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DIA Assessment of Chinese Nuclear Forces

In April 1984, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) published a secret Defense Estimative Brief on nuclear weapons systems in China. The brief was produced by DIA's China/Far East Division and provided a general overview of the number of Chinese nuclear weapons and gave detailed estimates for the number of Chinese nuclear warheads at the time as well a projections for 1989 and 1994.

Declassification of the document was done by DIA in two phases: the first in a response to a request from the National Security Archive; the second in response to a request from Kristensen. In the first release (see right-hand bar), most of the document was released except DIA's estimate of China's 1984 nuclear warhead inventory and two sentences relating to the nuclear capability of Chinese nuclear bombers. In the second release (see right-hand bar), however, most of the paragraphs released earlier were reclassified, while the previously withheld 1984 estimate and bomber information was declassified. By combining the two releases the original document could be reconstructed in its entirety (see right-hand bar).

The reconstructed document sheds important new light on the U.S. intelligence community's estimate of China's nuclear capability in 1984, at a time when U.S. and Chinese government officials were attempting to develop a joint stand against the Soviet Union. China's status was so appreciated that the U.S. removed China from the SIOP in 1981.

DIA's estimate sets China's total nuclear stockpile at 360, including 50 non-strategic Atomic Demolition Munitions (ADMs). The total estimate is noteworthy because it is some 50 warheads lower than most non-official estimate for China for 1984. DIA's estimate is also, curiously, 60 warheads lower than the number presented in its own handbook on Chinese armed forces published in November 1984.

A considerable uncertainty, which continues to be the case, is the status of China's non-strategic nuclear weapons. As mentioned above, the document estimates that China had 50 ADMs, and also concluded that "a small number of China's nuclear capable aircraft probably have nuclear bombs." It did so, however, which was disclosed in the second release of the document, "even though we are unable to identify associated airfield storage sites."

DIA's estimates for the future, however, 592 warheads in 1989 and 818 warheads in 1994, proved to be completely off the mark: 50 and 100 percent, respectively, above the actual force levels for those years. This inability to predict -- even approximately -- the future size of the Chinese nuclear arsenal, is relevant for today's debate with the U.S. intelligence community predicting a "several-fold" increase in the Chinese stockpile that can hit the United States by 2015.

For an in-depth analysis of China's nuclear forces, see the report Chinese Nuclear Forces and U.S. Nuclear War Planning (FAS/NRDC, November 2006).

 

Hans M. Kristensen/Federation of American Scientists | www.nukestrat.com | 2004-2006



Download documents:

First DIA Release
U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, "Nuclear Weapons Systems in China," Defense Estimative Brief, DEB-49-84,
April 24, 1984. Secret.
Partially declassified and released to the National Security Archive under FOIA

Second DIA Release
U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, "Nuclear Weapons Systems in China," Defense Estimative Brief, DEB-49-84,
April 24, 1984. Secret.
Partially declassified and released under FOIA

Document Reconstructed
U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, "Nuclear Weapons Systems in China," Defense Estimative Brief, DEB-49-84,
April 24, 1984. Secret.
Partially declassified and released under FOIA (reconstructed by combining releases one and two)

Background papers:

Hans M. Kristensen, et al., Chinese Nuclear Forces and U.S. Nuclear War Planning, Federation of American Scientists and Natural Resources Defense Council, October 2006 (PDF, 12.50 MB)

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  Hans M. Kristensen