Key Findings - The Intelligence Community Damage Assessment on the Implications of China's Acquisition of US Nuclear Weapons Information on the Development of Future Chinese Weapons
Chinese strategic nuclear efforts have focused on developing and deploying a survivable long-range missile force that can hold a significant portion of the US and Russian populations at risk in a retaliatory strike. By at least the late 1970s the Chinese launched an ambitious collection program focused on the US, including its national laboratories, to acquire nuclear weapons technologies. By the 1980s China recognized that its second strike capability might be in jeopardy unless its force became more survivable. This probably prompted the Chinese to heighten their interest in smaller and lighter nuclear weapon systems to permit a mobile force.
- China obtained by espionage classified US nuclear weapons information that probably accelerated its program to develop future nuclear weapons. This collection program allowed China to focus successfully down critical paths and avoid less promising approaches to nuclear weapon designs.
- China obtained at least basic design information on several modern US nuclear reentry vehicles, including the Trident II (W88).
- China also obtained information on a variety of US weapon design concepts and weaponization features, including those of the neutron bomb.
- We cannot determine the full extent of weapon information obtained. For example, we do not know whether any weapon design documentation or blueprints were acquired.
- We believe it is more likely that the Chinese used US design information to inform their own program than to replicate US weapon designs.
China's technical advances have been made on the basis of classified and unclassified information derived from espionage, contact with US and other countries' scientists, conferences and publications, unauthorized media disclosures, declassified US weapons information, and Chinese indigenous development. The relative contribution of each cannot be determined.
Regardless of the source of the weapons information, it has made an important contribution to the Chinese objective to maintain a second strike capability and provided useful information for future designs.
Significant deficiencies remain in the Chinese weapons program. The Chinese almost certainly are using aggressive collection efforts to address deficiencies as well as to obtain manufacturing and production capabilities from both nuclear and nonnuclear sources.
To date, the aggressive Chinese collection effort has not resulted in any apparent modernization of their deployed strategic force or any new nuclear weapons deployment.
China has had the technical capability to develop a multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) system for its large, currently deployed ICBM for many years, but has not done so. US information acquired by the Chinese could help them develop a MIRV for a future mobile missile.
We do not know if US classified nuclear information acquired by the Chinese has been passed to other countries. Having obtained more modern US nuclear technology, the Chinese might be less concerned about sharing their older technology.