Pentagon: Air-Launched Ballistic Missile Will Realize China’s Nuclear Triad

May 8, 2019

The Diplomat – The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) released its annual public assessment of China’s military capabilities. You can read the full report here (PDF).

There’s a lot of meat to the report, which is a useful source of information on developments in China’s military capabilities and strategy, but I wanted to focus on one particularly interesting revelation.

Last year, as I noted, DoD released the U.S. government’s assessment that the People’s Liberation Army Air Force had once again been assigned a nuclear mission. China’s Air Force was taken off the nuclear mission sometime in the late-1970s or early-1980s, when Beijing’s nuclear gravity bombs were phased out in favor of the erstwhile Second Artillery Corps (now People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force) and its stable of long-range missiles.

The reassignment spurred some speculation among analysts last year about what system the PLAAF could possibly possess that was nuclear capable. It turns out: nothing. While the nuclear mission has been organizationally reassigned to the Chinese air force, nuclear capabilities have not yet been fielded or deployed. Last year, I speculated that China’s CJ-20 air-launched cruise missile was a good candidate for a nuclear-capable system, but this year’s report suggests that isn’t the case.

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