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China building a second nuclear missile silo field in Xinjiang, say US scientists

China building a second nuclear missile silo field in Xinjiang, say US scientists(Photo: FAS)

Satellite images reveal that China is building a second nuclear missile silo field, according to a report from the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) published on Monday. 

The discovery follows the report earlier this month that China appears to be constructing 120 missile silos near Yumen in Gansu province. The second missile silo field is located 380 kilometers northwest of the Yumen field near the prefecture-level city of Hami in Eastern Xinjiang.

The Hami missile silo field is in a much earlier stage of development than the Yumen site. Construction began at the start of March 2021 in the southeastern corner of the complex and continues at a rapid pace. Since then, dome shelters have been erected over at least 14 silos and soil cleared in preparation for construction of another 19 silos. The grid-like outline of the entire complex indicates that it may eventually include approximately 110 silos, the FAS report states.

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The US Strategic Command, which is responsible for strategic deterrence, expressed its concern about the report in a tweet, saying: "This is the second time in two months the public has discovered what we have been saying all along about the growing threat the world faces.”

The news also comes at a time when the US and Russia prepare for strategic arms control talks. China, on the other hand, has so far not taken part in arms control negotiations and appears to be on an expansion spree to back its coercive foreign policy and fuel its ambitions as a superpower.

The silo field in Xinjiang was detected using commercial satellite imagery, but higher-resolution pictures were later provided by Planet, a satellite imaging company.

The Hami site was first spotted by Matt Korda, Research Associate for the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, using commercial satellite imagery. Higher resolution images of the site were subsequently provided by Planet.

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The silos at Hami are positioned in an almost perfect grid pattern, roughly three kilometers apart, with adjacent support facilities. Construction and organization of the Hami silos are very similar to the 120 silos at the Yumen site, and are also very similar to the approximately one-dozen silos constructed at the Jilantai training area in Inner Mongolia. These shelters are typically removed only after more sensitive construction underneath is completed. Just like the Yumen site, the Hami site spans an area of approximately 800 square kilometres.

In 2020 China had a nuclear stockpile of more than 200 warheads and was aiming to at least double this amount, the Pentagon said.