In Next War the US Wants to Hit China With Nuclear-Capable Bombers. How Is China Supposed to Know the Incoming Fire Isn’t Atomic?

With only 130 inter-continental warheads Beijing can't be certain of 2nd strike capability after it has absorbed the 1st


Late last year, the U.S. Air Force conducted a secret war game testing how it might repulse a Chinese invasion of Taiwan in 2030.

As described by Valerie Insinna in Defense News, the Air Force employed an array of manned and unmanned aircraft to blunt the attack, including the super-stealthy B-21 bomber, which is still under development.

The B-21, Insinna reported, was used to penetrate “contested zones,” presumably meaning Chinese airspace, while the less survivable B-52 launched cruise missiles from “standoff distances.”

The good news is that the hypothetical Chinese invasion in the war game was halted without resort to use of nuclear weapons.

The bad news is that things might not work out that way in a real war, and it might be China that resorts to nuclear use before America does.

This possibility highlights an issue in Air Force planning that has gone largely unnoticed.

If a fight over Taiwan occurs, the Air Force plans to wage conventional warfare against China by flying nuclear-capable aircraft into its airspace—or by launching cruise missiles from outside its airspace from other nuclear-capable aircraft.

Either way, Beijing would have no quick way of determining whether the attacking U.S. bombers were carrying nuclear or conventional munitions.

Its nascent strategic warning system would not be able to differentiate between a nuclear and non-nuclear attack until weapons actually started exploding on its territory, and China’s highly centralized nuclear command authority might not be willing to wait that long before responding.

After all, it could be the first target of the attack.

Unlike Russia, which has a vast nuclear arsenal comparable in size to that of the United States, China has always maintained a minimal nuclear deterrent.

The Pentagon estimates that China only has 200 or so nuclear warheads, and a respected private survey pegs the number at 350—only about 130 of which are available for use on ballistic missiles capable of reaching the continental United States.

Whichever estimate you believe, the number of warheads Beijing relies on to deter a nuclear attack is a small faction of the number available to U.S. forces, so the possibility that Washington might move to disarm Chinese strategic forces in a fight over Taiwan could not be discounted.

Since most of the missiles threatening the U.S. are road-mobile, it would be logical for Chinese leaders to assume that stealthy bombers might be sent to track down ICBMs and take out the handful of other Chinese strategic systems (four submarines, a few bombers) capable of targeting America.

As the Air Force’s fiscal 2022 Posture Statement observes, “The B-21 will possess the range, access, and payload to penetrate the most highly-contested threat environments and hold any target around the world at risk.”

That includes China’s nuclear weapons, its early warning radars, and strategic command network.

Faced with this possibility in a war where Chinese and U.S. forces are already fighting, Beijing might decide it needs to launch its long-range missiles before they are destroyed on the ground.

The official Chinese position is that it will never be the first nation to use nuclear weapons, but Pentagon officials have been warning for years that Beijing might move to a launch-on-warning posture, what might be called a “use them or lose them” approach to deterrence.

It wouldn’t be the first time a nation’s operational nuclear strategy was at variance with its declaratory strategy.

In such a scenario, the strategic stakes surrounding Chinese occupation of Taiwan would fade to insignificance in Washington compared with the prospect of nuclear warheads detonating on U.S. soil.

And yet Air Force planners don’t seem to have given much thought to the fact that their future heavy bomber force will consist entirely of aircraft whose conventional or nuclear payloads are indistinguishable to an adversary.

This didn’t matter much when the enemy was Serbia or Iraq, but when the other side is itself a nuclear power possessing a long-range strategic arsenal, it could matter a lot.

During the later years of the Cold War and thereafter, the Air Force undertook a series of steps aimed at promoting strategic stability with Russia, such as eliminating the nuclear attack features on its B-1 bombers.

But Beijing is not party to any of the arms control agreements that drove those steps, and every B-21 bomber rolling off the assembly line at Palmdale, California, will be wired for nuclear weapons.

Most of the missions envisioned for the bomber are conventional, but Beijing would have no way of knowing that for sure at the onset of a war.

So given the fears that often seize hold of leaders in crises, the possibility of nuclear first-use by Beijing can’t be dismissed.


Of course, China could act preemptively to reduce the vulnerability of its retaliatory forces by expanding them.

Perhaps it might follow America’s example by putting most of its nuclear arsenal on submarines that can’t be tracked when beneath the seas.

That’s a move the country’s leaders have resisted—their force is predominantly land-based—but with the advent of B-21 they might feel they have no alternative.

And while the venerable B-52 is not quite as threatening as the B-21, after 2030 it will be equipped with nuclear “long-range standoff” weapons that can penetrate any Chinese defenses.

You could say that collectively, the stealthy B-21 and the B-52 equipped with stealthy cruise missiles are a potent deterrent to a Chinese assault on Taiwan.

But somebody in the Pentagon ought to be contemplating how those aircraft should be used if a war nonetheless occurs to prevent the conflict from stumbling into a nuclear exchange.

As one senior military officer commented in a not-for-attribution discussion earlier this year, “You need to deter the Chinese without scaring them so much that they might go nuclear.”

Source: Forbes

  1. Sally Snyder says

    Here is an article that looks at how Washington is preparing for a nuclear war in the new multipolar global reality:

    The leap toward a global nuclear catastrophe is more likely than it has been since the early 1990s when the Soviet Union and the United States were facing off against each other particularly since Washington is feeling increasingly threatened as the multipolar world evolves.

    1. Terry G says

      I only see one ‘pole’ emerging and it is Chinese.

  2. Hungary Guy says

    China- based on its published number of Silos, mobile Launchers, SSBNs, Nuclear Bombers- has to possess about 400- 2.000 Nuclear Warheads…

    1. Ultrafart the Brave says

      That estimate is at odds with the material I’ve seen so far on China’s nuke arsenal.

      Would you care to elaborate on your sources and calculations?

  3. Juan says

    The B-21 will possess the range, access, and payload to penetrate the most highly-contested threat environments and hold any target around the world at risk”

    Usual wishful thinking

  4. Juan says

    China dumping its dollars would do more damage than launching ICBMs. The US will do nothing, sp with Xiden at the helm.

    1. Terry G says

      I suspect the timing of that event, is what now preoccupies the Chinese, and what terrifies the Americans.

  5. XSFRGR says

    The only reason that we Americans are maintaining a military relationship with Taiwan is to act as an irritant, and a trip wire. Hopefully China will scratch the itch, and trip the wire before we’re ready. I’m certain that they Chinese know that they’re 3 years into their 5 year timeline.

    1. Terry G says

      Perhaps in the past that was the case, but the ‘trip wire’ will now only lead to the destruction of the US empire.

      I suspect that the Chinese will take Taiwan with no opposition from the Americans because they will demand it in return for maintaining dollar supremacy for another few months.

      China’s options as America’s main creditor are now many, they have them by the balls.

  6. Nesh says

    This is another nonsensical msm hit piece, if you really believe China has only 300 warheads, then you are dumb af, in addition, China has the h20 already operational and full mfg lines working, compared to the hypothetical b2i which is likely to face the fate of f35/f22/zumwalt, and of course there’s China’s hypersonic missile arsenal and Russia sold bmews radar tech to China in 2019

  7. kkk says

    Zionist mafia runs the show

    1. Terry G says

      Tails don’t wag dogs.

  8. Raptar Driver says

    The threat of nuclear war is the same now as in the 70s when I was a child In grade school.
    They feed us full of nonsense and taught us to hide under our desks.
    The threat then was much greater than now.
    But it is still used to to keep fear among the masses.
    This shuts off your critical thinking abilities along with fluoride and other chemicals. You become compliant and take whatever they’re gonna give you so you can ride your bike around a nice park with birds singing.

  9. Pat says

    Not to worry, (said sarcastically), General Milley will keep his friends in the Chinese military informed on all US actions.

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