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168. National Intelligence Estimate1

NIE 13–8–71

COMMUNIST CHINA’S WEAPONS PROGRAM FOR STRATEGIC ATTACK

[Omitted here are the table of contents and a 1-page “Note on the Evidence.”]

[Page 575]

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS

The Stage and Direction of the Chinese Effort

A. After some 15 years of effort, China is now beginning to deploy strategic weapon systems. Starting from scratch with a limited industrial, technical, and scientific base, and denied Soviet assistance after 1960, the Chinese had to proceed on their own with the development of requisite skills, the construction of basic facilities, and the design and testing of nuclear weapons and delivery systems.

B. China clearly intends to attain the status of a major nuclear power, accepting the economic burden involved and the risks of slowing basic economic development through diversion of scarce resources and skills to specialized defense tasks. This is evident on the China scene today where activity in both general purpose and strategic military programs is at an all time high. Though any forecast of China’s future must allow for additional periods of disruption and upset, it seems reasonable to assume that the existing high priority for strategic programs will endure in the years ahead.

C. Obviously, China’s efforts in the military field will be limited by availiable skills and resources. But we lack the data to place any useful ceiling on the level of the Chinese effort. Based on the pattern of Chinese military programs to date, the Chinese seem sensitive to the dangers of trying too much too fast in their strategic programs in a country whose population growth threatens continuously to outstrip economic growth. While stressing the wide-ranging and ambitious nature of China’s present effort, we should also stress its relatively moderate pace. The Chinese have been deliberate in testing weapon systems and in no apparent rush to undertake costly and large-scale deployment of weapon systems of limited capabilities. No doubt the large issues of priorities and costs serve to trouble Chinese internal politics at the highest levels, [11/2 lines of source text not declassified].

D. No elaboration of the rationale for developing a strategic force nor any discussion of strategic doctrine has appeared in China. Evidently some principles other than Mao’s “peoples’ war” doctrine guide the costly and wide-ranging strategic weapon programs now underway in China. It seems most likely that Peking seeks through the development of a substantial nuclear force to enhance its claim to great power status, to deter the USSR and the US from the resort to force against China, and to insure for China a leading and dominant political role in Asia.

Strategic Missiles

E. It is probable that China has now deployed some CSS–1 medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs), [1 line of source text not declassified]. This missile has a range of about 600 n.m. and probably uses [Page 576]non-storable liquid propellants. We estimate that there might be about 10 units deployed [less than 1 line of source text not declassified].

F. A second missile, the CSS–2, has a range of at least 1,400 n.m. and probably uses storable propellants. We believe that the development stage of this system is well advanced and that it probably has reached the point of deployment, although there is uncertainty about this. While the CSS–2 is superior to the CSS–1 in range and reaction time, it probably does not incorporate any great improvement in accuracy[2 lines of source text not declassified].

G. The Chinese are developing another liquid-propellant missile. This missile, which appears to have sufficient range to provide full coverage of the USSR, could be ready for deployment by late 1973 or early 1974. This system, referred to as the “Ching-yu” missile, is a two-stage vehicle with the first stage probably incorporating the design and technology of the CSS–2. Its maximum range is unknown, but our calculations, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] suggest that any capability against the continental US would be marginal at most.

H. Further down the road, China is almost certain to deploy a large intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of full coverage of the continental US. China could have a large, liquid-propellant ICBM ready for deployment as early as 1974 but more likely a year or two later. When full range testing into the Pacific or the Indian Ocean occurs, we should be able to learn more about the performance of the system and to make more confident estimates of its probable initial operational capability.2

I. In addition to these four liquid-propellant missiles, China has a large and ambitious program underway for the development and production of strategic missiles using solid propellants. If flight testing begins within a year, solid-propellant strategic missiles—most likely in the MRBM or IRBM class—might be ready for deployment as early as 1974, but 1975 or 1976 is more likely in view of the special problems involved.

Submarines

J. China has also shown an interest in nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), and it is building shipyards which appear capable of producing and servicing such submarines. We judge that China could have SSBNs equipped with solid- or liquid-propellant missiles as early as 1976. But this would require a crash effort and early success in overcoming a multitude of support, training, and operational [Page 577]problems. Thus, even if they now have a prototype under construction, the first Chinese SSBN probably will not be operational until after 1976.

Bombers

K. Production of TU–16 medium bombers began in late 1968 and has reached a level of two per month. About 30 of these aircraft are now operational. The TU–16 can carry a 6,600 pound bombload to a radius of about 1,650 n.m., but it is relatively slow and highly vulnerable to sophisticated air defenses. While there is no doubt that some TU–16 crews are now sufficiently trained to deliver thermonuclear (TN) bombs to designated targets, it will be at least a year and probably longer before the Chinese have two or three regiments with crews trained to perform coordinated missions against modern air defenses.

Nuclear Bombs and Warheads

L. To arm its delivery systems, China has concentrated successfully on the development of a [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] TN device and could now have bombs and warheads with this yield in stockpile. It could also have fission weapons [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]. It is likely that the Chinese are working to expand production of fissionable materials, and although there is a broad range of possible error in estimating the output of these materials, it seems clear that China will have ample fissionable material, particularly after 1973, to arm the strategic delivery systems it is likely to deploy.

Space

M. The two earth satellites launched by China over the past 18 months marked the beginning of what probably will be an ambitious space program. Over the next few years, we expect continued launches involving larger and increasingly sophisticated payloads, partly in response to urgent military needs for targeting and geodetic data.

Projected Forces

N. We expect whatever strategic forces China now has deployed to be augmented gradually over the next two years, principally by a build-up of CSS–2 units and by the continued series production of TU–16 medium bombers. Beyond 1973 and for the period five years ahead, there is much uncertainty (Section VI attempts to project to that period). But one thing is certain: the force will be weighted heavily on the side of systems capable only of reaching targets in Asia (including US installations there) and the USSR. A capability against the continental US may begin to emerge, however, toward the end of this period.

[Page 578]

[Omitted here is a 39-page Discussion section, which was divided into the following sections: I. Communist China’s Nuclear Weapons Capabilities; II. Communist China’s Strategic Missile Program; III. China’s Bomber Force; IV. Ballistic Missile Submarine Systems; V. China’s Nascent Space Program; and VI. Projected Strategic Forces.]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Job 79R1012, NIC Files. Top Secret. According to a note on the covering sheet, the Central Intelligence Agency and intelligence organizations of the Departments of State and Defense, the NSA, and the AEC participated in the preparation of this estimate. All members of the USIB concurred with the estimate except for the representative from the FBI, who abstained on the grounds that the subject was outside his jurisdiction. For the full text of this NIE, see Tracking the Dragon,p. 678
  2. Smith of the NSC Staff had written to Kissinger on April 7, 1971, informing him of 1970 tests of what was probably the PRC’s first ICBM. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 522, Country Files, Far East, China, Vol. VI)