42. National Intelligence Estimate1

NIE 13–8/1–69

[Omitted here are a Table of Contents and 1-page map entitled “Communist China: Advanced Weapon Facilities.”]


The Problem

To assess China’s strategic weapons program and to estimate the nature, size, and progress of these programs through the mid-1970’s.


China’s nuclear test program continues to emphasize the development of high-yield thermonuclear weapons. The Chinese have [Page 115] developed a device [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] that could be weaponized for delivery by the TU–16 jet medium bomber, or possibly configured as an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) warhead. They are probably at least two years away from having a thermonuclear weapon in the medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) weight class, but fission warheads for such missiles could be available now. For the next several years at least, the production of nuclear materials can probably keep pace with or exceed the requirements of testing and the number of strategic missiles and TU–16s the Chinese are likely to be able to deploy.
The Chinese have probably begun production of medium bombers (TU–16s). We estimate that production could reach a level of about four or five a month and that about 200 TU–16s might be available by mid-1975.
The evidence suggests strongly that the Chinese are moving toward MRBM deployment. We believe that any major deployment program will involve the construction of permanent complexes, but we have no evidence that such work has begun. Even if some complexes were started in early 1969, they would not be operational before about mid-1970. It is possible, however, that there are a few operational MRBM sites in China at this time. If so, they probably would be temporary-type installations intended to provide an interim capability against the USSR.
[1 line of source text not declassified] However, should a vehicle become available for testing within the next few months, IOC could be achieved by late 1972 or early 1973. It is more likely, however, that IOC will be later, perhaps by as much as two or three years. If the earliest possible IOC were achieved, the number of operational launchers might fall somewhere between 10 and 25 in 1975. In the more likely event that IOC is later, achievement of a force this size would slip accordingly.
The Chinese have a large solid propellant complex at Hu-ho-hao-t’e in Inner Mongolia. We lack any basis for judging how the Chinese will proceed with a solid-propellent program, but we presently doubt that the Chinese could have either an MRBM or ICBM with solid fuel motors in the field by 1975. Moreover, a concentrated effort in this field would probably force the Chinese to restrict severely the deployment of liquid-propellent missiles.
If the Chinese were to attempt to orbit an earth satellite in the next year or so, a modified MRBM would probably be used as the launch vehicle. [1½ lines of source text not declassified]
In general, it is clear that the Chinese continue to press ahead with high priority work on strategic weapon systems. Many uncertainties remain, however, which leave in great doubt the future pace, [Page 116] size, and scope of the program. Unlike the Soviet case, where we have observed numerous programs progress through development to deployment, most of the Chinese effort is not far enough along to provide an adequate historical background for judging China’s technical and industrial capabilities for developing, producing, and deploying weapon systems embodying advanced technologies. [5 lines of source text not declassified] China’s disturbed political situation and the increased animosity in Sino-Soviet relations add further uncertainty about the course of Chinese weapon programs over the next few years.


I. General Considerations

A number of developments over the past year attest to China’s intent to become a major strategic power. These include continuing work on the development of liquid fuel strategic missiles, solid propellants, and nuclear weapons, and the initiation of jet medium bomber production. For the most part the Chinese program has continued along lines previously observed.
There are, however, many uncertainties in our understanding of the scope, pace, and direction of the Chinese advanced weapons program. [3½ lines of source text not declassified]
In the missile field, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]. Unlike the Soviet case, where we have observed numerous advanced weapon systems progress through development to deployment, most of the Chinese effort is not far enough along to provide an adequate historical background for judging China’s technical and industrial capabilities for developing, producing and deploying weapon systems embodying advanced technologies. The Soviets also publish some information on such matters as scientific accomplishments and military strategy and doctrine. This is not the case in China. [1½ lines of source text not declassified] We thus are unable to ascertain important key performance characteristics of missiles being tested or to follow closely the status of the test program. [2 lines of source text not declassified]
The Chinese no doubt have found it difficult to cope with the many complexities involved in advanced weaponry, and they may well find it increasingly difficult to do so as they continue to move beyond the technical limits of help received from the Soviets during the late 1950’s. Technical data and specialized materials and equipment available to them from Western and Japanese sources can only partially overcome the handicap of China’s limited scientific and technical resources, which are spread out thinly over a considerable number of programs.
As time goes on and more weapons systems reach the testing and deployment stage, there will be demands on high quality, scarce resources which will force upon the Chinese some increasingly difficult [Page 117] decisions. They will have to make some choices among various weapon systems; they will also have to consider whether to deploy early systems in large numbers or to wait for later systems that might appear more credible as a threat and as a deterrent. Other choices confronting the Chinese are the balances to be struck between conventional general purpose and strategic forces, and between intercontinental and regional strategic programs. It is quite possible that the Chinese have not faced up to these problems fully and have not yet defined clearly the composition and size of their force goals.
Certainly the political situation in China during the past several years has not been conducive to orderly planning. There is good evidence that the Cultural Revolution intruded into the highest levels of the defense scientific establishment and into the government ministries responsible for missile and nuclear development, but we have not been able to pinpoint where disruption has occurred or to assess how serious it might have been. Although the wildly frenetic aspects of the Cultural Revolution have subsided, the chances for further negative political impact on advanced weapons programs remain. Finally, any longer term forecast of developments in China should allow for the host of uncertainties that will arise about China’s future once Mao departs from the scene.
There are good indications that the large-scale Soviet military buildup opposite China and the recent sharp clashes on the border have increased considerably Peking’s concern that the Soviets might take some major military action against China. It is highly uncertain what effects, if any, this deepened hostility might have on China’s advanced weapons program. Much would depend, of course, on how high the Chinese actually rate the chances of a Soviet attack and on the type of attack they judge most likely. At one extreme Chinese fears might spur them into an emergency effort to deploy whatever they could as quickly as possible. At the other extreme it is conceivable that they might postpone deployment, at least of the sort that would appear particularly provocative to the Soviets, for fear that such deployment would increase the likelihood of a Soviet pre-emptive blow. Or the Chinese might decide that their best course was to improve the mobility and firepower of China’s ground forces in an effort to make as unattractive as possible to the Soviets the prospect of a conflict at the conventional level. But these possibilities are pure conjecture, and at this point we can make only the very general judgment that Sino-Soviet antagonism is likely to continue as an important factor in Chinese military planning and strategy.

[Omitted here are paragraphs 8–40, comprising the trends and prospects portion of the estimate. This includes sections headed Nuclear Program (Nuclear Testing and Development, and Nuclear Materials Production), and Delivery Systems (Medium Bomber Force, MRBM Program, Missile Submarines, ICBM Program, IRBMs, Solid Propellant Missile Program, and Space Program).]

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, INR/EAP Files: Lot 90 D 99, National Intelligence Estimates, NIE 13–8/1–69. Top Secret; Controlled Dissem. According to a notation on the covering sheet, the Central Intelligence Agency and intelligence organizations of the Departments of State and Defense, AEC, and NSA participated in the preparation of this estimate. All members of the USIB concurred with the estimate on October 30 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. See also the earlier version of this estimate, Document 7, and a related report, Document 168.