81. Editorial Note

On April 25, 1962, the U.S. Intelligence Board circulated NIE 13-2-62, “Chinese Communist Advanced Weapons Capabilities.” The Estimate acknowledged important gaps in available information and therefore did not attempt to predict the year in which deployment of a complete weapons system would probably begin. Regarding a Chinese nuclear test, the Estimate concluded: “Assuming an accelerated and highly successful program for the production of plutonium since 1960, the Chinese Communists could detonate an all-plutonium device in early 1963. However, in the light of all the evidence, it is unlikely that the Chinese will meet such a schedule. We believe that the first Chinese test would probably be delayed beyond 1963, perhaps by as much as several years.” The Air Force dissented, believing that a plutonium explosion was “likely” by 1963 and that if this occurred, it would be within Chinese capabilities to test a thermonuclear device “by the end of the decade.” The Navy, on the other hand, believed there was insufficient evidence to make any “reliable estimate of the Chinese Communist program in the development of nuclear weapons.”

The Estimate also concluded that a nuclear weapons program had been underway in China since the early 1950s, and a guided missile program since the late 1950s; that the Chinese program had received substantial Soviet assistance until about mid-1960; that any attempt to mass-produce advanced weapons would be difficult for China; that China would need 2 or more years after its first nuclear test to develop fission weapons for nuclear warheads, and that it would probably not undertake to develop surface-to-air missiles until at least the mid-1960s; that “within the next few years, the Chinese could begin to deploy short-range (up to 350 n.m.) surface-to-surface missiles with nonnuclear warheads”; and that “in more advanced fields—submarine missile systems, IRBMs, ICBMs, antimissile systems, and thermonuclear weapons—China [was] not likely to achieve independent capabilities during the 1960s.” (Central Intelligence Agency Files, Job 79-R01012A, ODDI Registry) For complete text, see the Supplement.