"China’s explosive growth and modernization of its nuclear and conventional forces can only be what I describe as breathtaking.” U.S. Strategic Commander, Admiral Charles Richard
“Russia is the primary military threat to the homeland today. It is not China—it is Russia.” NORAD Commander, General Glen VanHerck
China’s First-Strike Capability
“Whether intended or not, China is acquiring a first strike capability,” warns U.S. Air Force Secretary, Frank Kendall, delivering the keynote address at the recent Air, Space, and Cyber Conference of the Air Force Association.
China probably already has a nuclear first strike capability against the U.S. nuclear deterrent.
U.S. counterforce targets comprise 440 ICBM silos and Launch Control Facilities, 3 strategic bomber bases, 2 ballistic missile submarine ports, and a relatively small number of Command-Control-Communications-Intelligence (C3I) centers, like NORAD HQ at Peterson AFB and the Alternate HQ inside Cheyenne Mountain.
Altogether, about 500 targets. All 500 of these U.S. targets, that are the muscle and brain of the U.S. nuclear deterrent, can be destroyed in a surprise first strike by China today.
Just 50 of China’s DF-41 ICBMs can deliver 500 nuclear warheads having yield/accuracy combinations that could achieve Single-Shot-Kill-Probability (SSPK) of over 90% against each target, destroying U.S. ICBMs in their silos, bombers on their bases, and the two-thirds of U.S. ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) normally in port.
So today, not 10 years from now, China can already achieve a nuclear Pearl Harbor.
Washington: Minimum Deterrence and an SSBN Monad?
However, Washington assumes the small number of U.S. SSBNs normally on patrol at sea, usually about 4 submarines, are “invulnerable” and sufficient to deter any nuclear threat. Obviously, China, Russia, and North Korea don’t think so, or they would not be mass producing nuclear missiles.
Some in Washington even want to unilaterally eliminate both U.S. ICBMs and nuclear bombers, and rely only on an SSBN fleet reduced to 6 submarines–that could normally sustain on patrol at sea just 2 boats. They think, despite the ongoing massive nuclear buildup by Beijing, Moscow, and Pyongyang, all the U.S. needs is a small number of missile submarines, called an SSBN Monad, for Minimum Deterrence.
Advocates of an SSBN Monad and Minimum Deterrence are indifferent to the fact that submarines are largely not useable in a counterforce exchange with Russia, China, or even North Korea.
SSBNs are supposed to be held in reserve to deter nuclear attacks on U.S. cities.
After a nuclear Pearl Harbor that destroys U.S. ICBMs, bombers, and submarines in port; if the few SSBNs at sea are expended in futile attacks on the enemy’s vacant bomber bases, empty ICBM silos, hidden mobile ICBMs, and deep underground command posts that are virtually invulnerable—what then happens to American cities, naked and defenseless to enemy nuclear blackmail, or nuclear annihilation?
China, Russia, and maybe even North Korea, do not think U.S. submarines are “invulnerable.” EMP and cyber-attacks can potentially destroy or disrupt C3I connectivity to submarines on patrol, neutralizing them. SSBNs cannot remain “invulnerable” at sea forever. After 6 months on patrol, they have to be resupplied, and return to port.
China and Russia are investing heavily in hunter-killer submarines dedicated to destroying “invulnerable” U.S. SSBNs. Russia will soon deploy a nuclear-powered “torpedo” armed with a 100-megaton warhead, designed with Artificial Intelligence, so it could tail U.S. SSBNs on patrol, and destroy them on command.
China: Global Domination
If China already has a nuclear first-strike capability, why has there been no nuclear Pearl Harbor?
Maybe nuclear deterrence is working, so far. Or maybe China has bigger plans.
The Pentagon didn’t really start worrying about the nuclear threat from China until this year, when satellites discovered China quickly building new ICBM silos in the desert, first 150, then 250, then 350, now 400 missile silos, probably for their DF-41 ICBM armed with 10 warheads.
U.S. Strategic Commander, Admiral Charles Richard warns: “China’s explosive growth and modernization of its nuclear and conventional forces can only be what I describe as breathtaking.”
In a few years, China could have over 4,000 strategic nuclear weapons, over twice as many as the U.S.—enough for a nuclear first-strike on the whole world.
China appears to be emulating the former Soviet Union, whose vaulting nuclear ambitions encompassed not only a nuclear Pearl Harbor against the United States, but against every nation on Earth. So aggressive were the Soviets that they even planned nuclear strikes against remote Pacific islands with long-abandoned U.S. airfields from World War II.
That is why U.S.-USSR nuclear arms-racing during the Cold War reached levels of nuclear weapons that were, to the U.S. arms control community, incomprehensibly high. Incomprehensible to the U.S., because we weren’t planning for a nuclear war against the entire planet.
Russia: Global Domination
Russia never stopped being the USSR in its nuclear ambitions. That is why Russia is cheating on nuclear treaties to achieve:
–An at least 10-to-1 advantage over the U.S. in tactical nuclear weapons, having perhaps as many as 8,000 tactical nuclear weapons, versus 200 for the U.S., by Russia cheating on the Presidential Nuclear Initiative.
–A monopoly on intermediate-range nuclear missiles, where the U.S. has none, by Russia cheating on the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
–Probably a 2-to-1 advantage over the U.S. in strategic nuclear weapons, by Russia cheating on the New START Treaty.
–Technological advantages over the U.S. in modern nuclear weapons of advanced design, by Russia cheating on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty for 30 years.
Warns NORAD Commander, General Glen VanHerck: “Russia is the primary military threat to the homeland today. It is not China—it is Russia.”
Speaking on September 21, General VanHerck said of Russia and China: “They have to both be feared…If your only option to prevent an attack on the homeland is to nuke them, you’re not in a good place.”
Is The New Cold War Already Lost?
Are China and Russia secretly nuclear arms-racing against each other, leaving the U.S. in the dust, Washington already regarded by Beijing and Moscow as “on the ash heap of history”? Perhaps, in the longer term.
However, for the present, China and Russia are strategic partners, cooperating diplomatically, militarily, and technologically—the U.S. in their nuclear crosshairs.
President Biden’s response? He is waiting for a new Nuclear Posture Review to tell him what to do.
There is zero chance President Biden will follow the example of Presidents Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy and close the growing “window of vulnerability” by matching the explosive growth of nuclear threats from China and Russia to deter them.
The Pentagon is hoping the Biden White House will ignore anti-nuclear activists within the Biden Administration, and among Democrat leaders in the Senate and House, who would unilaterally disarm to an SSBN Monad for Minimum Deterrence.
The best that can be hoped for from the Biden White House is that present U.S. nuclear modernization plans will continue slowly plodding forward, mostly to be completed after 2030, greatly overmatched by China and Russia.
Washington has forgotten that President Kennedy was glad to have a 5-to-1 superiority in ICBMs over the USSR, which enabled the U.S. during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis to prevail peacefully—without nuclear war.
Washington has forgotten that President Reagan’s military build-up to nuclear parity with the USSR, and his Strategic Defense Initiative, empowered the U.S. to win the Cold War peacefully—without nuclear war.
Washington has forgotten that the strategic nuclear balance will decide winners and losers, and shape future world order—maybe without nuclear war. But U.S. weakness will invite totalitarian aggression and maybe nuclear World War III.
Maybe the New Cold War is already lost, and Washington’s decision to yield nuclear superiority to China and Russia is our surrender.
For sure, Washington today is what losing the future looks like.
Dr. Peter Vincent Pry is Executive Director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, served as Director of the U.S. Nuclear Strategy Forum, as Chief of Staff of the Congressional EMP Commission, and on the staffs of the Congressional Strategic Posture Commission, House Armed Services Committee, and the CIA. He is author of the books Blackout Warfare (2021) and The Power And The Light (2020).
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