by 2027. The CCP is rapidly expanding its nuclear capability. They have doubled their number of warheads in just 2 years. We estimated it would take them a decade to do that.
We’ve also just informed by DoD that the CCP now has more ICBM launchers than the United States.
The CCP is starting to outpace us on new battlefields as well. The CCP has leapfrogged us on hypersonic technology. They are fielding what we are still developing. They are making advances in AI and quantum computing that we struggle to keep pace with. Finally, their rapid advances in space were one of the primary motivations in establishing the Space Force.
The CCP is not building these new and advanced military capabilities for self-defense. In recent years, the CCP has used its military to push out its borders, threaten our allies in the region, and gain footholds on new continents. In violation of international law, the CCP has built new, and commandeered existing, islands in the South China Sea, where it has deployed stealth fighters, bombers, and missiles.
It continues to intimidate and coerce Taiwan, most recently by surrounding the island with naval forces and launching endless fighter sorties across the centerline.
In recent years, the CCP also established a space tracking facility in South America to monitor U.S. satellites, as well as an overseas naval base just miles from our own on the strategically vital Horn of Africa. These are just a few of the destabilizing actions taken by the CCP.
Rogers also called the Chinese spy balloon that flew across the continental U.S. last week a “calculated show of force.” He said:
Make no mistake, that balloon was intentionally launched as a calculated show of force. We have to stop being naïve about the threat we face from China. We no longer have the luxury of time. We need to act now to get ahead of this threat. We need to make the right investments, in the right capabilities to ensure our military can effectively deter, and if necessary, defeat this threat.
“That will be the focus of this Committee this Congress,” said Rogers.
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