China now has dozens of nuclear-capable missiles that could target almost the entirety of the US, according to the Department of Defence’s 2015 report on the Chinese military.
The annual report to Congress focuses on China’s military modernization, possible invasion plans for the self-governing and US-allied island of Taiwan, advances in space technology, and Beijing’s rapidly advancing missile capabilities.
China’s conventional capabilities are improving. But Beijing also now has what could be considered the ultimate military asset for a rising superpower: the ability to deliver nuclear warheads nearly anywhere on earth (outside of South America, at least).
The following map from the report highlights the maximum missile ranges of China’s medium and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The longest-ranging of the missiles, the CSS-4, can target almost the entirety of the US (except for Florida).
The CSS-4 has the largest range of any Chinese ICBM. The missile is nuclear-capable, according to the DoD report, and is housed in silos across the Chinese countryside. Beijing is estimated to have between 50 and 60 silo-based ICBMs.
The DF-31A has the second-longest range of any Chinese missile. It is capable of hitting the majority of the US’ Pacific coast in addition to portions of the mid-West. Unlike the CSS-4, the DF-31A is a road-mobile missile. This means Beijing can move the ICBM to various points throughout the country to better target various locations and avoid possible incoming strikes.
The DF-31, the CSS-3, and the CSS-5 are all also road-mobile and nuclear-capable. But unlike the CSS-4 or the DF-31A, these missiles are intended for regional deterrence against neighbouring powers like Russia and India.
Unlike the other land-based missiles on the chart, the JL-2 is a sea-based nuclear-capable ballistic missile. According to the DoD, the JL-2 will be carried by China’s future JIN-class ballistic missile submarine as a nuclear deterrent. So far China has commissioned four JIN-class submarines with a fifth one under construction. The Pentagon report expects the JIN to begin patrols in 2015.
The improvement in China’s nuclear deterrent has been spurred by developments in countries that China might consider to be its strategic competitors.
China modernised its missile forces because of “continued advances in the US and, to a lesser extent, Russian strategic ISR [Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance], precision strike, and missile defence capabilities,” the report notes.
Likewise, India’s own nuclear force has put pressure on China to continuously update and better its own capabilities.
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