Chicom double speak on weapons development

Jonathon Ray:
Why does China develop weapons systems that it opposes? China criticizes U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems, but conducted three BMD tests of its own from 2010 to 2014. China regularly supports a treaty to ban space weapons, but has repeatedly tested an anti-satellite (ASAT) system. It is also unclear how China’s nascent hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV), reportedly designated the WU-14, might fit into its military doctrine. In general, China’s rapid military modernization and opaque defense budget only exacerbate concerns over the compatibility between China’s stated views and actual practice in developing strategic weapons.

One way to answer this puzzle is to look at history, specifically the history of China’s neutron bomb program. From 1977 to 1988 China developed a neutron bomb, more formally known as an enhanced radiation weapon. Neutron bombs are specialized tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) with reduced blast effects and enhanced radiation. Similar to the BMD and ASAT puzzles, this weapon appears incompatible with China’s stated nuclear doctrine. China’s no first use doctrine emphasizes strategic forces and responding only to a nuclear attack, whereas a neutron bomb is tactical and ideal for first use against conventional forces.

The puzzle deepens because there is no evidence that China ever deployed a neutron bomb. Declassified U.S. intelligence and Chinese press reports indicate the PRC developed and tested this capability, but give no indication of deployment. The timing is odd too, as China was impoverished in the 1970s but still chose to develop an expensive weapon like the neutron bomb. It waited until 1988 to test a final design, after relations with the Soviet Union (the presumed adversary during the program) had improved.

My new National Defense University monograph uses primary sources such as biographies of Chinese nuclear weapons scientists, press reports, and technical articles to answer these questions. These sources allow us to reconstruct the neutron bomb program’s history and assess what drove decisions throughout the program. As a case study China’s neutron bomb program contributes to broader discussions about China’s weapons development decision making then and now.

The neutron bomb case study suggests a model of a “technology reserve,” in which China develops a weapons technology to match the capabilities of another state, but defers deployment and keeps them in reserve. The longer report also considers how this model might apply to China’s decision-making on BMD, ASAT, and HGV systems....
There is much more.

Put these developments in the context of Pentagon reports that Chinese precision weapons are negating the advantages of current US stealth technology and it seems pretty clear the Chicoms are planning for a war to defeat the US.  It is forcing the defense establishment in the US to look for new technological advantages to defeat them in such a war.


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