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146. National Intelligence Estimate1

NIE 13–8–74

CHINA’S STRATEGIC ATTACK PROGRAMS

KEY JUDGMENTS

China’s programs to develop and deploy nuclear weapons have slowed since 1971, probably reflecting

—a shifting of national economic priorities to emphasize agriculture and basic industry coinciding with diminished influence of the military in policy circles since the fall of Lin Piao2

—a changed perception of the strategic environment resulting from some combination of: a) China’s acquisition of a modest but credible nuclear retaliatory capability against the USSR, b) improved relations with the US, and c) perceived constraints on the USSR due to Soviet détente with the US.

China now has a force of about 130 nuclear delivery vehicles—half missiles and half bombers. Its stockpile of nuclear weapons is probably sufficient for all the missiles, though perhaps not for all the bombers. These systems have the range to hit US forces and bases in Asia as well as targets in the eastern USSR but cannot attack the continental US. China’s force suffers from a number of vulnerabilities, but has achieved a measure of survivability through concealment, mobility, and hardening.

China’s present objective probably is to obtain a token nuclear capability to strike the USSR west of the Urals and the continental US.

—It will gain a token capability to strike European Russia when its limited-range ICBM becomes operational, possibly late this year or, more likely, in 1975. [1 line not declassified]

—It is developing two missile systems that could strike the continental US: a) a full-range ICBM that will not be operational before 1977, and, given the present pace of development, probably not until 1979 or later; b) a submarine-launched ballistic missile system that will not be operational before 1978 at the earliest, and probably will be later.3

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Over the longer term, Peking almost certainly will seek to deploy a stronger deterrent force against the US and the USSR. It is also reasonable to expect China to strengthen its regional deterrent and to increase its options for responding to limited nuclear attack.

Assuming a continuation of present trends, which appears likely, China by 1980 may have some 120 missiles and well over 100 bombers for delivery of nuclear weapons against peripheral targets, including those in the USSR, and a few, say six, ICBMs and one or two nuclear missile submarines for use against the US as well as the USSR. Such a force would confer on China a somewhat improved capability to deter nuclear attack by the USSR and, for the first time, an ability to strike the continental US.

In the less likely event that China makes accelerated progress, it might have some 30 ICBMs and four nuclear missile submarines by 1980. Such a force would significantly improve China’s deterrent posture against both the US and USSR.4

SUMMARY

China’s nuclear weapon programs have slowed markedly since 1971. It now seems likely that China will only moderately improve its regional nuclear strike capability over the next few years and probably will not deploy full-range ICBMs or a ballistic missile submarine before the late 1970s.

Force Development Policy. The general nature of the slowdown suggests the influence of national-level policy decisions, and not solely technical problems with individual programs. Beginning in 1971, and roughly coinciding with the purge of Lin Piao and the subsequent reduction of the role and influence of the military in the government, China’s national economic priorities began shifting to agriculture and basic industry and away from military procurement. China’s present leadership may believe that devoting a greater share of resources to basic industry and perhaps to research and development would contribute more to China’s national power over the long run than pouring large resources into the production of obsolescent aircraft and first-generation missiles.

Certain programs which could yield significant improvements in China’s strategic capabilities several years hence are still moving ahead, although for the most part slowly—for example, the programs to develop solid-propellant missiles and a ballistic missile submarine and the construction of facilities for the production of nuclear materials and for R&D work on airframes and aircraft engines. On the other [Page 662]hand, programs which could yield quick but limited improvements in China’s nuclear weapons posture are languishing—the programs for the limited-range (3,000–3,500 nm) CSS–X–3 ICBM and the TU–16 bomber, for example.

The decisions to move ahead more slowly with programs for nuclear forces probably reflect a change in the Chinese perception of the strategic environment, resulting from some combination of: (a) China’s acquisition of a modest but credible nuclear retaliatory capability against the USSR, (b) improved relations with the US, and (c) perceived constraints on the USSR due to Soviet détente with the US.

Present Forces. China’s nuclear strike force has grown slightly over the past two to three years but its composition remains unchanged. Then and now the Chinese have a capability for nuclear strike by missiles and bombers all around the periphery of China at distances up to 1,650 nm. While most of this capability has a strategic orientation, some of it is intended for a theater support role within China’s borders. At the present time, the Chinese are estimated to have operational:

[3 paragraphs (20½ lines) not declassified]

—about 60 TU–16 jet medium bombers, capable of delivering nuclear bombs, with an operating radius of 1,650 nm and deployed at four airfields.

—possibly a few nuclear-armed IL–28 jet light bombers, with an operating radius of 570 nm.

China’s present stockpile of nuclear weapons is probably sufficient for all its operational missiles, though perhaps for only a portion of the bombers.

Presently deployed Chinese missiles have a capability to strike all US bases and Allies on the periphery of China, and most of them can strike Soviet targets east of the Urals. The TU-16s can reach somewhat beyond the same areas, though their capabilities to penetrate to heavily defended Soviet targets are limited. The IL–28s could attack Soviet targets close to the border, and could also reach Korea and Taiwan and, with staging from points close to the border, northern Luzon in the Philippines and nearly half of South Vietnam.

Survivability. The Chinese have attempted to achieve survivability of their nuclear deterrent through a combination of concealment, mobility, and hardening. Missile units are deployed either in a semimobile mode, moving from garrisons to temporarily occupied, inconspicuous field sites, or at fixed soft sites with tunnels to protect missiles and essential equipment but with unprotected launch pads. Camouflage and other means are used extensively to conceal the locations of these launch areas. There are indications that some further deployment of the CSS–2 IRBM may be in the semimobile mode. Provisions for the surviv[Page 663]ability of Chinese bombers are not as extensive as those for the missile force.

[1 paragraph (18½ lines) not declassified]

Chinese View of Their Deterrent. The Chinese probably believe that they have acquired a modest but nonetheless credible nuclear retaliatory capability against the USSR. At the same time, it is clear that they realize that their force remains vulnerable in important respects.

—They are working on a phased-array radar northwest of Peking, but presently have no effective means of detecting the approach of hostile ballistic missiles.

—Redundant, hardened strategic communications for the missile force are under construction, but are not complete as a nationwide system.

—Reaction time for present missile forces is several hours. The Chinese may be looking to future systems to give them faster reaction time.

China must also be aware that its present ability to deter nuclear attack through the threat of nuclear retaliation would be marginal if the stakes were high.

—In the case of the Soviet Union, it depends on Soviet fears for the security of some few cities in Siberia and the Soviet Far East, and perhaps on Soviet uncertainty about IRBM deployment in western China which might be within range of some cities in the Urals.

—In the case of the US, it rests on US fears for the security of a few US bases and cities of allies in the Far East.

Chinese Goals. The scale and variety of the nuclear and missile development and production facilities that China has established indicate that Peking’s ultimate objective is to build a strategic nuclear capability befitting a major power. There is no reason to believe, however, that Peking aspires to match the capabilities of US and Soviet nuclear forces. When considered in relation to US and Soviet programs, Chinese strategic programs represent a small effort. The pace of the Chinese effort, moreover, is slow and deliberate, and programs are undertaken with an economy of means, reflecting limited Chinese resources.

China’s present objective probably is to obtain a token nuclear capability to strike the USSR west of the Urals and the continental US. Over the longer term, Peking almost certainly will seek to build a force of nuclear delivery vehicles that will be a stronger deterrent to nuclear attack by either the US or the USSR. It is also reasonable to expect that China will attempt to improve and somewhat expand its regional and theater nuclear capability, both to strengthen its regional deterrent and to increase its options for responding to limited nuclear attack.

Prospects for Major Systems. The Chinese may acquire a limited capability to strike Soviet targets west of the Urals, possibly starting in [Page 664]late 1974 but more likely in 1975. By then, they may have completed two of the three silos in the field now being built for the CSS–X–3. An initial operational capability (IOC) for the CCS–X–3 in late 1974 or 1975 would also require either an early resumption of flight testing or that the Chinese be satisfied with the very limited flight test program accomplished before 1971. While the missile could possibly reach Moscow [less than 1 line not declassified] it could not reach US targets except for a portion of Alaska and several US bases in the mid-Pacific, including Guam. There is no evidence of preparations for further CSS–X–3 deployment.

The Chinese have no capability to attack the continental US directly and are unlikely to attain one for several years. The full-range (7,000 nm) CSS–X–4 ICBM now under development could not be operational until 1977 at the earliest [3 lines not declassified]. In their most recent test of the CSS–X–4, the Chinese attempted to use it to orbit a satellite, which could mean that the current priority of the CSS–X–4 program is its application as a large space booster.

The other system under development by China that could directly threaten the continental US is the ballistic missile submarine. Construction of one or more such units is probably under way, and the lead hull might be launched this year or next. The missile for the system probably will be a two-stage solid-propellant SLBM, comparable in size to the early US Polaris and probably capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to a range of some 1,500 to 2,000 nm. Flight testing of such a missile has not yet begun, and probably will take at least three years. Therefore, even if test firings begin soon, the missile is unlikely to be ready for system integration with the first operational SSBN before mid-1977. Allowing for a minimum of six months for full integration of the system, the earliest IOC date would be 1978. But in view of China’s lack of experience in the flight testing of solid-propellant systems, IOC might be considerably later.5

Prospects for Future Forces. Under alternative assumptions, Chinese prospects are assessed as follows:

—If the Chinese show little more urgency and no greater rate of development and deployment progress over the next several years than in the past few years, they may have by 1980 some 120 missiles [Page 665]and well over 100 bombers for use against peripheral targets, including those in the USSR, but only a few, say 6, ICBMs and one or two SSBNs capable of attacking the US.

—If the Chinese make accelerated progress in the development of intercontinental systems and second-generation regional systems, and shift resources to hasten their deployment, by 1980 they might have a regional force of about the same size as above, but qualitatively improved, and some 30 ICBMs and about four SSBNs capable of attacking the US.

The first projection is a better reflection of Chinese performance to date and we have no present basis for predicting any marked improvement. It would mean that by 1980 China would have somewhat improved its capability to deter nuclear attack by the USSR by virtue of:

—an enlarged and improved regional strike force;

—an emergency strike capability against targets in the Far East by one or two relatively invulnerable SSBNs;

—a token and vulnerable capability to strike targets in European Russia with a handful of ICBMs in silos.

The intercontinental strike element of this force would have conferred on China for the first time the ability to strike the continental US. This would have considerable political and psychological value. But the ICBM force would be small and vulnerable and only the SLBMs would represent a survivable retaliatory force, and then only for short periods.

In the less likely event that China makes accelerated progress in the development of intercontinental systems and second-generation regional missile systems, the Chinese by 1980 could have a significant capability to deter nuclear attack by the USSR—a capability that the Chinese could feel fairly confident would deter Soviet nuclear attack unless the stakes were very high. This improved deterrent posture would be based principally on China’s expanded ICBM force—some 30 ICBMs in silos, a force probably large enough for assured retaliation against large populated areas in European Russia.

This number of ICBMs would also improve China’s deterrent position versus the US. Moreover, with four nuclear submarines, during periods of tension China might be able to keep one or two nuclear missile submarines on patrol in the North Pacific from where they could strike targets in the US.6

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Projections of China’s Strategic Nuclear Delivery Force (NIE 13–8–74 compared with NIE 13–8–73) 7

Key Milestones
IOC of limited-range ICBM 1975 1975 1974 1974 1974
IOC of full-range ICBM 1979 1977 1977 1976 1976
IOC of SLBM 8 1979 1978 1977 1977 1977
IOC of solid-propellant MR/IRBM 1979 1978 1978 1977 1976

[Omitted here is the Discussion portion of the estimate.]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, National Intelligence Council, Job 79R01012A: Intelligence Publications Files, Box 480, Folder 4, SNIE 13–8–74 Final with Distribution List. Top Secret; [Handling restriction not declassified] The CIA and the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State and Defense, the NSA, and the AEC participated in the preparation of this estimate. The intelligence organizations of the Army, Navy, and Air Force also participated. The Director of the CIA submitted this estimate with the concurrence of all members of the USIB except for the representatives of the FBI and the Department of the Treasury, who abstained.
  2. See footnote 5, Document 137.
  3. For the position of the Director of Naval Intelligence see the footnote on page 6. [Footnote in the original. See footnote 5 below.]
  4. For the position of the Director, Defense Intelligence Agency, see the footnote on page 7. [Footnote in the original. See footnote 6 below.]
  5. The Director of Naval Intelligence, Department of the Navy, believes that China's submarine-launched ballistic missile program appears to have made significant progress during the past year. Testing of an ejection or launch-assist device installed in the PRC G-class submarine apparently has been conducted. Some land-based testing of a SLBM could have occurred [1½ lines not declassified] If submarine firings begin soon and proceed smoothly and the SSBN is launched this year as expected, the SLBM/SSBN system could reach IOC in late 1976. A more likely IOC would be by mid-1977. [Footnote in the original.]
  6. The Director, Defense Intelligence Agency, believes that a third case, reflecting a lesser effort, should also be included. A third force mix would concentrate on a more limited force, and intercontinental ballistic missile systems would be sacrificed at the expense of expanding other budgetary sectors. [Footnote in the original.]
  7. Document 137.
  8. For the position of the Director of Naval Intelligence see footnote on page 6. [Footnote in the original. See footnote 5 above.]