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An 'Un-Official Arms Race': Can US Modernize Its Arsenal Quickly Enough to Outpace China and Russia?


According to the Pentagon, China is adding to its nuclear arsenal at a rate that could surpass the U.S. by the end of the decade.

The United States still holds a nuclear edge, but as of the end of 2022, the communist power had amassed more land-based intercontinental-range ballistic missile launchers or ICBMs. 

"The number of land-based fixed and mobile ICBM launchers in China exceeds the number of ICBM launchers in the United States," the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees nuclear forces, wrote the Senate's and House's Armed Services Committees on Jan. 26.

"So that means kind of the holes that they would be able to put long-range missiles incapable of striking the US homeland," explained Patty-Jane Geller, a senior policy analyst for Nuclear Deterrence and Missile Defense with The Heritage Foundation.

While many of China's ICBMs remain empty, their strategic partnership with Russia is a concern. 

"Russia is providing fuel for China's reactors that produce nuclear material. These reactors produce plutonium, and plutonium is the important nuclear material that China needs for its nuclear buildup," Geller told CBN News.

U.S. intelligence officials predict Beijing will soon be able to produce enough weapons-grade plutonium to increase its nuclear warheads stockpile as much as four-fold in the next 12 years. Those nuclear warheads would likely fill the now-empty ICBMs. That kind of build-up would also allow China to match arsenals currently deployed by the U.S. and Russia.

"China is refusing to sit down and negotiate with us. To me, that tells us that China is on an upward trajectory and it has no interest in negotiating or stalling its nuclear buildup," Geller said.

Shortly after the Chinese spy balloon dust-up, President Xi Jinping pressed military leaders for an even faster elevation of his armed forces. Meanwhile, Russia backed out of a nuclear arms control treaty with the U.S., leading experts to urge the Pentagon to develop a new strategy.

"We can't simply just try and try again for arms control. If it's not working well, we'll have to do everything we can to strengthen our own nuclear deterrence and make sure we're building the right capabilities that we need to deter Russia and China and make sure that they can't ever think that, even as they build up their nuclear weapons, that they can get away with using them," Geller said.

She said U.S. capabilities have thus far stayed the same, as Russia and China compete in an unofficial arms race to nuclear dominance. 

"The problem is the leaders in the arms race are Russia and China. The United States has not quite entered it yet," Geller said.

A senior Pentagon official says the U.S. is working to modernize all three legs of its land, sea, and air-based arsenals. The question remains, whether the pace will be quick enough to keep our adversaries at bay.

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