Monday, March 8, 2010

China’s Central Nuke Storage ID’d


Defense News

China’s Central Nuke Storage ID’d

By Wendell Minnick

TAIPEI — A Washington think tank says it knows where Beijing keeps its nukes, long a matter of speculation by China watchers.

Called Base 22 (96401 Unit) or the Taibai Complex, the central nuclear weapons storage facility is deep in side the Qinling Mountains of Shaanxi province, according to “China’s Nuclear Warhead Storage and Handling System,” a paper by Mark Stokes, executive director of the Project 2049 Institute.

Stokes, a U.S. defense attaché in Beijing from 1992-1995, said he discovered the location while canvassing Chinese-language literature from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and other government institutions.

As a defense attaché, Stokes helped to identify the locations of missile bases, command-and-control facilities, and radar and signal intelligence bases. In 1994, his efforts earned him the CIA’s Exceptional Collector National HUMINT Award, an honor sometimes dubbed “Spook of the Year.” Defense News was given an early draft of Stokes’ paper, which the institute plans to release soon.

Operated by the PLA’s Second Artillery Corps, Base 22 consists of two zones known as Hongchuan and the Hongling Command Center, both in Taibai County south of the city of Baoji, the paper says.

The underground complex is protected from blasts by granite, and from intrusion by infrared and video cameras, fingerprint access control and more, the paper says.

“Taibai may be one of the most secure warhead stockpile facilities in the world,” Stokes said.

He said China kept its location a secret in part to help improve deterrence. “Under a declaratory no-first use policy, the nuclear deterrent of the People’s Republic of China has relied upon quantitative and geographic ambiguity,” he said.

Stokes also said there had been confusion in the U.S. arms control community over whether the PLA or the civilian government controlled China’s nuclear weapons.

“One problem may be that the arms control community has been assuming that the guys they deal with in China, the civilians, are in control of the nuclear stockpile,” Stokes said. “It may be difficult to accept that the PLA is in charge, much less that storage is centralized.” The paper identifies a variety of other facilities. The Second Artillery Corps has a separate facility for missile storage, 96176 Unit, in Shangrao County, Jiangxi province, known as a “missile component depot.” Base 22 is supported by a civil engineering regiment under the 308 Engineering Command, based south of Taibai in the city of Hanzhong, and an installation engineering group in Luoyang, the paper says.

Within a few hundred miles are the warhead-making Factory 903 at Pingtongzhen, Sichuan province, roughly 345 kilometers away, and the Base 067, a new ballistic missile engine and component research and development complex belonging to China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.

Central Control

“The concept of a central storage location is a reflection of Chinese nuclear policy and the Central Military Commission’s interest in maintaining control of China’s nuclear weapons,” said Hans Kristensen, who directs the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington.

As part of a deterrence strategy, nuclear warheads are moved back and forth from Taibai to missile bases by railroads, roads and by air, Stokes said.

These other bases “compensate somewhat for that vulnerability; their numbers are limited, too,” Kris tensen said. “Chinese nuclear planners have not been preoccupied with planning for protracted nuclear war fighting but with maintaining a basic nuclear deterrent.” “China has been developing its missile-carrying railroads in Jiangxi and Fujian provinces with impressive sophistication so that missiles can be launched between tunnels on the rail,” said Chong-Pin Lin, a former Taiwan deputy defense minister and author of the book “China’s Nuclear Weapons Strategy: Tradition within Evolution.”

Under Chinese nuclear doctrine, warheads are stored separately from their delivery systems, said Li Bin, director of the Arms Control Program and deputy director of the Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua University, Beijing.

“The simple reason is that the so called Chinese ‘nuclear missiles’ are not nuclear in peacetime. The U.S. and Russian nuclear missiles are on hair-trigger alert and have danger of accidental launch,” Li said.