A senior American military officer notified lawmakers in January that China has more land-based fixed and mobile intercontinental ballistic missile launchers than the US, according to a letter sent to Congress.
The letter from Gen. Anthony Cotton, commander of US Strategic Command which oversees the US nuclear arsenal says that as of October 2022 China’s inventory of land-based fixed and mobile ICBM launchers “exceeds the number of ICBM launchers in the United States.”
The letter also says that China’s does not have more ICBMs or nuclear warheads than the US.
A joint statement released on Tuesday by Republican leaders of Congress’ Armed Services committees called the letter “a wake-up call for the United States.”
“It is not an understatement to say that the Chinese nuclear modernization program is advancing faster than most believed possible. We have no time to waste in adjusting our nuclear force posture to deter both Russia and China. This will have to mean higher numbers and new capabilities,” the statement said.
The details of the letter were first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
Though the US has larger nuclear arsenal than China, Beijing’s efforts to modernize and increase its nuclear capabilities have alarmed lawmakers and garnered the attention of US military leaders.
The news of the letter comes as tensions between the US and China have increased over a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon the US military shot down over the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday. The balloon resulted in Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponing his anticipated trip to Beijing, calling the balloon’s presence over the continental USA a “clear violation of US sovereignty and international law.”
China has maintained that the balloon crossing into the US was “completely an accident” and said on Sunday that China reserves “the right to make further necessary reaction.”
ICBMs are a staple in the US nuclear triad, which includes nuclear delivery systems on land and in the air and sea. According to the Defense Department, they are distributed across 400 “hardened, underground silos” with another 50 silos “kept in ‘warm’ status.”
The US arsenal also includes more than a dozen submarines capable of launching ballistic missiles and a fleet of nuclear-capable bombers.
The US stockpile of nuclear warheads far surpasses China’s; in 2022, the US had more than 5,000 total nuclear warheads, with 1,644 of them deployed according to the Federation of American Scientists. China, meanwhile, has recently surpassed 400. And while the difference in stock is significant, a Pentagon report released in November said China is building its nuclear stockpile at an increasingly fast pace, and could have roughly 1,500 nuclear warheads by 2035 if they maintained that pace.
“We see, I think, a set of capabilities taking shape and new numbers in terms of what they’re looking to pursue that raise some questions about what their intent will be in the longer term,” a senior defense official told reporters at the time.