China's Underground Great Wall: Subterranean Ballistic Missiles
January 31, 2011
Author: Hui Zhang, Senior Research Associate, Project on Managing the Atom
Recent concerns about the size of China’s nuclear arsenal have arisen in the wake of a study by Georgetown Prof. Phillip Karber, which considers the question of why China has a vast network of underground tunnels referred to as China’s “underground Great Wall.” Karber suggests that these 3,000 miles of complicated tunnels could host about 3,000 nuclear weapons. The key argument Karber makes to support his estimate of 3000 weapons is that “more tunnel growth” means more “nuclear warhead growth.” If those tunnels are just used for storage of nuclear warheads, this logic might seem reasonable. However, China’s underground Great Wall is not just for weapons storage. It is operated mainly as a missile launch base (zhendi). I like to call it “subterranean ballistic missile” (an underground-based version of a nuclear missile submarine, or SSBN). Just as a submarine deterrent offers survivability, so too does a subterranean force; the philosophy underpinning the two are the same.
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