Recently the media/news has been showing China's increased militarization. At the current rate of growth The People's Republic of China will become a powerful military adversary. But at the moment how powerful are China's armed forces?
PART I, CHINA'S NUCLEAR ARSENAL
Intro (video clip)
This video clip is from an excellent documentary about the development of nuclear weapons called Trinity and Beyond. This particular segment shows China's first nuclear test in 1964.
China possesses a myriad of nuclear missiles. However, most of these missiles are short range and theater range ballistic missiles. China fields 990-1070 SRBMs (short range ballistic missile). China's SRBMs such as the CCS-6 and CCS-7 have ranges of 300-600km and have low yield warheads. Most of these missiles are designed to hit targets across the Taiwan strait.
China also deploys around 300 of the more powerful IRBMs (intermediate range ballistic missile). These missiles can hit targets 1,700-3,000km away and pose a significant threat to U.S bases in Korea, Japan, Guam, and in the Pacific. China posses a large number of these missiles and continues to expand its IRBM missile programs. This reflects China's defense strategy. At the moment and for at least several years China will not have significant power projection capabilities hence its status as a Great Power not a Super Power like the United States. China is mainly interested in keeping foreign powers out of the area in a potential conflict over Taiwan. IRBMs would play a critical role in keeping regional control. The most alarming type of IRBM that is currently being developed by the PRC is the ASBM or anti-ship ballistic missiles from modified CCS-5 IRBMs. China is researching mobile retry vehicles (MRV) which would allow them to target U.S fleets within 1,700km of China. To counter U.S fleets would employ the Aegis missile defense systems from Ticonderoga class cruisers.
China has developed a few kinds of ICBMs that are capable of hitting the United States such as the DF-5. China owns 20 DF-5 missiles each are fitted with a single massive warhead with a yield of 4 to 5 megatons. The major problem with the DF-5 is because its liquid fueled its takes 30-60 minutes to prepare for launch while solid fuel rockets take less than 5. Additionally because accuracy of the missile is bad (can be off by 1km or 3,300ft) it has to be fitted with a single large warhead to compensate. This means that China can only hit a total of 20 targets with its entire stock pile of DF-5 missiles. China is also starting to field more advanced solid fuel ICBMs in limited numbers. The DF-31 and its upgraded variant the DF-31A are a significant improvement over the DF-5. It is unknown if the DF-31 will feature a single large warhead or multiple smaller reentry vehicles with greater accuracy. U.S Air Force Intelligence has determined that fewer than 15 DF-31s exist of each variant. The DF-31 is a silo based version of the JL-2 SLBM developed for the Type 94 SLBM submarines. The Type 94 submarine is China's latest SLBM submarine. A total of 5 are planed to be built and each Type 94 can fire 12 JL-2 missiles.
Total Nuclear Arsenal
PRC SRBM force: 990-1,070 missiles
PRC IRBM force: ~300 missiles
ICBM and SLBM force: ~100 missiles
Nuclear Arsenal capable of targeting continental United States
Total Peoples Republic of China ICBM and SLBM nuclear arsenal yield: ~160 megatons
PRC DF-5A force 20 warheads = 80 megatons
PRC Type 94 submarine fleet 60 JL-2 missiles ~60 warheads = 60 megatons
PRC DF-31 >15 missile force >15 warheads = >15 megatons
PRC DF-31A >15 missile force >15 warheads = >15 megatons
Compared with United States of America ICBM and SLBM force
U.S Ohio-class submarine fleet 336 Trident II SLMB equipped w/ 1,344 warheads total (capacity for 2,688 warheads but SORT Treaty only allows 4 warheads per Trident II SLBM missile although 8 can be fitted): 944 W86 each 100kt and 400 W88 each 475kt MRV warheads = 284.4 megatons (capacity for 568.8 megatons w/out SORT treaty)
U.S Minute Man III ICBM force 450 W87 warheads, SORT treaty only allows one warhead per ICBM (Minute Man III can hold up to 3 warheads) = 213.75 megatons (capacity for 641.25 megatons w/out SORT Treaty)
Total United States ICBM and SLBM nuclear arsenal yield : 498.15 megatons, 1,794 warheads. (1.21 gigatons w/out SORT)
China is expanding its territorial influence but in terms of power projection and targeting the continental United States specifically, The Peoples Republic of China is limited. It can only strike 100 targets in the continental U.S while America can hit 1,794 targets in China.
1.) ANNUAL REPORT TO CONGRESS Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2008