A new report says China’s nuclear arsenal is likely to be far bigger than the Pentagon predicted last year—the latest sign of what Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley is calling “one of the largest shifts in global geostrategic power that the world has witnessed.”
Released Wednesday, this year’s edition of “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China” says China will likely have 700 operational warheads by 2027 and 1,000—or more—by 2030, “exceeding the pace and size that DOD projected in 2020.”
For China, 2027 is a publicly acknowledged milestone goal and “one where they say that the PLA’s, capabilities should be networked into a system of systems for what they refer to as intelligentized warfare,” said a senior defense official who briefed Pentagon reporters on the new estimates before their release, on the condition of anonymity. “If they realize those goals for 2027, that would provide them with more credible military operations in a Taiwan contingency.”
“They often talk about ‘to deter’ or ‘to compel Taiwan to abandon moves toward independence’,” the official said of China’s public statements on Taiwan, adding that Beijing appears to be “preparing for a contingency to unify by force also, and wanting to be able to to deter, to delay or otherwise, you know, to counter third-party intervention.”
The report said that China’s rapid expansion of all three legs of its nuclear triad, as well as other improvements to its air, sea and space forces, will by 2027 give it an array of offensive weapons that would give it credible options for attacking or otherwise coercing Taiwan.
China already has a 975,000-strong active duty People’s Liberation Army, the report said. It has the world’s largest Navy, with an estimated 355 ships and submarines, many of which “will have the capability to conduct long-range precision strikes”; and the third-largest air force, with 2,800 total aircraft, 2,250 of which are combat aircraft.
China has also made rapid gains in space, AI, and cyber capabilities. It took the U.S. by surprise this summer by launching a hypersonic test missile that circled the globe.
China’s growth in cyberwarfare capability “is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before,” National Security Agency director Army Gen. Paul Nakasone said Wednesday at the Aspen Security Forum. “This is not the Soviet Union upon which I grew up in; this is a nation-state that has a different risk calculus.”
The senior defense official said that China is quickly developing a range of options for military action toward Taiwan, including“a full-scale amphibious invasion.”
“They could conduct air and missile strikes and cyber attacks. They could try to, you know, seize, you know, other islands that are not necessarily all of Taiwan, right, but maybe some of the offshore islands. So they’ve got, you know, a range of different things that they are wanting to be prepared to do.”
That does not mean an attack on Taiwan is imminent, but the situation grows less ambiguous as each option comes online, Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley said Wednesday at the Aspen Security Forum.
“Forty years ago, they had zero satellites; look at what they’ve got today. They had no ICBMs; look at what they’ve got today. They had no nuclear weapons. Look what they got today,” Milley told the forum.
“We’re witnessing one of the largest shifts in global geostrategic power that the world has witnessed. It’s happening within what I would call an operating environment, a change in the character of war. So that happens once in a while. In terms of a fundamental change in the character of war,” Milley said.
Milley said he does not think China will act on Taiwan within the next six months to two years.
“Having said that, though, the Chinese are clearly and unambiguously building the capability to provide those options to the national leadership,” the chairman said.