57. National Intelligence Estimate1

NIE 13–8/1–69


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 226] developed a [less than 1 line not declassified] device 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 recently begun production of medium bombers (TU–16s) at a rate of approximately one unit every two months. 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. There is some inferential evidence, however, that suggests the existence of a few operational MRBM sites in China at this time. If so, they are probably temporary-type installations intended to provide an interim capability against the USSR.
[1 line not declassified] If a vehicle is 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.
A large complex at Hu-ho-hao-t’e in Inner Mongolia has facilities and equipment adequate for handling solid-propellant rocket motors ranging in size from short-range missiles through the MRBM/IRBM category and probably into the ICBM class. We lack any basis for judging how the Chinese will proceed with a solid-propellant 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-propellant missiles.
[2½ lines not declassified] the Chinese have ambitious space goals. It will probably be several years at least before the Chinese can use this facility to its full potential, and the Chinese will probably first attempt more modest space ventures, perhaps using a modified MRBM as a launch vehicle.
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, 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. [4 lines 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.

[Omitted here is discussion of general considerations, trends, and prospects regarding China’s strategic weapons program, including its nuclear program and delivery systems.]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, NIC Files, Job 79–R01012A. Top Secret; [code-words not declassified]. The Central Intelligence Agency and the intelligence organizations of the Department of State, Department of Defense, and the NSA participated in the preparation of this estimate. The Director of Central Intelligence submitted this estimate with the concurrence of all members of the USIB with the exception of the representative of the FBI, who abstained on the grounds that it was outside of his jurisdiction. The table of contents and a map of the locations of China’s advanced weapons facilities are not printed. For the full text of this NIE see, Tracking the Dragon.