The House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee on Wednesday completed drafting its portion of the fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill that contains language calling for a U.S. military-targeting study of Chinese underground nuclear tunnels.
The bill also would require the Pentagon to conduct a "Team B" alternative analysis of China’s nuclear weapons program. Estimates of China’s nuclear program were recently challenged by a Georgetown University project that found Beijing’s nuclear arsenal could be far larger than current estimates based on an examination of its 3,000 miles of underground tunnels and nuclear facilities.
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The last Team B study was carried out in the 1970s and found that the CIA systematically underestimated Soviet strategic capabilities.
On the targeting study, the legislation would direct the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command to complete a report within one year on "the implications of the underground tunneling network of the People’s Republic of China for the capacity of the conventional and nuclear forces of the United States to hold those tunnels (and assets contained within) at risk."
The study would include assessing the impact of the targeting study for both U.S. conventional and nuclear forces and whether they should be increased.
The subcommittee on Wednesday completed drafting the defense bill portion that must now be voted on in subcommittee and later as part of the overall national defense authorization bill.
Work on the legislation is expected to be completed next month.
The targeting study is expected to anger China’s communist government, which insists its large-scale nuclear and conventional military buildup poses no threat.
China, however, refused to disclose any details about its strategic nuclear forces or doctrine.
China’s nuclear tunnels, and the missiles and factories contained in them, were only recently made public in Chinese state-run media.
A Georgetown University study led by Phillip Karber and based on open sources revealed that China’s nuclear tunnels are an "underground Great Wall."
The enormous size of China’s underground nuclear facilities makes it likely that the size of its nuclear forces could be much larger than official U.S. intelligence estimates of 300 to 400 strategic warheads, the study found.
U.S. intelligence officials insist the Karber study is wrong and that there is high confidence in the estimates of China’s nuclear forces.
On the Pentagon alternative analysis, the draft legislation report states, "The committee is concerned that there may be gaps in U.S. understanding of China's nuclear weapons program and its role in China's national security, modernization plans, capabilities, and other key details."
The draft also calls for the secretary of defense to select a panel of nuclear experts to report on Chinese nuclear forces by April 15, 2013.
The Team B report would include:
—An assessment of China’s nuclear deterrence strategy, historical perspectives, and the geopolitical drivers of its strategy;
—A detailed description of China’s nuclear arsenal, its capabilities, and associated doctrines (including targeting doctrines);
—Projections of possible future Chinese nuclear arsenals, their capabilities, and associated doctrines;
—A description of command and control functions and gaps; an assessment of China's fissile material stockpile, and civil and military production capabilities and capacities;
—An assessment of China’s production capacities for nuclear weapons and nuclear weapon delivery vehicles; and
—Discussion of any significant uncertainties surrounding China’s nuclear weapons program.
"The report should identify knowledge gaps regarding China’s nuclear weapons program, and discuss the implications of any such gaps for the security of the United States and its allies," the draft bill says, noting recommendations for improving the American ability to understand China’s nuclear arms program.
A defense official said the Pentagon has long been expecting Congress to demand a Team B assessment of China, but the nuclear focus is too narrow. China’s strategy and intentions for its overall military buildup remain unknown to U.S. intelligence agencies and also need to be studied by outside experts, the official said.
The Team B language is expected to be opposed by U.S. intelligence agencies whose bureaucracies in the past have challenged or bureaucratically subverted earlier efforts to force alternative analysis.
The CIA in 2001 prevented honest alternative assessments of China by stacking a commission headed by retired Army Gen. John Tilelli with paid CIA contractors whose income was controlled by the agency. Even so, that commission’s still-secret report concluded there was an institutional predisposition by agency analysts to underestimate Chinese military developments.
The draft defense legislation also calls on the Pentagon to assess the impact of building a third long-range ballistic missile interceptor site on the U.S. East Coast to counter missile threats from Iran and other states.
Two other sites are currently located in Alaska and California.
The draft bill section on strategic forces also calls for fully modernizing U.S. nuclear forces and seeks to strengthen congressional oversight of the U.S. nuclear war plan.
It also supports a robust missile defense and support for key allies, including Israel’s highly effective Iron Dome anti-missile system.
The bill would also boost spending on defense space programs by $50 million.
The subcommittee is schedule to meet Thursday to consider the draft legislation.