China Is Building Over 100 Nuclear Missile Silos in Remote Desert, Analysts Say

Satellite images show 119 ICBM silos in Yumen, China. 

China is bolstering its nuclear weapons capabilities by building at least 119 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) silos in the desert near the northwestern city of Yumen. Satellite images obtained by researchers at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey show massive construction at the site, according to the Washington Post

The annotated image below shows the silos' locations. It comprises 119 construction sites in an area that spans hundreds of miles. 

Photo by Planet/Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

“The acquisition of more than 100 new missile silos, if completed, would represent a historic shift for China, a country that is believed to possess a relatively modest stockpile of 250 to 350 nuclear weapons,” read the report. 

But the report also says the actual number of ICBMs could be much fewer because China has constructed decoy silos in the past. But why?

Although no country has actually intended to use nuclear weapons since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, possessing nuclear weapons is largely seen as an effective deterrent against rival countries. China may be wanting to prop up its image as a credible nuclear power. 


ICBMs are largely seen as the ultimate weapon of humanity that could bring about the end of the world. Any nuclear attack on a country that possesses nuclear weapons will trigger something known as Mutually Assured Destruction. It is a military doctrine and national security policy of some nuclear-capable nations, in which opposing sides in a nuclear war will cause the complete annihilation of each other. 

“We believe China is expanding its nuclear forces in part to maintain a deterrent that can survive a U.S. first strike in sufficient numbers to defeat U.S. missile defenses,” researcher and China expert Jeffrey Lewis tells the Post

Pentagon officials had previously described China’s rapid nuclear advancement as “breathtaking,” warning about a Cold War-style rise in China’s nuclear might. 

Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at Australian National University, tells the Post in 2019: “China accuses others of Cold War thinking. But this is Cold War acting. And it’s not the China that many of us were hoping to see 10 or 12 years ago.”

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Mario Alvaro Limos
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Mario Alvaro Limos is features editor-at-large at Esquire Philippines, and heads the Lifestyle and Esports content of as its section editor. Email him at [email protected] and [email protected]
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